People, when faced with a big reality they can’t avoid, tend to spend great effort on the small things they can avoid. Most often, the hysteria simply makes things worse. Still, there's benefit for politicians and others to cry wolf, and for people to respond with hysteria.
Right now, though, there is a hysteria that the Prospect has to, if not encourage, at least support.
There is a very important safeguard in our Constitution that was weakened by the recent neoconservative court. If the cops are asking you questions hour after hour, telling you lies which they are legally allowed to do, and you crack and stammer what they want to hear, it used to be illegal to use that confession. Now, though, you pretty much can’t say anything when talking to the cops except “I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to you.”
Prior to this weakening of the law a true confession coerced by the cops didn’t count any more than a false confession. That’s how the myopic justice system works, and it’s OK, because we are supposed to believe in Blackwell’s formula of “better ten guilty go free than one innocent is convicted.” A nation that boasts its rights come from the Creator should insist on a system of justice that errs on the side of the accused.
However, the case of Loren Herzog is tough to context in that instance. Herzog and his childhood friend and fellow speed freak Wesley Shermantine killed at least six people and as many as 29 over a 15 year period, ending with their arrest in 1999, at which point they were both 33. Typically, the pair simply bushwhacked men with shotguns, and women were generally assaulted and then killed, one stabbed over 45 times, one had her throat slit on the hood of Shermantine’s car. The duo were expert at hiding the bodies in the hills around their home stomping grounds. Some believe they killed their first human at 16.
Tagged the “Speed Freak Killers,” the pair were convicted, Shermantine of 4 first degree murder charges, and Herzog of the slaying of 3 people. Shermantine was sentenced to death by lethal injection, and Herzog to 78 years in the jug, essentially a life sentence. Shermantine still sits on death row, but in 2004 Herzog was able to have his confession thrown out because he said, at several points over 17 hours, “I don’t want to talk to you guys.” He said many other things during those 17 hours, enough to convince a rational person that Herzog was at least a willing accomplice to many terrible murders. The 78 years of first degree murder shrunk to 14 years, which he has successfully served enough of to be set free.
The county from which he was incarcerated, San Joaquin, won’t take him back because he’s a danger to many people who still live there including the parents of some of his victims. The state has released Herzog to Dept of Prison’s property in Susanville. Since Herzog was not released to his county of origin, the taxpayers are paying all his bills. They are also paying to have him monitored 24/7 via an electronic bracelet, though those have proven fallible.
Local cops, Boards of Supervisors, politicians and self appointed concerned citizens have all called to have Herzog released somewhere else, for example, Hell, but it seems likely that, for the time being at least, Herzog will be a free person in Lassen County. If he were the only homicidal speed freak in the area, that wouldn’t be so bad.
There is no way the state can legally keep Herzog in prison. Though the media and politicians love to raise our fear and increase their influence, in this instance the boy is crying wolf, and there really is a wolf. Herzog should not be allowed back into society. It has been noted that, should the state be concerned for his life, in other words, fearful that someone might bushwack Herzog as he did others, then it might be necessary to keep in him protective custody until the threat passed, if it ever did.
The facility at Susanville; Herzog will be temporarily living in a trailer outside the gate.
No one is sure where his permanent transfer will be.
One final note in the “things are getting worse all the time” category, the legislators will no doubt puff themselves up and encourage our outrage and pass yet more bad laws that will keep even more of us in prison for even longer, even as prisons eat more of our state budget. In addition to the heartache and loss caused to the families of the people he murdered for sport, the rash of new draconian laws in response to his release might be part of the misery of Herzog’s legacy.