I finally understood the true meaning of the Franklin case one night in early 1996. Watching television and skipping through the channels, I came upon the movie Billy Budd. Instantly I zeroed in on this movie, and my heart, rather than the channels, started skipping.
By the time the movie ended, the Franklin cover-up made sense. Alisha Owen's imprisonment for telling the truth made sense. The protection of the perpetrators by our highest public officials, finally made sense. I understood, also, why it was necessary to discredit me, John DeCamp, and to kill Gary Caradori, with his eight-year-old son. Any nagging doubts I may have had about any aspects of Paul Bonacci's charges were laid to rest. And it was clear to me, at last, that public officials at all levels knew Paul was telling the truth, as they set out to destroy him.
Where did the blinding revelation come from? Let me go back a few months, to my last attempt to get a new trial for Alisha Owen. At that hearing, Troy Boner, who had originally told Gary Caradori the truth, and who had been forced to recant, was preparing to testify - to tell the truth as you read it in his affidavit in Chapter 21. Troy Boner was going to provide the information in open court, under oath, that would blow the lid off the Franklin case and force a new trial for Alisha Owen.
As Troy came into the courthouse, he was immediately ushered into a private room by county judicial authorities. He was advised that a "Special Attorney" had been appointed to protect him. For approximately one hour, while the hearing was delayed, Troy was cornered in a room with this "Special Attorney" and with other officials from the prosecutor's office, the very same prosecutorial team Troy was about to testify against.
When Troy came out of the meeting, I knew he was broken, his morale smashed. His head hung down. He could not, or would not look at anyone.
As I approached Troy, his new court-appointed attorney tried to step between us. With probably the last ounce of courage he could muster, Troy leaned over and whispered to me, "Oh God, forgive me. They guaranteed if I talk here today, they will put me away for twenty years. Guaranteed I would never see the light of day again. Told me that I would be charged with perjury for my original testimony, if I opened my mouth today in court. Don't ~all me up there. I can't survive in prison. I know they can put me there. Look what they did to Alisha. Look what they did to my brother. I've got no choice. They told me I had to take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify. Otherwise, they promised I would be taken directly from court to jail"
We all proceeded into the court room, where I called Troy to the stand. I showed Troy his affidavit. He hung his head, and when I asked my first question, "Would you please state your name?" Troy responded, "I take the Fifth Amendment," an answer he repeated, in a barely audible voice, to all my other questions.
It was hopeless. I ceased my questioning, and shortly thereafter the hearing ended.
I walked back to the judge's chambers to clear up any final details. Judge Enbody had been specially appointed by the Nebraska State Supreme Court to this hearing, which I had won from the Supreme Court based on Troy's new information. (The next day I learned that he had been appointed to the Court of Appeals-a very substantial advancement in his career.)
Sitting in Judge Enbody's chambers, with my head hung so low it was hitting my shoestrings, I was given the key to unlock the meaning of Franklin. "I do not understand it, Your Honor," I kept repeating. "As God is my witness, I do not think that there is a judge or other person involved in this case who does not know that horrible injustice has been done. Everybody knows that Alisha Owen is telling the truth and that she is being punished for it. And, Your Honor, a person has to be deaf, dumb, blind, and totally dishonest, not to know that some of this state's and nation's top businessmen and public officials have engaged in the worst crimes possible, which are now being covered up. And these kids, instead of being honored and protected for exposing these things, are being sent to prison. Why? Why? Why?"
Judge Enbody looked at me. Slowly, his voice shaking, he began to talk.
"I am just a man. I am not a god. I wish I were. I have no choice in what I have done. I am just a man, just a man, not a god. I am doing what I must do with the evidence before me," Judge Enbody concluded. He appeared even more shaken and upset than I was.
I shook my head. "I don't understand. I just don't understand," I kept repeating. "Everybody knows what is happening, but nobody is willing to do anything about it. Why? Why?!!" Judge Enbody looked at me and said, very slowly, "If you want to understand the entire Franklin case, I can help you. Go read 'Billy Budd.' Read 'Billy Budd.' If you will do that, John, and if you understand the book, then you will understand the what and why of Franklin, and why it can be no other way. I do not say you will like it. I do not say you will agree with it. But at least you will understand it. That, I promise you. Go read 'Billy Budd'."
Those were the last words I spoke with the Judge on the case. I left his chambers, burnt out, but angry. And I forgot all about Billy Budd, until the night I happened upon the movie. The story of Billy Budd is set in the British Navy near the end of the eighteenth century. Billy was a young sailor, who, although impressed into the British Navy, bore no ill will to the authorities for having dragooned him; indeed, he was the very picture of innocence and good-will, and was almost universally loved aboard his war-ship. One officer, however, developed an insane jealousy of Billy, and set out to frame him up for allegedly inciting mutiny. Since there had been several notorious mutinies in the British fleet at the time, the mere whisper of "mutiny" was enough to spread panic among the ship's officers.
To make a long story short, because of certain incriminating appearances in the case, the captain and his senior officers, although they knew Billy was innocent of all charges, nonetheless sentenced him to hang, a necessity - as they viewed it - to "save the system," not just on their own ship, but in the British fleet as a whole.
Now I think I do understand the Franklin case. I know, now, that all the public officials involved in Franklin-whether they ever heard of Billy Budd or not-fully understood what they were doing.
And what they all have done, and will continue to do in this case, Franklin, and no doubt many others like it, is this: Protect the "system" at all costs. The "system" is the only ultimate sacred cow-not any particular law or constitution, but only "the system." Because, ultimately, it is the system which makes certain that the individuals functioning within it - from judges to lawyers, to prosecutors, to politicians, to businessmen - have their places and positions, and opportunities and pecking order, and future.
And, though it is unfortunate, that on occasion the protection of the "system" requires the deliberate sacrifice of perfectly innocent people, that is hoped overall to be the exception rather than the rule. But without the "system" . .
So, Judge Enbody, now I understand. And, as you said, I may not agree, but I do understand.
But then I have one final, nagging question. How do I know when, or if, the "system" itself has become so corrupted, that evil is the rule, rather than the exception? And when that occurs, what do I do about it? But I think I know the answer to that one - my oId commanding officer in Vietnam told me what I had to do. I made some promises to Bill, and I intend to keep them.