Law Life: Romance returns to life on the lam

By Craig Napier

The Daily Record Newswire

Just a few weeks after I was born in 1971, D.B. Cooper jumped out of a Boeing 727 into infamy and law enforcement lore.

His Nov. 24 leap is the only unsolved hijacking in the pantheon of United States commercial aviation. There are various theories about his whereabouts, demise, and identity.

For my money, he probably didn't make it out alive. If you believe the description found on the FBI website of the events that night in 1971, coupled with what they have found in the ensuing 39 years, it is highly unlikely. The FBI has a 60-volume active case file in case you really want to get up to speed.

I have a growing pile of D.B.-type files, not 60 volumes, but after nearly 18 months in my job, I have about a foot-high stack of missing-client files in the "D.B." drawer in my office.

Since first learning about Dan Cooper, the name on his ticket, I have always held a little mystic candle in my heart that he made it and retired comfortably on a little plot of land with a dog, a beard and his money.

My clients, on the other hand, did not get away with anything, as they have all been fingerprinted, photographed for mug shots, and processed into the U.S. criminal justice complex's data base. The maze of local, state, and federal computers are like the great radio of the Internet, and I don't have to repeat the wisdom of cops: Criminals can't outrun the law.

It would be hard to do anything in this country without getting a hit on some warrant system somewhere. Whether it's renewing a license at the Department of Motor Vehicles, applying for a job, checking into a hotel or driving down the street with a bad taillight, the databases will always catch up to you in modern times -- just like the officer in the next town, after he hears on the radio about you speeding away from the scene of a crime.

I have often wondered if I should take over/under bets on how long some of my clients will go, but that seems in bad taste -- and probably an ethics violation -- so I have not.

Last week, though, I read a story in the New York Times that put a little more romance in my jaded lawyer heart about going on the lam.

The first few times I heard this expression my young mind was confused. I didn't believe lambs were all that fast, so why were people who are running from authorities riding them?

Enter Enrico Ponzo. Evidently Enrico spent the early '90s trying to get rid of the bosses from Boston's Patriarca family. In 1997 he was part of a 15-person indictment, which alleges, among other things, that Enrico participated in a gangland shooting all those years ago against a boss who is now supposedly in witness protection.

Enrico got out. Before the indictment, before his partners in crime turned on each other to take plea bargains, and before the contract to kill him could be fulfilled, he got out.

"Out" is an understatement, as the man went from Massachusetts to Idaho and started his life as Jeffrey John Shaw, aka "Jay."

Friends in Idaho say "Jay" seemed a bit out of place in his outdated bib overalls and straw hats with his thick Boston brogue, but he was affable and helpful enough to earn the trust of a small community of rural folks out west.

He now has a place in the country complete with some dogs, cows, and a tractor or two, I'm sure, but he didn't stay in isolation.

He married and had two kids out there, and that may have done him in.

The Feds won't tell how they caught up with him in February on a dusty road near his house. His soon-to-be ex-wife denies saying anything, but as someone who has been involved in many divorce proceedings I'm guessing it may not have been his wife, but it was probably a friend of hers.

So while he didn't live out my delusion of life on the lam, he did come close. But to look at his home with two stories, a wrap-around deck and a three-car garage, I would say his romantic notion of riding a lamb was a little better than mine.

He is likely back in Boston now, but who knows? The U.S. Marshals kept the details of his move back to Bean Town secret - surely because contracts on your life don't have a statute of limitations on them.

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Craig Napier is an attorney in the Kirksville office of the Missouri State Public Defender System. He can be reached at ncnapier@gmail.com.

Published: Tue, Mar 15, 2011

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