Friday, December 21, 2012

The People's Gamble in the Collins Trial - 1970

The weekend before the John Norman Collins trial was to begin, news hungry reporters began writing stories about the "epic" battle that was about to occur between legal "Titans," William F. Delhey, representing The People, and Joseph W. Louisell, sometimes called "Michigan's Perry Mason," representing Collins. Each attorney had a wing man. Delhey had Booker T. Williams and Louisell had Neil Fink.

The reality of the clash was a disappointment. Jury selection took a tedious six weeks. The defense strategy was to want a white collar "college educated" jury who would be able to weigh the scientific testimony they would be hearing and to withhold judgment possibly. 

The prosecution favored a more blue collar "working class" jury who would be blinded by the blizzard of technical information and more moved by emotional arguments and appeals.

The defense kept the judge and the court clerk busy with motion after motion, until it seemed that the actual trial would never begin. Then suddenly, the defense told presiding Judge Conlin that they had a jury. 

Louisell surprised the prosecution and caught them flat-footed. Delhey and Williams were left with a handful of peremptory challenges they couldn't use. Courtroom observers scored the first round for the defense team. The press reported later in the day that this jury may be the most highly educated in Michigan state history.

By the end of the trial, the prosecution had called forty-eight witnesses in seventeen days, in marked contrast to the defense who called only eight witnesses in four days. The jury deliberated for four days before it returned a guilty verdict of murder in the first degree against John Norman Collins in the wrongful death of Karen Sue Beineman.

The prosecution's "key play" was the strategic decision by the chief prosecutor, who had the scientific background, to pass the cross-examination of scientific witnesses to his assistant prosecutor, who had no laboratory background. 

Although this might seem counter-intuitive, Delhey didn't want to "slip into laboratory language": He wanted Williams to ask questions using "layman's language" to be better understood by the layman jury, despite the high percentage of college graduates on the jury.

When the prosecution's scientific hair fiber experts were challenged and discredited by the defense's hair fiber experts, Delhey's strategy paid off. Williams took the edge off the data and focused on the testimony of the defense experts, pointing out their discrepancies and inconsistencies. In the end, the hair clipping evidence was solid enough in the minds of the jury to link Collins to his victim.

Surprisingly enough, it wasn't the scientific blood or hair evidence that convicted John Norman Collins. It was the preponderance of circumstantial evidence and the lack of a credible alibi for the critical three hour period between Karen Sue Beineman's disappearance and her strangulation death in the basement of his aunt and uncle's Ypsilanti home.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Prosecution Team for the People vs. John Norman Collins

John E. Peterson of The Detroit News reported after the guilty verdict was announced in the John Norman Collins case that "the two prosecutors had no use for histrionics. They were concise and they were precise. Prosecutor William F. Delhey and Assistant Prosecutor Booker T. Williams came out of the trial looking more like clinical workers than dramatists."

On Sunday, May 31, 1970, two days before the Collins trial was to begin, William B. Treml wrote in The Ann Arbor News that Prosecutor Delhey was "cool, unemotional, professional. He has a fifteen year reputation for being meticulous, methodical, and calculating in the preparation of a criminal case."

Delhey was forty-five years old and had a wiry, athletic build and a penetrating voice. He lettered in football for three years at Ann Arbor High School and placed second in the 880 yard dash in the 1942 state track meet. Delhey enlisted in the Army Air Corp and took pilot training but World War Two ended before he saw any combat action.

After his enlistment, he earned a Bachelors of Science degree in 1947 from The University of Michigan. He worked as an air pollution chemist for the Ford Motor Company and took night classes part-time at The University of Detroit graduating with a law degree in 1954.

Delhey went into private practice in 1955 and became assistant prosecutor in Washtenaw County in 1957. In January of 1964, he was appointed prosecutor and won the office outright in the November elections of that year. He was re-elected in 1968. 

William Delhey was married and had two boys and two girls, ages ranging from two through twelve. Politically, he was said to be a Republician.

Assistant Prosecutor Booker T. Williams was forty-nine years old and born in North Carolina. He had combat experience in the Pacific theater of war as a sergeant in World War Two. 

Williams also worked his way through school. He began at The University of Pennsylvania in 1947-1948 and moved to Ypsilanti in 1950. He paid the bills by working as a night clerk in an Ann Arbor hotel and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1952, and his law degree in 1955, both from The University of Michigan. 

Booker T. Williams went into private practice but joined the prosecutor's staff in 1958 and left in 1960. When William Delhey was appointed prosecutor in January in 1964, Williams returned to become an assistant prosecutor.

While he was actively engaged with the Collins trial, Booker Williams had to overcome personal tragedy. During the jury selection process, his wife Arletta Marie had a heart attack. He took off nineteen days to be with her at her bedside before her death and another week to get his household of seven young children organized. Williams was the father of six boys and one girl, ages ranging from thirteen to nineteen months. 

John Peterson wrote that "Williams effectively poked holes in the scientific testimony of defense experts sniffing out inconsistencies and hammering away at discrepancies. He earned a reputation for rapid-fire, rapier cross-examination." 

Prosecutor Delhey lauded Williams for his work on the Collins' trial and said it was critical to the People's case. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lawyers for the Defense in the John Norman Collins Case

John Norman Collins' legal team - Neil Fink and Joseph Louisell - June 1970

Immediately after John Norman Collins was arrested on July 30, 1969, his mother Loretta retained the legal services of Robert Francis and John M. Toomey of Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

A week later on August 7 during a preliminary examination, Mr. Toomey told presiding Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Edward D. Deake that he had discussed withdrawing from the case with Collins and his mother. The reason given was lack of funds and Mrs. Collins' "inability to undertake further financial liability."

"John will benefit by a court-appointed attorney because this will give him the right to a lot of things, such as the court paying for independent blood tests, ballistic tests, and fingerprints," Toomey explained. "Mrs. Collins indicated that she might not be able to afford this type of work and wanted a court appointed attorney." 

The judge agreed, and on August 12, 1969, a three-judge Circuit Court panel appointed Richard W. Ryan to handle the case. Ryan asked Francis and Toomey (Collins' original attorneys) to stay on as co-counsels at county expense to assist him with the defense.

Ryan and his team were on the case for only a couple of months when Ryan began to have doubts about his client. He requested Collins take an off the record polygraph (lie detector) test. Collins agreed but Ryan refused to disclose the results. 

When conferring afterwards with the family in the judge's chambers, Ryan suggested a "diminished capacity" plea for an insanity defense. Mrs. Collins flew into a rage and fired him on the spot.

Then The Detroit News reported on November 25, 1969, that Joseph W. Louisell and Neil Fink from Detroit had agreed to defend Collins after conferring with Mrs. Collins and other relatives over a two week period. It was agreed that they were to take over the case on December 1st.  

When Neil Fink was asked by the press how Mrs Collins could afford the highest priced law firm in the state of Michigan, when she had plead poverty in open court only months before, he made no comment.

The Detroit Free Press reported the next day that "Mrs. Collins, who is a waitress, reportedly has received a pledge from a national magazine for a large sum of money in exchange for the exclusive rights to her son's story." No evidence of such an offer exists. 

Enter the man who has been described as "Michigan's Perry Mason," Joseph Louisell, the Detroit area's Mafia mouthpiece. In the decade before the Collins' case, he was best known for defending reputed Mafia figures including Pete Licavoli, Anthony and Vito Giacalone, and Matthew (Mike, the Enforcer) Rubino. All of these men were identified as Mafia chieftains in testimony before the U.S. Senate in 1963.

The fifty-three year old father of ten, five boys and five girls, Louisell  had a "hefty figure" with a "round jowly" face that was familiar to Detroit courtroom observers who watched him build a strong reputation as a prominent criminal lawyer.

He gained fame for his successful 1949 defense of Carl E. Bolton and Carl Renda, both charged with shooting United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther in the back.

Another notorious case was the acquittal of blond and beautiful Nelle Lassiter, who was charged with conspiring with her lover to dispose of her husband's body, used car dealer, Parvin (Bill) Lassiter.

Some of Louisell's critics have complained of his courtroom theatrics. "All trial lawyers are ham actors at heart. Especially me, I guess," he said. "Normally 65% of my practice is in civil and corporate law. That's where the money is. But criminal law has some kicks. That's for fun." 

Neil Fink was a thirty year old junior partner in the firm of Louisell and Barris. He assisted his senior partner and handled all the pre-trial examinations and defense motions. 

He stayed active in the case while his boss was recuperating from a heart attack he had on February 2, 1970. Louisell's doctor said he would permit Louisell to return to work on April 1. Fink handled the entire Collins case load for a couple of months

Rumors circulated about how a waitress at Stouffer's in downtown Detroit could afford such a high priced legal firm. Just for the record, Mrs. Loretta Collins refinanced her home in Center Line for an undisclosed amount to pay for the estimated $15,000 it would take to cover her son's legal fees. 

(Next post: The Prosecution Team for the People against John Norman Collins) 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The John Norman Collins' Prison Papers

Blocking the facts and details of the John Norman Collins coed killer case, through the trial and sentencing, has been a time consuming and tedious process. But bringing out the voices of the past by reconstructing the dialogue of the witnesses' testimony from newspaper reports of the day has been insightful and fascinating.

Working with old information and with what we've learned about this case since the seventies, an account is starting to form which will give a more textured and resonant picture of the trial than the phonetically transcribed court transcripts would have, which incidentally were unavailable to me. The Washtenaw County Courthouse Records Department has "purged" this case from their files.

My researcher, Ryan Place from Detroit, and I are entering uncharted territory now - the John Norman Collins prison years. Using the Freedom of Information Act, we were able to secure a thousand prison documents from the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

Once we paid our tribute ($500), we were sent a box full of unsorted photocopies which had to be categorized, placed in chronological order, and thinned of duplicate copies. Of the one-thousand photocopies we purchased, only about three-hundred are useful to us, and many of them are routine paperwork of little or no interest to the general reader. 

The good news is that now I have a manageable amount of information to work with, and a picture of John Collins' years behind prison bars is beginning to take shape. 

When we saw the initial amount of prison materials, we hoped that we had received the full sweep of his four decades in prison at Marquette, Jackson, and several other Michigan correctional institutions, including a short stay at Ionia, which houses Michigan's mentally ill and deranged prison population.

But there are huge gaping holes in the chronology of his many years in prison. Still, there is some interesting factual information to be found among the routine and often sketchy paperwork. 

Something missing is any information on John Collins attempted prison breaks, especially a tunneling attempt he made with six of his prison inmates. They tried to dig themselves toward an outside wall of Marquette prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

Discovered by a prison guard on January 31, 1979, Collins and six other convicts had dug nineteen feet toward an outside wall within thirty-five feet of freedom. They had been scooping out handfuls of sand since the previous summer. 

The prisoners were charged with breaking the prison's rules but little more is known about the incident. There must have been an investigation, but we don't have any evidence of any. Were escape charges ever brought against them? I'd like to know more and will pursue it further.

It would have been nice to get a well-organized and concise information drop from the Michigan Department of Corrections, but they aren't in the business of helping me do research for my book, In the Shadow of the Water Tower.

It is the search for knowledge that drives me and my researcher to uncover as much about these matters as we possibly can and to shed light on this dimly remembered and deliberately shrouded past.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Bond, James Bond" is Back to the Basics

Since Sean Connery first spoke these iconic words, "Bond, James Bond," in Dr. No, British secret agent 007 has captured the attention of a world-wide audience and soon the character became the most popular and beloved in movie franchise history.

Many avid Bond fans will agree that Connery's portrayal of the British secret agent in the classic cold war thriller, From Russia with Love, may be the most accurate depiction of the Ian Fleming character in the Bond novels. But I would like to say that Daniel Craig in Skyfall gives Sean Connery a run for his money.

Skyfall begins like the formulaic Bond films with Bond in hot pursuit of a villain, aided by the latest technology, but it takes a hard left and resurrects a long dormant 1962 Bond storyline from the most unique of the thirteen Bond novels, The Spy Who Loved Me, which was never made into a movie.

"What!" you say. "That has been made into a Bond film in 1977."

Yes, there was a Roger Moore film with that name, but it resembled the Ian Fleming novel about as much as Moore resembled the literary James Bond. Not at all.

I was hooked on the Bond books and read all thirteen of them several times over the years. One of them was so different from the rest, "as seen through the wrong end of a telescope" Ian Fleming says in the author's statement introducing The Spy Who Loved Me. This novel was written in the first person through the eyes of a woman. Whether the male chauvinist author was successful in his depiction of the female voice is best left up to the reader.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Craig's Bond in Skyfall finds himself isolated with the latest and most unlikely "Bond girl," which plays out the basic plot complication and storyline of the novel The Spy Who Loved Me. An overwhelming menace descends upon them in the wilderness. No MI6, no CIA, no INTERPOL, no NASA, no kidding. Bond gets back to the basics in this latest entry into the series.

Looking for a great movie to see this Thanksgiving Day weekend? See Skyfall!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Invoking the Freedom of Information Act in the John Norman Collins Case

Trying to piece together the forty-three year old John Norman Collins sex-mutilation murder case of Karen Sue Beineman, without the benefit of the court transcripts which have been purged from the Washtenaw County court records, has been a challenge to say the least.

Collins was convicted on August 19, 1970, of the Beineman murder, but six other young woman thought to be multiple murders committed by Collins between 1967 and 1969 were never brought to trial. Behind bars, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence for over four decades.

Were it not for about 800 pages of news clippings from 1967-1970 and the efforts of court and crime reporters of that era, the true facts of this case would be lost to history. Another thank you and acknowledgement goes to the archivists at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum and the Halle Library at Eastern Michigan University for their generous help and expertise.

My researcher, Ryan Place, and I have been pursuing every lead possible to obtain information about these cases. When Ryan's lawyer told him how to invoke the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a private citizen, he petitioned the Michigan Department of Corrections for information on John Norman Collins' prison years, and we received 1,000 pages of documents, taken primarily from Marquette Prison records. There were many duplications of routine documents and some were illegible photocopies, but much of the material gives an interesting view into his prison years. This cost us about $500, but we were happy to have some new information.

Next, we invoked the FOIA to get Michigan State Police documents that would be useful for their information and the authentication of facts. After a ten day waiting period, the department asked for a week's extension; then after that week, they asked for another extension. No problem for us, we were still working our way through the prison docks.

Well, they finally came through. We hit the jackpot! The Michigan State Police scoured the state of Michigan for forty-five years of documents related to these murders and this case. They discovered approximately 800,000 pages, and for a paltry sum of $318,000 (conservative estimate) they will photocopy them and send them out to me. Even if I could afford a third of a million dollars, it would take me and a warehouse full of trained researchers months to sort through, catalog, and annotate the material.

Ryan and I are going to narrow the scope of our request severely, so we can tell the essential story with as much authority and documentation as possible. 

One interesting side note to all of this is that Ryan was told by an informed source that these cases have been reopened within the last year. Now that's a story I hope we can get a piece of before I finish my true crime account of these events entitled, In the Shadow of the Water Tower.

 Check out the link for FOIA paperwork: 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mark Safarik's Killer Instinct on Biography Channel Tuesdays at 10 PM EST/PST

The first season of Mark Safarik's forensic profiling show, Killer Instinct, premiered last Tuesday on the Biography Channel at 10:00 PM. After one episode, I'm hooked.

I found the show to be first rate, compelling, and informative. The distinction between modus operandi and ritualistic behavior made in the case will be helpful to me as I edit and revise the book I'm working on, In the Shadow of the Water Tower.
Mark is a former FBI profiler who is now the executive director of Forensic Behavioral Services Inc. In my conversation with Mark last week, congratulating him on his new show, he had this to say to viewers:

"My goal in filming the show was to give the audience insight into how I analyze and interpret the dynamic interaction of the offender, the victim, and the crime scene by integrating the behavioral, forensic, and physical evidence in an understandable series of events that address 'the totality of the circumstances' from both the chronological and temporal (time) view. 

This is done to understand what happened at the crime scene, how it happened, and most importantly, why it happened. In complex scenes with multiple victims, offenders, and/or scene locations, crimes with significant aberrant, excessively violent, or unusual behaviors are often not well understood by law enforcement investigators with little or no experience in investigating such crimes.

The cases in my television series are difficult cases in which I demonstrate how I assisted law enforcement to understand, investigate, and ultimately testify as an expert in these cases. I also wanted to make the audience aware that the bulk of the credit for solving these crimes always goes to the investigators who do all the hard work examining evidence, doing interviews, and keeping the case organized in a way that would support eventual prosecution."

"Thanks very much for sharing this with your audience. I hope they find the process in the episodes as interesting as I always have."

Mark E. Safarik M.S., V.S.M. (FBI Retired)

For more information about Forensic Behavioral Services, view the link.

Killer Instinct Promo: 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After Obama's Win

The morning after the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama, something remarkable happened: Life went on as usual. The sun came out, and the flag on my neighbor's lawn waved in the autumn breeze, oblivious to who won this hotly contested presidential race. The system did what it was supposed to do - work. Now the challenge is to do the same for the unemployed in this country.

When  I was on a return flight to San Diego, the elderly woman next to me said with dismay, "The whole world is laughing at us. This is so embarrassing! He just doesn't look like our president."

"What's our president supposed to look like?" I gently asked. When she figured that I was an Obama supporter, you would have thought I had torn out her vocal chords. The rest of the flight was blissfully quiet.

This morning, a person I know claimed he is packing up his guns, ammo, water, food, and NetFlix subscription and moving to some remote part of Arizona. When I asked him if he was advocating a civil war, his response was, with a remarkable lack of self-awareness, "That's not a bad idea." He left me wondering how many other people feel the same way.

Now that the political attack ads and fear mongering are over, it is time for everyone to lick our wounds and reach across the aisle with a renewed sense of community and national purpose. We all claim to love this country, now is the time to prove it. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Truth Will Set You Free - But First It Will Make You Miserable

What follows is a guest post from a lifetime friend of mine who recently found the strength to reveal his long hidden sexual
preference to his family and friends.

It is an intensely personal story many people will benefit from reading - not only people struggling with the same issue - but also those who should reach out and show their acceptance and support for people whose only sin is being human.


At our stage of life the days pass by like autumn leaves flying past the window.  When most of our days are behind than ahead, we come to hope that we did more with our lives than just take up space and consume things.  We want to know that they had meaning.  We assess how well we used our time.  We think about the events that shaped what we’ve become.  Most people get a satisfaction from the families they began.  They can be proud of commitments to spouses and to the kids who wouldn’t be here without them.  As a single man I have no spouse or kids, so my satisfaction must come from one other thing that most people wish to have, which is to say integrity.  I try to live a life guided by that moral compass.  Most of you would, I imagine, say that I’ve done okay by you, which is to say that I’ve been a good brother.  I hope you’d say that never I knowingly harmed anyone.  I believe in our family and have enjoyed the times I’ve spent with one or another of you over the years.  But my moral compass tells me that I’ve failed miserably.  Miserably!    

I keep people at arms-length.  I’m afraid of everyone I meet and every encounter I have.  I’ve lived with an anxiety that rises and falls throughout the day, one that has plagued me from my teens until now.  It shriveled my sensitivity and empathy.  It robbed me of any peace whatever and kept me from developing close, caring relationships with anyone.  It is the reason why I scowl more than smile.  I suffer these things because I’ve been living a fiction.    

One cannot live a fiction with integrity.  If I were to die like this, my life would be an empty shell with less than no meaning.  You’d have known a fictional character who called himself Rod, and I would have lived an entire life without the integrity that means more to me than anything else.  Confronted by this awful fact I know that I must correct the error.  However many years remain to me, when I face death I want it to be as an honest man.  So here it is:  I’m gay.  I’m attracted toward members of my sex with the same strength of feeling that you have for the opposite sex.  I’m indifferent to the opposite sex the way you are indifferent to members of your own.  No one ‘did’ anything to make me gay.  I wasn’t abused as a child.  I did not ‘catch’ it from somebody else.  It simply was. 

Looking back, I can trace my feelings to when I was a kid in early grade school.  Of course, I did not know then what the feelings meant or that they weren’t the same as those of any other kid.  I didn’t pay much attention to them until I was an adolescent in high school, when it gradually became clear how different my feelings were.  Even then I didn’t know that there was such a thing as homosexuality until I was almost out of high school.  I still remember the time and place when I put all the pieces together and I realized to my dismay that I was gay.  I say ‘dismay’, because I knew that anyone known to be gay was treated like a leper.  A wall goes up that separates gay people from the sympathy that people usually extend to each another. 

It was a nightmare that I could not wake up from.  I hated being gay.  Mainly, I hated it because everybody else did.  Most people I knew were revolted by the idea of anyone being attracted to members of their own sex.  All of their references to gays were infused with a note of disgust that came through in their voices, their jokes, their facial expressions and their gestures.  ‘Queer’, ‘faggot’, ‘queen’, and ‘pervert’ were never far from their lips.  It brought out their dark side.  Given half a chance, guys would beat the hell out of anyone they thought was gay. 

I bought into the idea that to be gay was to be a pervert.  There was an unspoken assumption that people who are gay somehow brought it on themselves through their own wickedness.  Why should such people merit respect or consideration?  Why shouldn’t they be objects of righteous contempt and get slapped around for their loathsome behavior?    

I never imagined I was wicked, but I did think that there was something wrong with me.  All I wanted was to be like everybody else.  I needed outside help, but there was none.  I was completely by myself, alone, with no one to help me figure out what was the matter with me.  While still in college I saw a psychiatrist for nearly two years.  I tried dating a number of women during college and later while working at TACOM.  None of it worked, of course.  I couldn’t change my feelings of physical attraction. 

Try to imagine why anyone in their right mind would choose to be gay.  Just for a moment imagine what being hated by nearly everyone would feel like.  Ask yourself why anybody would want to be rejected or to risk physical harm.  Now imagine that the only way to escape the hatred was by changing your sexual orientation.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that it can’t be done.  Sexual orientation is not a choice.  It is a fact of life. 

However, acting on homosexual impulses is a choice.  I could decide how to play the hand I was dealt.  Only two possibilities came to mind:  The first one was that I could announce to the world that I was gay, knowing that I’d be marked for life.  From that point forward, whenever people met me or talked about me or thought about me, the first word that would come to their minds would be GAY.  For some people I’d never be anything else.  No other description would come in a close second.  Nothing else I did or said would matter.  [You’ll see this soon enough for yourself.]  To admit to being gay is to be ready to endure an abiding ill-will, an unending rain of poison from nearly every person who knew about it.  I rejected this possibility because I just couldn’t face the thought of all that animosity. 

The other possibility was to live as if I were ‘normal’.  If I acted ‘normally’, then I’d be sheltered by the uncertainty of family and friends.  I could avoid the poisonous rain.  And it turns out that all the people I cared about were perfectly okay with that.  As long as no one knew for sure then I’d get the benefit of a doubt and the fiction could continue.  Acting ‘normally’ meant that I couldn’t draw undue attention to myself.  I could never let my guard down.  I had to watch everything I said.  I had to laugh at the jokes, and nod at the nasty comments, and pretend that they didn’t hurt.  I couldn’t share confidences.  I had to submerge feelings of physical attraction all the time.  I had to deny myself close human contact with anyone.  I could not allow any but the feeblest of warmth or intimacy.  I gave up feeling anything at all.  Only by doing all this could I stay in the shelter and avoid the thousands and thousands of poisonous little droplets.    

Despite my best efforts the fictional life hasn’t worked very well.  Having bottled up my feelings in so many ways, I suffered two nervous breakdowns and had recurring bouts of black depression.  I never had special feelings for someone else, nor anyone for me; and at my age I don’t expect I ever will.  I’ve lived in an emotional desert that most people would do anything to avoid.  The act didn’t fool friends who had long known without my telling them that I am gay.  None of them have ever raised the subject because they sensed rightly that I don’t want to talk about it.  But the thing is that my friendships lack the depth that can exist only when friends share their vulnerabilities in trust. 

I don’t know who among the family members my real friends are.  It is impossible for me to ever be at ease with the very people who mean the most to me.  Likewise, it’s impossible for anyone else to be truly at ease with me.  My failure to be honest about my sexuality rightly makes me the object of mistrust among everyone who suspects I’m gay.  I’ve had to endure jokes and remarks intended to make me squirm.  I lived like a coward, without dignity, cringing in fear that one day I’d be exposed.  So I gained very little by the fiction.  My silence has affected you as well, though you probably haven’t noticed it.  It allowed you to inflict harm every time you show contempt for gay people.  It allowed you to nurture prejudices that my honest life might have softened.             

You may find what I’ve said hard to accept.  Some of you have long been told that people choose to be gay.  You may think it self-evident that homosexuality is a deliberate rebellion against God.  Maybe you think that gays are possessed by the devil.  Or maybe the gays you’ve seen on TV and at the movies makes wickedness the only explanation that fits.  I’m talking about the guys dressed up like chorus girls, the fairies, and the flamboyant marchers in gay pride parades.  Surely, you may think, they choose to live as they do.  I can’t answer for them or explain them to you because I don’t know much more about them than you do.  I don’t know what motivates them.  I don’t know anyone who behaves as they do.  However, I do know what it is like to have an entire life instantly judged on the strength of a single word.  While I don’t understand their effeminate ways, I can imagine that the crap they endure must dwarf anything that I will ever experience.        

You, on the other hand, have a lifetime of memories that include me.  If you believe that being gay is evil, then you’ve been in the company of an evil person every time we’ve been together.  I was gay when you saw me sitting on our parents’ living room floor in front of the old black and white TV.  I was gay when we sat down in the basement to every breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I was gay when you saw me get confirmed.  I was gay in high school.  I was gay every Christmas and Easter.  I was gay at every family reunion, wedding, funeral, camping trip and card game, and at every celebration of joy and sorrow.  Do your memories of me support the idea that being gay the same thing as being evil?  That’s what all this comes down to.  How you answer the question will determine what you do next.  You can continue to believe that anyone who is gay is also wicked, or you can see from a brother’s example that maybe they are not.      

Maybe you’re wondering why I waited until now to tell you all this.  You might better ask why I waited so long.  There were, over the years, who-knows-how-many times when I could have told you, only to chicken out at the last minute.  It’s always been easier to let things slide.  Well the act is over.  I will live the rest of my life with the consequences, some of which I regret to say will also be yours. 

What now?  I haven’t a clue.  I dread this ordeal.  The thought of it is the main reason I haven’t said anything before now.  I expect it will be a humiliating experience, as in fact it already is.  Writing this is painful.  Dredging up these feelings is painful.  Pushing the ‘Send’ button.  Wondering how you will react.  You’ll have a share of pain too, and it may last a long time.  Some of you will feel anger and shame that someone in the family is gay.  Your feelings might harden into resentment and animosity.  The common knowledge that I am gay could cause a rift in the family.  You may all shun me. 

I think, though, that being honest is worth the risk.  I have to believe that you prefer an uncomfortable truth to agreeable lie.  All I want is for things to continue as before, except that now you’ll have a real brother instead of a fictional character.  We’ll see if that is possible.  What will happen will happen, no matter what I want or what you wish you didn’t know.  Understand that I’m not apologizing for what I am and cannot change but for acting like something that I am not.  To those of you who can’t accept what I’ve just told you, I guess this is goodbye.  You have to do what you believe to be right.  I can hope that circumstances will change.    

What will I do now?  Again, I haven’t a clue, except to say that however I live my life from this point forward will be my business, just as you rightly felt all these years that your business was entirely yours.  I’ve already exposed more vulnerability to you than any of you ever have or ever will to me.  There’s no more that I feel obligated to share.      

We’re at a crossroads here.  You may feel deeply hurt.  You may feel a loss, as if someone died.  That is how it feels to me.  Some of you may find it hard to contain your feelings and want to respond immediately, which would be a mistake.  It took me years of reflection and several months to write the four pages that you spent only 20 minutes to read.  I ask that you wait a week before contacting me.  There’s a lot to think about.  Take the time to talk to each other, to your spouses and your families.  Sort this out among yourselves before saying something that cannot be taken back. 

I’m deeply sorry for whatever pain this may cause you, but there is really no alternative.  It is a test of the love we say we have for one another.  Every test in life is always unwelcome, but it is only during such times that we find out what our bonds are really made of.  Please -- no prayers for a miraculous recovery.  Pray instead for the wisdom to get through this.  Pray for the strength of the family.