The Devil You Say

Was Jeffery Prible the cold-blooded murderer of an entire family? Or the gullible target of an opportunistic jailhouse informant?

They validated their conclusion in the punishment portion of the trial. A parade of witnesses -- police, friends of the victims, bank tellers and more -- recalled all sorts of past crimes and misconduct by whom they saw as an unstable loser.

The troubled young man who schemed with his old high school buddy to break into the nightclub business is headed to death row. And a street-smart convicted killer called Rocko is, by all indications, headed toward freedom. A federal judge in California will determine what kind of sentence reduction awaits Beckcom for his cooperation.

Like all veteran defense attorneys, Gaiser years ago developed a healthy private skepticism about claims of innocence by defendants. But he vows to continue working various leads in this case to try to answer his own questions about what really happened that night.

Prosecutors taunted Prible about his looks at the trial.
Prosecutors taunted Prible about his looks at the trial.
Beckcom (left rear) admitted arranging a Thanksgiving photo with Prible and their mothers to show he was his confidant.
Beckcom (left rear) admitted arranging a Thanksgiving photo with Prible and their mothers to show he was his confidant.

"I have very serious misgivings about the reliability of his verdict, and I always will have," he says. "I'll go to my grave not knowing whether Prible is guilty or not."

In a letter from death row, Prible blames himself for the killings, contending they were committed by someone out to steal either Herrera's drug stash or the bank robbery loot or both. "I done a lot of bad stuff in my life. I know the money from the bank robberies is why they were killed and it is my fault that money was there. But I never killed nobody."

He tells of having a dream -- a nightmare, really -- in which he's above the jury room as an ex-marine on the panel tells other jurors that, yes, the military trains them to shoot people in the back of the neck. Prible yells down from above that the man is wrong, that it had nothing to do with his training.

But the juror in the dream keeps on convincing the others. And Prible, even though he's in the jury room, can't be heard.

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