Prison sweet prison

Horace Caraker doesn't belong in federal prison. But he likes it there, and he'll threaten a president if it means going back.

Caraker would serve three years in Texas prison.

"I would literally kill someone if I saw them doing that to a child," he says now, insisting he never fondled that kid's penis. "Pleeeeease don't print in your paper that I did that." Prison, even the federal joint, can be tough when they find out you've been convicted of being a kiddie raper.

Martin Menocal

Caraker's Secret Service rap sheet reads like a day-to-day diary; the moment he threatened Ford, his every movement -- every letter he wrote, every threat he made, every suicide attempt -- was noted in his file. To read the report is to bounce from prison to prison, mental hospital to mental hospital. It's to get inside the mind of someone described as "passive aggressive," "depressive," "neurotic," and "suicidal." It's to read about the numerous times he tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists, drinking poison, jumping in front of moving police cars, suffocating on gas fumes, or hanging himself from his jail cell.

What follows are only a few of the dozens and dozens of days documented in a report from 1995.

January 25, 1976: "Claimed he never intended to harm Pres Ford when he made threats. Stated he was merely attempting to attract attention to self so he could get help with problems which he felt stemmed from alcohol."

December 7, 1977: "Stated he could not adjust to civilian life. Preferred to be in prison."

September 7, 1978: "Attempted suicide by hanging."

December 5, 1979: "Expressed contentment with cellmate/lover...Described himself as institutionalized and repeated discontentment with outside world. "

November 28, 1983: "Longview, TX, police department advised that while subj was being arrested for disorderly conduct, he stated twice, 'I'm going to kill the pres of the US (Reagan) as soon as I get free and get a firearm.'"

June 3, 1984: "Stated he would 'kill the president' because pres ate $5 jelly beans while people in streets starved. Stated he would use a pistol to kill the pres at Dallas airport even though he would probably be killed by United States Secret Service. Claimed he was not seeking attention & stated he meant to do what he said."

And so on. And so on. Twice more he would go to federal prison for threatening to kill Reagan and Bush. Then came the 1995 conviction for threatening to kill Bill Clinton. Three more years of cushy living on the taxpayers' dime.

Clint Broden got Caraker's case while working in the federal public defenders office. He had defended others charged with threatening to assassinate presidents, but Broden was particularly drawn to Caraker's case -- something about the way Caraker threatened Clinton -- calling the cops, begging them to arrest him.

"It's not the type of crime a sane person necessarily commits," Broden says. "Most sane people don't call the police and tell them they're going to commit the crime. It was immediately evident as to why he did it: He did it to break into prison. And then it was a question of whether you were going to be part of helping him break into prison, and trying to find out what he wanted -- to be in prison or some other structured type of environment or if he wanted to be completely free."

But he could never tell what Caraker wanted, so during his trial in February 1996, Broden tried to convince the jury that Caraker was nothing more or less than Otis from The Andy Griffith Show -- the lovable town drunk who threatened the president one day, then sobered up in jail long enough to regret the whole thing the next morning.

He even got Jerry Turner, a pastor in Longview, to testify that Caraker was nothing but a man who threatened himself and others for attention. Turner had counseled Caraker since 1992, when the Longview cops brought him in off the railroad tracks, where he lay waiting for a train to crush him to death.

"Every time the police would come and pick him up, they would say, 'Here he is again,' and he would be laughing it off," Turner testified. The jury didn't think it was so funny and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Caraker was granted supervised release in 1998 -- and it was only a matter of time before he went through this whole thing once more. October, 5, 1998 -- another call, another arrest. Only this time, Mickelsen got Caraker acquitted. U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater decided he didn't represent a serious threat to Bill Clinton or anyone else.

And for a while, Caraker was delighted with his freedom: His two attorneys tried to take care of him, putting him up in a motel, tending to his medical needs, getting him in a shelter, making sure he showed up on time for his appointments with his U.S. probation officer, Michael Laughlin.

But nothing can come between Horace Caraker and his prison.

In February and March, Caraker violated the conditions of his supervised release several times. He never showed up for his appointments at the Dallas County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center at the Austin Street Shelter. He refused to take his psychotropic medication. He slept on the streets or in Buckner Park.

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