Killing a retarded inmate isn’t that hard — not if you have a cooperative psychiatrist.

Blood Simple 

Killing a retarded inmate isn’t that hard — not if you have a cooperative psychiatrist.

Steven Parkus, Missouri's capital punishment inmate No. 54, sits across a metal table from Wade Myers, a Florida psychiatrist, in an interview room in the Potosi Correctional Center, the state's death house, about 70 miles south of St. Louis.

Parkus rubs his eyes with shackled hands, rocks back and forth, smiles and jokes with Myers, seemingly unaware that he's conversing with the man who has been hired by the state of Missouri to evaluate whether he is just smart enough and just sane enough to be executed.

Parkus is talking about female aliens. In the videotaped interview, he tells the psychiatrist that he imagines how, if he had sex with a female alien, her vagina would suck him up like a vacuum and he'd never be seen again.

"Just suck you right up in there?" Myers asks, his voice expressionless, his pen scribbling on a legal pad.

"Aliens got some hell of a power," Parkus says, chuckling. "I was tripping about that one night. It say in the Bible they got some kind of fantastic power. Stick your face somewhere between her legs and they'll never find you again. You'll get vacuumed up. It'll suck you right on up. Never find you again."

Parkus is slight, but his voice is a low growl that's Tom Waits deep and doesn't seem to fit him -- in fact, it comes off as a little comical, just like his talk about aliens.

But Parkus is a murderer. And a serial attacker of women. And a habitual liar. He's been on Missouri's death row since 1987 for killing a fellow prison inmate, and the state would like to end his appeals -- and, with a lethal injection, his life.

But in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Atkins v. Virginia, that to execute the mentally retarded (defined by the court as having an IQ below 70, using the standard set by the American Association of Mental Retardation) is unconstitutional. Sixteen years earlier, the court had ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane.

Steve Parkus' attorneys say he's both. Doctors have diagnosed him as schizophrenic, and his IQ has been tested repeatedly. (He has scored as high as 76 but usually registers below 70.) Parkus, his attorneys claim, is exactly the kind of inmate the Supreme Court had in mind when it decided Atkins and deserves to have his death sentence commuted to life without the possibility of parole.

But the state has other ideas.

As soon as the Atkins decision was announced three years ago, pundits predicted that inmates and their attorneys would rush to file claims of insanity and mental retardation -- and that inmates would feign those conditions to get out of their death sentences. Both sides of the debate predicted that many death-row appeals would come down to expensive debates between experts.

That's how Parkus found himself being interviewed by Wade Myers, the Florida doctor with a reputation for finding even the nuttiest inmates to be perfectly sane.

After listening to Parkus ramble about his space-alien fantasies, Myers decided that the inmate was a malingerer, a con artist who was feigning his mental deficiencies. Parkus wasn't retarded, Myers concluded; if anything, the diminutive convict had showed higher intellectual traits.

In February 2004, Myers sent his conclusions to Associate Circuit Judge Robert Stillwell in the 24th Judicial Circuit Court in Washington County, where Parkus' last appeal is being weighed and may be decided at any time.

Parkus' attorneys, who are based in Kansas City, say they were shocked by Myers' findings and tell the Pitch that it's Myers who needs his head examined. Parkus, they say, is mentally ill and retarded; horrible, repeated victimizations have made him that way. Anyone who met him, they contend, would see that he was no faker.

The Pitch took the suggestion and scheduled a visit.

Because of his history of violence against women, Parkus cannot receive a female visitor without a glass barrier. A prison guard denies the Pitch's request to place a tape recorder on Parkus' side of the window. He's been known to smash such objects in a rage.

But when the orange-clad, handcuffed figure appears in the visiting chamber, he looks neither angry nor dangerous. Just shy.

Parkus has long, graying hair and a scraggly goatee. He has washed-out blue eyes, but they don't look vacant. He makes eye contact and smiles and laughs at appropriate times. It's his words, not his manner, that are alarmingly disconnected from reality.

"I been having these funny dreams where I appear in front of Bill Clinton, and he's playing solitaire or something, and he keeps looking at me and he holds up the ace of spades," Parkus says. "And there's some kind of alien there, some scary-looking beast or something. And ol' Clinton's got on this white shirt and a black tie and a black hat, and his hair is gone, so whoever got him got him good."

Parkus goes on to say that before the guards "slam-dunked" him -- before he was placed in a form of solitary confinement called administrative segregation, or ad-seg -- he had 30 Bibles that he used to line up on his bed and try to match up, page for page, word for word. There, he learned that the King of the North and the King of the South, as described in the Book of Daniel, are really Clinton and President George W. Bush, though sometimes he changes his mind and says that the King of the North is actually a Potosi guard whom he knows. Comparing different versions of the Bible led him toward his favorite conspiracy theories, which have to do with the book of Revelation, the Oklahoma City bombing, atomic weapons and the prison itself. He describes his vivid dream of the ad-seg wing blowing up and the skin melting off his forearms before his eyes.

If Parkus weren't sitting on death row, the assertion that the man needs help would be a seemingly uncontroversial statement.

But his defenders know that when it comes to capital appeals, such simple observations don't count for much.

Parkus' appeals attorney, Sean O'Brien, is one of the leading capital-punishment lawyers in the country. He was appointed the executive director of the nonprofit Public Interest Litigation Clinic in 1989, after leaving the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Defender's Office, which he had run for four years.

O'Brien's name is associated with several landmark cases. His work exonerated Illinois death-row inmate Steven Manning, contributing to the decision by Illinois' then-Gov. George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in the state in 2003. That same year, Joe Amrine, who was on death row for the stabbing death of a fellow inmate, was freed after serving 17 years after O'Brien helped establish that the state's main witness in the stabbing was actually the killer.

Amrine now answers phones for the law office, where O'Brien is helping him blend back into civilian life. The PILC office, a no-frills space in Brookside, buzzes with lawyers, law students, volunteers and one private investigator.

The PILC's lawyers don't hesitate to call their pro-bono client Steve Parkus "batshit crazy." O'Brien says he sometimes puts Parkus on speakerphone when he calls so that the law students in the office can gather around and listen to what "truly demented" sounds like.

But it's not just Parkus' attorneys who say he's insane. The Missouri Department of Mental Health is required to examine death-row inmates whose competency is questioned by prison officials. In 2003, the department hired psychiatrist John Rabun to examine Parkus, and Rabun found "with reasonable medical certainty" that Parkus was schizophrenic. Therefore, Rabun wrote, the inmate "lacks the capacity to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment about to be imposed on him" and, according to Missouri law, should not be executed.

But the state attorney general's office sought another opinion and hired Myers.

Myers, chief of the Division of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Florida, routinely evaluates inmates for competency before their trials, on behalf of the state of Florida, but has certified only a handful as competent for execution. The state of Missouri paid Myers $20,152 for his evaluation of Parkus.

In some high-profile death-penalty cases, Myers has been the only expert among several to find an inmate competent for execution, and in some news-making cases in Florida, he has been the only expert to find a defendant competent to stand trial.

He certified Aileen Wuornos, the woman on whom the film Monster was based, mentally competent for execution. She was executed in 2002. Her last words were, "I'd just like to say I'm sailing with the rock, and I'll be back like Independence Day with Jesus June 6. Like the movie, big mother ship and all, I'll be back."

Myers was overruled in his opinion that a Jacksonville, Florida, man named Gregory Harris was mentally competent to stand trial in a recent case. Harris was charged with the stabbing deaths of his 81-year-old grandmother and grandfather, whom he said were trying to "shave and rape" him. In March of this year, Myers was the only expert to find Harris competent for trial, but a judge ordered Harris to be treated in a mental-health facility instead.

Myers worked for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2002 execution of Linroy Bottoson, a death-row inmate convicted in the kidnapping and murder of an elderly woman. That execution was temporarily delayed after a doctor concluded that Bottoson didn't believe he would be executed because he could hear God and could prevent a terrorist attack. Previously, Bottoson had told state psychiatrists that he received messages from God and that if he could visit the grave of his murder victim, he could resurrect her. Myers was the one expert to testify that Bottoson's claim didn't mean that he was mentally ill. "There are evangelists every Sunday who have large viewerships who say they're also receiving the same messages from God," Myers said at the time. "I think when you begin to label fundamental Christian beliefs as psychosis, it's not justified."

The Bottoson case still bothers Xavier Amador, an adjunct professor at Columbia University, who evaluated Bottoson 24 hours before Myers did. Amador came to an opposite diagnosis, finding Bottoson to be schizophrenic and therefore unfit to be executed. Amador is an expert in schizophrenia who says he spent 15 years writing the book that Myers used as a reference in making his diagnosis.

"In my experience with Linroy Bottoson and Dr. Myers, I was extremely perplexed by the diagnosis that he came up with and also by the fact that they made no legitimate effort to speak with me, when I had spent more time than they had spent with Bottoson," Amador tells the Pitch by phone from his office in New York. "I was one-on-one with Mr. Bottoson. They were a committee of evaluators, and when you're a committee of evaluators, you have three people looking at someone and that person is less likely to be revealing. Especially when he doesn't think he's mentally ill. About half of the people with schizophrenia don't believe that they're mentally ill."

Amador says that psychiatric work for the prosecution tends to be far more lucrative than for the defense, which often works pro-bono, as in the case of Parkus. He won't say that money sways experts for the prosecution to come up with findings that the state wants. But he hints at it.

"Gov. Bush's office was clearly interested in finding Bottoson to be well enough to be killed," Amador says. "Was Dr. Myers influenced by that? I don't have a clue. I certainly was perplexed by his ultimate opinion."

In the case of Parkus, Myers found that the inmate's cell was tidy, that he "did not have an odor" and that his conversation was appropriate, even entertaining at times. Myers noted Parkus' skill at playing chess with other inmates. He applauded Parkus' deft use of a "Cadillac," which is prison-speak for a string tied to any weighted object -- in Parkus' case, a pancake-syrup packet -- that inmates use to pass things like notes and cigarettes from cell to cell. And Myers was impressed by Parkus' description of how to light a cigarette in prison by arranging three pieces of pencil lead and some toilet paper in a particular way in an electrical socket.

Myers cites Parkus' ability to name the past eight presidents correctly, along with relevant anecdotes about each. "Mr. Parkus in some ways is functioning in the average to high-average range of intellectual functioning," Myers writes. Myers didn't perform an IQ test, reporting that "no additional testing was necessary."

Myers says Parkus is not schizophrenic. It's possible to lead Parkus to explain the origin of his stories, and he laughs at parts that are particularly fantastic. During court testimony, Parkus didn't veer off into weird rants. "For these reasons," Myers writes, "I opine this behavior on Mr. Parkus' part was due to conscious exaggeration of free-form fantasy thinking -- a form of malingering (faking) -- and not caused by a true mental illness. His goal in feigning psychotic-like thinking is most likely an attempt to avoid the death penalty."

If that's true, the inmate's defenders say, it's an act he's been putting on for a very long time.

Parkus was born in July 1960 to a hard-drinking teenage mother named Linda Parkus. He and his brother, Chester, were removed from Linda's home by the state when Parkus was 4 years old. They were moved to the house of an uncle, who subjected Parkus to sexual abuse. When Parkus was 7, the uncle tried to chop off his finger with a meat cleaver, according to court documents.

The Parkus brothers were then placed in foster care numerous times. Parkus ran away as often as twice a week. When foster care couldn't hold him, he was placed in homes for boys: the Butterfield Boys Ranch, the W.E. Sears Youth Center, Farmington State Hospital, St. Louis State Hospital, Fulton State Hospital and, finally, the Missouri Training School for Boys in Boonville. He escaped from these locations at least ten times.

Parkus was always small for his age and always the first to be victimized by other boys, he recalls. He claims he was sexually dominated and used at the residential and treatment facilities, just like he had been by his uncle.

At Farmington State Hospital, Parkus met a mentally disturbed girl named Nancy, who became the closest thing to a girlfriend that Parkus ever had. They used to run away from Farmington together, steal popcorn and sodas and sleep in parked cars. When Parkus was transferred to the facility in Boonville, Nancy called him and told him that she needed his help because she was lonely and felt threatened by the other kids. Parkus wanted to escape and go to Nancy.

But when he tried to get away, he was discovered by one of his teachers, who was happy to have found him and tried to hug him. Parkus reacted by trying to choke her and grabbing her breast. "It was not primarily a sexual thing ... in fact he knew very little about sex at that time, only what his uncle had done to him. He had never had a feeling like this before," a neurologist wrote in a report about the encounter.

The teacher wasn't badly injured. A month later, in February 1977, 16-year-old Parkus was certified as an adult to stand trial for the assault. While waiting for his trial in the Boonville jail, he squeezed through a window in the shower and ran to a house six blocks away. He found a young woman working in her backyard and asked to use her phone. Inside, Parkus grabbed her by the throat and attempted to take her clothes off, but she screamed, "You're hurting the baby." When Parkus looked down and saw her sleeping baby in a crib, he let go of the woman and fled. After he was caught again by police, he pleaded guilty to three felony charges. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Lean, young and blond, Parkus was a vulnerable inmate at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. An inmate at the Walls (the nickname for the prison) testified in a later trial that he remembered the guards leading Parkus onto the prison walkway, naked, saying, "You want him in your cell? You want him in your cell?" Parkus was sold to the highest bidder, a routine occurrence among inmates.

Parkus explained to the state's psychiatrist, Myers, that he blames this prison homosexuality -- which he says he had to take part in or be killed -- for the problems he has encountered ever since.

"You didn't feel good about it? You mean that made you feel bad?" Myers asks in the interview.

"I was starting to become one of them," Parkus answers.

Records of the Missouri Department of Corrections describe repeated examples of Parkus victimizing and being victimized. In one occurrence, Parkus was found in the weight-lifting room, surrounded by inmates, scratched and bruised, with semen running down his face. He refused to say what had happened. He was frequently found hiding under the bed of an inmate named Steve Mace, whom other inmates remember as sadistic. It was Mace who took particular pride in sexually dominating and humiliating him, Parkus would later tell psychiatrists and prison personnel. Mace even held a marriage ceremony between himself and Parkus in the prison cafeteria.

On July 16, 1980, Parkus raped a 57-year-old female teacher in a prison classroom. He received two consecutive 30-year sentences for the offense. In 1985, he was told by the parole board that he would have no chance at parole until well into the next century.

Eventually, Parkus met an inmate who was as small and mentally deficient as he was, a man named Mark Steffenhagen, who was serving a 20-year sentence for robbery. His prison nickname was Cool Breeze. Missouri Department of Corrections records show that the two men were often disciplined for being in each other's cells and engaging in oral sex.

On November 24, 1985, after dinner, Parkus slipped into Steffenhagen's cell to try something on Steffenhagen that Steve Mace had done to him. He ripped strips of material from his bedsheets and hid them in his pockets. According to a transcribed interview conducted by prison officials, Parkus said, "I come back from chow and went into Cool Breeze's cell, you know. He took his clothes off except for his shorts. And I put his hands behind, tied his hands behind his back. Tied his feet, and I laid him over on his back and I told him what I was going to do and why."

An investigator asked, "What did you tell him you were going to do, Steve?"

"I told him I was going to kill him," Parkus answered. "I told him, believe me, I know what you are going through 'cause I'm going through it. Said there ain't no other alternative but either die or do the rest of your life in prison, you know, and have people take advantage all the time, unless you start killing on them, you know.... I just started choking on him. Had my hands around his throat, you know, I just kept going more and kept squeezing more.... "

Parkus was photographed showing how he squeezed the life out of Steffenhagen. An investigator asked Parkus why he killed his friend.

"Life is small," Parkus said. "A person would rather be dead than to have to go through the sick shit that goes on back here."

"[Parkus] committed a crime that makes no sense to anybody but a mental-health expert," says William O'Connor, a former University of Kansas Medical Center professor and psychiatrist who examined Parkus at O'Brien's request. In Parkus' twisted view, O'Connor says, he was doing Steffenhagen a favor by choking him to death. "What he did to him [Steffenhagen] was a perfect re-enactment of his own childhood sexual and physical abuse.... In Steve's very disordered mind, it might have been a mercy killing."

In his trial for the killing, however, Parkus' extensive history of physical abuse and mental ill health were almost entirely ignored. His public defender, Donald Catlett, attempted to find Parkus' medical records but was told by a Department of Corrections clerk that Parkus' psychiatric and medical records from St. Louis Hospital had been destroyed. (O'Brien later found that they had not.) Catlett was similarly unable to get his hands on prison disciplinary records until the opening day of Parkus' trial. So when Cole County Prosecutor Robert Ahsens painted Parkus as a sexual predator in the trial, Catlett did not have the evidence on hand to show that, in fact, Parkus and Steffenhagen's relationship had been consensual and that both men were frequently the victims of the prison's other sexual aggressors.

Without the benefit of the old mental-health records, the psychiatrists who examined Parkus for the state, A.E. Daniel and Mahindra Jayaratna, were unable to diagnose Parkus as schizophrenic, though prior records did consistently diagnose Parkus as suffering from mild mental retardation. Schizophrenia often shows up in childhood, but without a record to establish a history of mental disease or defect, the two doctors were able to label Parkus only with antisocial personality disorder, which has no influence on Missouri's sentencing guidelines. A jury deliberated for four hours before handing down the death penalty.

It was on death row in the new maximum-security prison at Potosi that Parkus met Joe Amrine.

"If not for me being around Steve, I'da went crazy," Amrine says. "For real, crazy. Because Steve kept me laughing." The two became friends, Amrine says, but he could see that Parkus was a bottom-feeder in the prison hierarchy, and surviving at the bottom means doing as you're told.

The problem was, Parkus had no regard for prison convention, which was one of the reasons he was always in trouble, Amrine recalls. He didn't know that homosexual guys were supposed to hang out with homosexuals, white guys with white guys, and so forth. "Steve wanted to be cool with everybody," says Amrine, who is black. "Steve didn't know where he belonged. Because he's crazy."

In 1993, Parkus attacked Betty Weber, a 67-year-old prison psychologist. O'Brien says Parkus lunged at Weber from across a desk in her office, and she tipped backward in her chair and hit her head against a file cabinet. Afterward, Parkus was beaten by guards so badly that he required hospitalization. He was placed in an administrative-segregation unit, where he has remained isolated ever since.

Though Myers wrote in his report that, when he visited Potosi, Parkus had a clean, orderly cell, Amrine tells a different tale. He says that, whereas most inmates in ad-seg clean their own cells, Parkus' cell had to be cleaned by guards because Parkus was in the habit of saving a week's worth of his feces in the milk cartons that inmates get with their meals. O'Brien says he thinks the guards probably cleaned Parkus' cell and forced him to shower before Myers' visit.

O'Brien has other answers for Myers' examples of how Parkus is a normal, well-adjusted adult. He acknowledges that Parkus can read, for example. "He has never been able to pass first grade, though," the lawyer says. "He cannot manage money. We buy shoes for him all the time, and he'll trade them for dessert at the prison. Some prisoner will say, 'Hey, Steve, want to trade your $75 tennis shoes for a bowl of tapioca?' and he'll say OK. I once put $100 in his account for him to buy a radio or a tape player. He spent it all on Hostess CupCakes and ate them all at once and got sick. The level on which he is functioning is that of a very impaired human being."

O'Brien also dismisses the example of the "Cadillac" tool that Myers pointed out in his report as proof that Parkus has good spatial recognition and cognitive function. "It is not a complex machine," O'Brien says. He compares the Cadillac to tools that crows and sea otters use to get food. "Yeah, Steve could use a wheelbarrow. He could not use a lawn mower." Prison personnel have assigned Parkus jobs, but he's never been able to hold one.

"Some inmates were kind to Steve, and they taught him things," O'Brien continues. For instance, they taught him how to light a cigarette using pencil lead in an electrical socket, the trick that so impressed Myers.

"The first time, Steve used paper clips," O'Brien says. "It exploded in his face. He fell off the toilet and needed stitches in his head. He caught his hair on fire. He damn near electrocuted himself. And Dr. Myers says that's an example of how smart he is."

Parkus' IQ was tested ten times between 1968 (when he was 8 years old) and 2003 (when he was 42). Scores have ranged from 64 to 76, but the last four scores were all less than 70. His most recent examination yielded a score of 69. A test called the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale puts Parkus at the adaptive level of a 5-year-old. Mental-health professionals use a combination of IQ and adaptive-behavior tests to determine mental retardation. On paper, Parkus qualifies.

The initial appeal of Parkus' first-degree-murder conviction was denied, though both state psychiatrists who had previously failed to diagnose Parkus as schizophrenic reversed their decisions once they had access to his old medical records. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Parkus' conviction and sentence. Missouri Supreme Court Judge Charles Blackmar noted Parkus' history in the custody of the state and observed at the time, "The easiest course of action might be to execute him as a means of extermination or euthanasia, but there should be a limit to the process of burying our mistakes. The state must bear some responsibility for the situation which has developed. I would exercise our statutory authority by mitigating the death sentence to life imprisonment."

After these appeals, the director of the Department of Corrections issued a notice that there were grounds to question Parkus' competence for execution. During that time, Atkins v. Virginia was decided, and the Missouri Supreme Court directed the Washington County Circuit Court to look at Parkus' case again. An evidentiary hearing was held at Potosi last July.

There are two issues now before Judge Robert Stillwell. The first is whether Parkus is mentally competent for execution. The second is whether Parkus is mentally retarded and therefore exempt from execution under Atkins.

When the Supreme Court handed down the Atkins v. Virginia decision, dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia warned that widespread faking by inmates might result. "This newest invention promises to be more effective than any of the others in turning the process of capital trial into a game," Scalia wrote. "One need only read the definitions of mental retardation adopted by the American Association of Mental Retardation and the American Psychiatric Association to realize that the symptoms of this condition can readily be feigned."

Defense lawyers, sensitive to the claim that they encourage inmates to appear crazy, counter that prosecutors bring in ringers, psychiatrists who are predisposed to find that inmates are malingering.

But Bill White, the public defender in Jacksonville, Florida, says it would be a mistake to saddle Myers with that kind of label. "I met Dr. Myers when he examined my client for the state, and he found our client insane," White says. "We've used him fairly often since then. Sometimes the prosecution puts the word out that a doctor is pro-prosecution. I don't think Myers has a long enough track record, though he certainly does have a reputation as being fairly conservative in finding a person competent to proceed. Throughout the psychiatric community, you're not going to find a lot of doctors who are successful for long periods of time if they constantly go one way. If they do, they lose their credibility. Dr. Myers is not at that point yet."

Myers himself denies that his integrity is in question. "I can only say I do a substantial amount of work for both the defense and prosecution," he tells the Pitch. If he were a ringer, Myers says, he would get work from only one side.

White says that finding people competent for execution is a really limited field because the circumstances in which it comes up are rare. "There are weird procedures, and this is one of the weirdest, when you get to the point of execution and you have to examine the inmate to make sure they understand what's going on," White says.

Rabun, the state's psychiatrist who diagnosed Parkus as schizophrenic, says that Parkus isn't malingering. His delusional statements are consistent and typical of schizophrenia, and his speech is disorganized in a way which isn't easy to fake, Rabun says. If he were trying to appear crazy, he probably would say yes when asked if he has auditory hallucinations, or he would feign memory loss, but he doesn't do either. And, Rabun writes, Parkus takes full responsibility for the actions leading to his death sentence, "even stating that he was the person who 'strangled' the victim."

In other words, you'd have to be stupid to repeatedly cop to your crime in front of the people sent to carry out your death sentence.

Even here, though, there's disagreement among experts, because Rabun doesn't think Parkus is retarded. The words Rabun used around Parkus are too big for a retarded person to understand, he writes. Words such as hypocritical and vendetta.

But according to O'Brien, Parkus is the victim of our stereotypes of the mentally ill and retarded. "A person who is mentally retarded is not a vegetable," he says. "They still have opinions and feelings like the rest of us. I like to think of them as regular people with a disability. They have problems processing information like a diabetic has problems processing sugar. He is very sick, but underneath that, he has feelings and thoughts like a regular human being. There is this stereotype of mentally ill people -- they have to be so psychotic that they're bouncing off the walls and eating their feces, and mentally retarded people have to be drooling on themselves. But those stereotypes aren't true in the real world." One of Parkus' happiest memories, he tells the Pitch, was when he was 6 or 7 years old and had just run away from his uncle's home with his brother and two other neighborhood boys. He spent the night in a doghouse, he says. It sounds like a scene from a cartoon. And maybe it is.

"I was running away from the cops," Parkus says. "They were chasing us, and I saw this gate and jumped over it, and woosh, I saw this doghouse and slid right in it and the cops ran by. They never thought to look in the doghouse. I made good friends with this big ol' German shepherd. And when the owners brought food for the dog to eat, it was like Chuck Wagon or some shit. It was good, and so I forced myself to eat some of it because I was hungry, and me and that dog got along real well. After we were done eating, we went to sleep, and the owners wondered why their dog wasn't barking like usual, and they came out and we were all rolled up in a circle, like a ball. I had dog food all over my face."

He changes the subject abruptly. "You ever been shot in the rear end with rock salt? My ass was burning 30 days. I'll never go through a window like that again. That damn near made me turn a somersault in the air."

And what if they go ahead and --

"Execute me? It'll be a damned relief, if they do," Parkus says. "I have enough to think about with these fallen angels and stuff. Just get it over with. This place should never have been built in the first place. I think it was made to set the stage for the destruction of whoever they're after."

He drifts back into conspiracy theories, which he says are fueled by late-night radio-show hosts he listens to, such as Art Bell.

So who wins, in the end? Good or evil?

"Evil will be crushed," Parkus says. "Everybody knows that. We all know that evil will never win. I'm just fascinated by the alien part. I like Star Trek. I think it would be fantastic to be like that. Beam me up, Scotty!"

As for the past, Parkus dismisses it with a wave. "Now I'm starting to handle it better. I'm more confident now. Because of my reading. I read certain pages in Psalms. He talks about this and that, about putting your past behind you, that it's all up to you. And with what I know now, yeah, I don't even trip on that no more."

Parkus begins to talk about how some references in the Bible might really be about football -- golden rams might have to do with St. Louis, for instance. "My favorite team was the Pittsburgh Steelers, back in the early '70s and '80s, with Terry Bradshaw and them," he says. "The Steelers was good then."

Just then, on the prison phone, the tinny sound of a whistled tune fills the earpiece. Parkus' entire countenance changes. His shoulders stiffen. He starts to hang up the phone, saying, "Uh oh." A second later, the guard's keys rattle the lock, and Parkus thrusts his hands through the hole in the door to be cuffed. He nods his head toward the glass and is gone.


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