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home : opinion : columns May 25, 2016

7/24/2014 6:00:00 AM
Column: Who shall live? Who shall die?

Doug McMurdo
Miner Staff Reporter

When I was a young journalist, if anyone had told me I would write about more than one psychotic murderer who:

1. Killed someone, and/or

2. Dismembered, and/or

3. Burned a human body, I would have said they were crazy.

Turns out they weren't crazy, because three such horrific crimes stand out in my memory.

George Loader is just the latest sociopath to cross a line few among us can even contemplate ever getting to in the first place.

I've received a couple of messages from Loader's friends that have been less than affable. They seem to believe Loader's dubious story that John Oppenheim molested Loader's young daughter - and that Loader's suspicions warranted him shooting a man in the neck with a shotgun, cutting off his head and limbs, and burning his various and sundry body parts in the desert.

For the record, Oppenheim was 51 when he died and he racked up an impressive string of arrests in his lifetime, but not one of them came close to a sex crime of any kind.

And even if he had, Judge Steven Conn pointed out that we don't get to choose how justice is done. That's a job for cops and courts, not vigilantes.

In any event, it's one thing to kill a man. It's quite another to use a handsaw to cut him into human cordwood, pour lighter fluid on the parts and set them on fire.

Conn gave Loader the only sentence he could in the face of such a shockingly twisted and evil act - natural life.

The case brought me back about a dozen years to when a meth dealer who went by the nickname Lobo, but wanted to be known as Scarface, earned the first sentence of natural life I ever wrote about.

His real name was Oscar Perez-Marquez and he was a lot of things: farm laborer by day, meth dealer by night. He had a hand in smuggling humans and drugs across the border and he was looking to move up in the high-stakes world of meth salespeople.

Lobo felt he wasn't getting sufficient respect, so he made an example of a man by the name of Alfredo Enrico Reyna, a former coyote who had retired and was living a modest, quiet life in Southern Nevada.

Lobo and three other men spent 90 minutes beating the much older Reyna. They beat him so long they had to take short rests to catch their breath.

Lobo didn't cut up Reyna, but what he did do is arguably much worse. Reyna, a tough old bird, was still alive when Lobo poured one gallon of gasoline over his body and struck a match.

We may never know if retired California teacher John Matthus Watson III burned his wife's body. It was never found after Evie Watson went missing.

To his credit, Watson's act of depravity was based on the world's oldest motive: money. Watson learned Evie was going to divorce him and he would have to give her half of his teacher's pension and half of the more than $1 million he earned in a retirement account built up over a 30-year career.

He shot his wife, cut up Evie's body with a band saw in a hotel room and placed her parts in large trash bags. He then tried to clean up the mess and he did a pretty good job, but not good enough. His wife's hair was found in the shower drain, which led to his conviction in 2010.

Watson got the death penalty.

So why did prosecutors in one case seek the ultimate punishment and take a pass on the other two when the three crimes were equally gruesome and beyond the pale?

Again, blame it on the oldest motive in the world: money. I once asked a prosecutor why one case deserved the death penalty and the other didn't. His candid reply set me straight.

Death penalty cases are expensive and they only get more costly through the appeals process. The one thing prosecutors want in such a case is a sympathetic victim.

I remember his exact words: "Jurors need the victim to be a Sunday school teacher."

While neither Reyes nor Oppenheim deserved what they got, they were not Sunday school teachers.

Sometimes, the wheels of justice seem to be flatter than a fritter.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Article comment by: Jimi Lightfoot

Great article.

I like your take, insight and breadth of your experiences.

Waiting on a book from you.

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