Punks, Jocks and Justice

There was a killing and now a conviction. Even those can't stop the fierce war raging between the Panhandle punks and athletes of Amarillo.

"This is not a case about diversity or tolerance or judging people by the way they dress," he said in his tempered twang. "This case is about a gang of young men who chose a lifestyle, unorthodox as it is, designed to intimidate those around them, challenge authority and provoke reaction from others. This is a case about the consequences of engaging in aggressive behavior."

In arguments and testimony spanning 13 days, Clark successfully shifted focus from Camp's actions to the quality of Deneke's life.

It was a risky tactic; Clark knew it could backfire if he didn't do it convincingly. But he did his homework, dredging up bits of muck from Deneke's past, like the clash with the scoutmaster and an arrest for throwing a cinder block through someone's car window. At the time, he was found to be carrying a homemade blackjack.

Chris Oles and Jacqui Balderaz return to the scene of Deneke's death.
Chris Oles and Jacqui Balderaz return to the scene of Deneke's death.
Friends say Brian Deneke had the magnetic charm to be a punk leader.
Mark Graham
Friends say Brian Deneke had the magnetic charm to be a punk leader.

"If Brian Deneke is this person that he's been portrayed to be -- peaceable, law-abiding, a real artist, slated for sainthood," Clark asks today, "then why does he have to walk around town with a weapon on his person?"

Clark scooped that stuff out along with generally distasteful observations about Deneke's cohorts. In the eyes of many Amarillo residents, the proceedings hit a low point when Clark called the punks "goons."

"Goons. I called them drunk goons. I don't take it back," Clark says today, before the question is even fully asked. "Goon -- someone who is wielding a club or a chain or a bat, dressed up with mascara on their face, spiky boots, dog collars, garish makeup. I can imagine what that person looks like as he approaches me with his hand up, ready to beat me. I call that an armed goon."

Slowly the defense attorney built credibility for what seemed on its face preposterous, that Dustin Camp had squashed Brian Deneke to keep him from killing one of the jocks, Justin Devore. (Something Devore couldn't recall because he'd been whacked in the head with a police baton by someone else.)

Clark didn't tiptoe around the distasteful fact that Camp had used his car as a weapon. "No doubt about it," he says now. "The law allows the use of a deadly weapon in defense of a third person, but only in the situation where deadly force is being used against the third person."

Clark's theory was a stretch. The prosecution countered with testimony from Chris Oles, John King and Jason Deneke that always pointed to the dead youth as victim, not perpetrator, a sort of James Byrd Jr. in a blue Mohawk.

It didn't help Deneke's cause that the punks sometimes appeared smug and got lost under cross-examination. Clark says getting them to contradict themselves "was like taking candy from a baby."

Neither did it help when King got on the stand and flatly volunteered that he was the one who clobbered Justin Devore as hard as he could with a metal police baton. Until then, Devore hadn't had a clue who hit him, splitting open his scalp. It took 13 staples and three interior stitches to patch it up.

The racially mixed jury chose whom and what it would believe, and in the end, Elise Thompson's eyewitness testimony would stand as the most credible account supporting a murder conviction. Her recollection of Camp's words before and after the crime provided the jury with the evidence of intent. Unlike the punks, Thompson held her ground under cross-examination.

None of the punks had known she would break ranks with the jocks and testify as she did. They admired her courage, the way she sat up straight and looked directly into the eyes of her questioner.

Somehow it didn't matter. Given the charge to choose between innocence or a conviction for manslaughter or murder, the jury chose the lesser felony. Manslaughter represented the judgment that Deneke's death occurred as a result of the defendant's reckless conduct.

Never, it seemed, had a jury wrestled so hard to fit everything around the assumption that Dustin Camp was, and shall always remain, an essentially "good kid."

Camp didn't testify on his own behalf until the penalty phase of the trial. The climax was his apology to the Deneke family: "It's a tragic deal that happened," Camp said. "It shouldn't have happened."

Several people present say he never even bothered to look at the Denekes. The impression it left with David Trew, a friend of Brian Deneke's, was that the apology "sounded Š insincere, like something Warren Clark wrote on a cue card for him."

Even so, the jury returned what Clark, and the district attorney, Rebecca King, admit was an uncommonly mild sentence: ten years' probation and a $10,000 fine.

It doesn't bother Clark that he stirred up so much ill will in Amarillo through his aggressiveness.

Besides, he adds, the punks, their friends, even Deneke's parents, "refuse to this day to concede that Brian Deneke bore responsibility for what happened to him. He was drunk, he was armed, and he was beating people. He was armed with a club. I can only assume that he had the intent to cause serious bodily injury or death."

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Jocks are Americas scourge.They think they are above the law and are worshipped as all American by conservatives. They deserved to get shot when they messed with the wrong people in Colorado.

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