Of all the too-funny-to-be-tragic events in American history, my favorite is the cannibalism trial and sentencing of Alferd J. Packer (that poor soul in the photograph) in 1874.
The precise facts concerning the trial are still a trifle murky after all these years. But the story involves a sort of pathetic nobody whose first name had morphed by mysterious means from Alfred to Alferd. Alf-whatever was in a party of gold hunters that got stranded by winter weather in the Colorado Rockies.
What happened next depends on whose sworn testimony you want to believe and whose forensic reconstruction of history you prefer. You can find the basic and occasionally conflicting elements of the tale here. What seems common to all accounts is that Packer evidently ate or was accused of eating his stranded traveling companions.
This led to one of the most colorful (if sometimes differently quoted) sentencing speeches in the history of American law. I memorized the version I read in a 1970-something press report — a report prompted by the attempt of some smart-alecs at the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C. to name their cafeteria “The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill.” I also seem to remember a recommended slogan for the cafeteria, “I never met a man I didn’t eat.” But perhaps my memory is playing games with me.
Anyway, back to the judge’s sentencing speech. The version I memorized went like this:
There was seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and you, you man-eating son of a bitch, you ate five of them! I hearby sentence you to hang by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead as a warning against further depredations of the Democratic Party in this county.Wikipedia has two other versions of the sentencing speech, including this rather more colloquial and elaborate one:
Stand up yah voracious man-eatin' sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of 'em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t' be hanged by th' neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin' ag'in reducin' th' Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell but the statutes forbid it."Which brings me to Carl Rove, Alberto Gonzolez, John Yoo, Richard Cheney and various other man-eating you-know-whats. In various capacities as members of the Bush administration, all of them contributed to the demise of this nation’s international status, economy, military preparedness and respect for law and the United States Constitution.
There’s a rumor floating around that on or close to his last day in office, George Bush will offer a blanket pardon to anybody who ever did anything for him. That would most certain have to include the cast of characters listed in the previous paragraph.
I hope it won’t happen. Instead, I’d like to see a trial and guilty verdict for each of them, followed by a symbolic pardon offered by President Obama — but only to one of the miscreants. I don't care which one. Pick one. Free him just to signal that even an aggrieved American populace can show a bit of mercy when the administration is Democratic. And then to hell with the rest of them.
Oh, wait. The statutes still forbid courts from sentencing people to hell. Well, don’t worry. Just do what President Bush did and ignore the statutes.