A year ago David Cunniff was not the same person he is today. If you met him then, you would have seen a tall, rugged guy, something of a ladies' man, with a handsome face weathered by the sun and an aimlessness that suggested, at 44 years old, he might not be in the biggest rush to grow up. Oh, he did his part to support his teenage daughters from his first marriage and a new baby boy with a woman he no longer dated, but at times, he let things slide. When money got tight, he canceled his insurance, probably not the wisest thing for a man who worked as a general contractor. Still, it was damn hard to dislike Cunniff. He befriended just about everyone he ever met. He was the kind of guy you wouldn't mind sharing a pitcher with. Hell, you'd probably have two.
On July 25, 2004, Cunniff saw the Old 97's play at the Gypsy Tea Room, along with his two daughters--Courtney, then 15, and Caitlin, then 18. The shirt he wore that night spoke of his urban cowboy swagger: a picture of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera. Cunniff perched near the back of the venue as his daughters bolted up front, and he stayed there most of the night, talking with friends and strangers, sipping scotch and water, until something happened that would change his life forever. The incident, now notorious, left him unconscious and bleeding on the concrete floor, his scalp sliced open and his neck broken. It only took 10 seconds. Maybe a couple minutes. It all depends on whom you believe.
Almost exactly a year later, Cunniff is learning to walk again, while the man who attacked him, 29-year-old Jesse Chaddock, faces 19 years in a Texas prison, convicted of aggravated assault and engaging in organized criminal activity. Lots of crime happens in this city, although few stories have captured the public interest like this one. But it is a tricky story to tell, because what happened was so fast, so unexpected that all anyone seems to agree on is the commotion, the blur of bodies, the hideous thwack that sounded like a bowling ball hitting the floor. Certainly Cunniff doesn't remember much about the incident at the Gypsy Tea Room. He remembers falling; he remembers waking up; he remembers thinking he was dead. And then everything goes black. He was out for a while after that. He woke up in the hospital, finally, when the staple gun punched into his head.
After he left the Gypsy Tea Room that night, Jesse Chaddock called his friend Scott Beggs. "Some asshole started a fight in your bar," he told him. "I'm sorry, but it was unavoidable." Chaddock was on his way to July Alley for another drink. It was still early.
Days would pass before anyone understood the extent of Cunniff's injuries--far less how they occurred--but Beggs remembers his exact thoughts when he got that call: "Jesse Jackass got himself in trouble again." Beggs and Chaddock had been friends for years, but less than two months earlier, in the Gypsy parking lot, Chaddock had helped his friend beat a skinhead unconscious. Beggs was used to fighting--a Gulf War veteran and a former bouncer, he'd seen it most of his life--but Chaddock's behavior was starting to wear thin. "Jesse's got a good heart," he says. "But his head, man."
Although he has since quit the company, Beggs was then the talent buyer at the Entertainment Collaborative, a conglomerate that owns several downtown properties. What that technically means is that he booked the shows, paid the bands, made up the guest lists each night. In reality, it means Beggs ran the Gypsy Tea Room. He'd worked clubs in this town for more than a decade, and he was known as the kind of guy who didn't bullshit. Not everyone liked Beggs, but most everyone respected him.
What everyone didn't know, however, was that Beggs used to be a skinhead. Depending on what day you ask him, he still is. These days, it would be hard to call him a racist--his daughter is part black and his current girlfriend is part Hispanic. But to him, "skinhead" is a way of life, something that lingers in your bones long after the hair on your head grows back. It's about standing tall. It's about being a man. It's about not taking any shit from people.
The night of the Old 97's concert, Beggs put Chaddock on the guest list. This wasn't unusual. According to his testimony, Chaddock had done flooring work for the club and, typical of the nightclub industry, he was paid primarily in comped tickets and booze. ("To our knowledge he wasn't there as payment for work he'd done," says Erick Schlather of the EC, which is facing a civil suit filed by David Cunniff. "He was there because he was a friend of Scott Beggs.") At the show that night, Chaddock met three guys: Judd Horn, a bouncer and alleged skinhead who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs around 300 pounds; Terry Shanks, a squinty little guy with a tattoo of a dagger running down either cheek; and Sean Tarrant, a man whose name will forever be bound up with Dallas' ugly legacy of violence.
Tarrant was one of the founders of the Confederate Hammerskins, a group of white-power neo-Nazi skinheads who used to rule downtown with combat boots and bloody fists. They formed in North Dallas and south Garland at the height of the skinhead proliferation of the mid-'80s and chose as their symbol an iconic image from Pink Floyd's The Wall--two marching crossed hammers. The fact that the 1982 film is actually a critique of fascism, not an endorsement, was lost on them. These were shitty, angry kids, from blue-collar and often bigoted homes, looking to unload their fury into someone else's face. CHS acquired a laundry list of nasty offenses--burning synagogues, assaulting minorities, beating the holy hell out of strangers and each other. They eventually spread, reaching as far as Florida and California. Collectively, they were known as the Hammerskin Nation.
Until Tarrant got pinched for civil rights violations around 1989 (he served nine years), CHS recruited openly at various high schools and junior highs, handing out fliers and seeking media attention. They were looking for pissed-off kids, loners and losers hoping to belong somewhere. Kids with a little bit of crazy in them. Kids like Jesse Chaddock.
Chaddock was an ideal recruit for CHS. He came from a broken home. He had a troubled, lower-class childhood. His mother was a sweet woman but overburdened, unable to control two teenage boys with too much of their father in them. Chaddock's dad was a real mean bastard, too--racist, drunk, in and out of jail.
When Chaddock was 13, his mom found skinhead stuff in his room. She yelled at him; he listened as much as you might expect. When he was 15, Chaddock got drunk in his girlfriend's living room and gave himself his first tattoo. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Eventually, he covered his body with tattoos--an "SS" on the thin skin of his inner arms, Viking ships on his side. The most striking, however, was the one stretched across his belly: a pair of crossed hammers with Confederate stars and bars behind them.
In 1996, a skinhead named Scott Lessig recruited Jesse Chaddock into the Confederate Hammerskins. Lessig termed it "making varsity." Chaddock had known Lessig for a while. A few years earlier, Lessig had tried to beat him up.
That July, Chaddock stabbed a man for the first time. The victim, a black bouncer named John Gray, discovered Chaddock and a group of other men in the parking lot of the Whisky Bar kicking a Hispanic guy, his face full of blood. When Gray approached, everyone ran except Chaddock. Gray grabbed Chaddock, still kicking and furious, and held him in a restraining hold for 30 minutes, waiting for back-up. Eventually, a small group approached.
"Can I give him a hug?" asked one of the girls. She was Chaddock's girlfriend at the time.
Gray told her no.
"No nigger's gonna tell me what to do," she said. When she hugged Chaddock, she slipped a knife in his pocket. He grabbed the knife and shoved it into Gray so far that he couldn't pull it out. Chaddock got six years' deferred probation for it.
Even after the beating was long over, David Cunniff feared for his life. Lying groggy and disoriented in his hospital bed, he learned of Chaddock's Confederate Hammerskin history, and it terrified him. When a reporter called asking for his story, he asked please, please don't print anything. He was afraid for his daughters. He was afraid for himself.
How had this happened? Just months before, his daughter Caitlin had graduated as valedictorian of her 2004 class at Woodrow Wilson. She was leaving in a matter of weeks for UT-Austin, where she had an academic scholarship. And yet, the night of the attack, she remembers jumping onto Chaddock, trying to push him off. Courtney remembers screaming, thinking her dad was dead.
The worst part was that word: skinhead. Their history of terror and retaliation is mythic (if not somewhat myth). Still, you heard things. In 1996, the Dallas Observer ran a cover story on Mouse, a Dallas skinhead stabbed 24 times for allegedly snitching on his brethren. (He claims he never did.) Who knew what these guys were capable of?
Even after Chaddock was arrested in Long Beach, California, Cunniff couldn't shake the fear that something was out there. When he finally returned home, he dreaded going to his back door every night to lock it. He just knew some face would be pressed against the window, pale as the moon, waiting for him.
One night, the power in his Lakewood home went out. He knew what was happening: The skinheads cut the electricity so they could break into his home and finish the job they'd started at the Gypsy Tea Room. He could practically hear the shattering glass, the angry clatter of baseball bats along the stairs. At the time, he was still in his wheelchair, so he did all he could do. He sat in the dark, terrified.
After a while, a neighbor came by with a flashlight and explained that a breaker had gone off along the entire block. He could relax--for a little bit.
Most of us don't know much more about skinheads than we learned from Geraldo and American History X. Ours is a haze of real stories, urban legend and pop-culture cliché. And though skinheads hadn't been on the city's radar in more than a decade, Cunniff wasn't the only one anxious about them after the assault at the Gypsy Tea Room. Fueled by rampant rumors and media reports, Dallas was up in arms about the dangers of downtown. Who could blame us? Crime in Deep Ellum was up. Crime in the city was as high as ever, and fathers were being crippled at Old 97's concerts.
For a while afterward, Caitlin Cunniff had nightmares. When she closed her eyes, she saw Chaddock's face--crazed and fuming--and she stayed up till 4 or 5 a.m. sometimes, just trying to push it away. And though she didn't talk about it much, Courtney was afraid, too. It wasn't so long ago she asked her father, "Daddy, is Sean Tarrant going to get me?"
Chaddock claims he left the Confederate Hammerskins about four years ago. He didn't like who he'd become. "I was an asshole," he said at his trial. Kids do dumb things all the time and come out the other side; he says that just like them, he grew up.
He also met Vanessa Carlson. Slender and pretty, with a long mane of thick brown hair, Carlson wasn't exactly the skinhead type. She had tattoos, sure--had them running up and down both arms, like half the rocker chicks in town. But she comes from a good, God-fearing family. She's older than Chaddock and isn't afraid to put anyone in their place. When she took the stand at the trial, a lawyer sitting in on the proceedings muttered, "Jesse did pretty well for himself, didn't he?"
They met Christmas night 2000 at a show at Trees. Chaddock was still in the Hammerskins, but he was starting to distance himself. Carlson's friends warned her he was trouble, but she was in love. "I could tell he was a good person," she says, and whether or not you believe that, it's clear that she does.
They began dating, and it didn't take long for Carlson to start challenging his beliefs: Did he really believe that crap about white superiority? Did he really hate minorities? She says his resolve started to crumble under the reality of his surroundings. His best friend married a Hispanic woman. Even Carlson was part Cherokee. Not long after, Chaddock says, he quit CHS.
Weakened by police and media scrutiny, jail time and in-fighting, CHS was beginning to buckle. Even its founder, Sean Tarrant, says he left the Confederate Hammerskins. He'd served nine years in the federal pen and didn't care to return. His son, near-deaf from a childhood fever, needed his care. He may have held on to his racism (an interview played during the trial, in which Tarrant freely uses the n-word, indicates he did), but he claims he was out. Experts allege the group simply went underground to avoid police surveillance, but Carlson says that's ridiculous. "You're talking about a group that was formed by a bunch of teenagers," she says. "Here it is 15 years later, they've grown up. They've got children. They've got corporate jobs. They own their own businesses. They've moved on. It's hard to have a family and run a street gang."
Three years after they began dating, Chaddock and Carlson broke up, though they remained friends. Carlson still softens when she talks about the way Chaddock would come home from refinishing floors, so beat he'd fall asleep on the ground with the dog beside him. She describes the many weekends he spent working on friends' trucks for free when he could have been loafing around. "People don't always make the wisest decisions when they're young and stupid," says Carlson. "But he had changed."
Not if you consider his continuing history of violence, however. From 1996 to the time he was arrested in California, Chaddock was involved in half a dozen violent incidents. A few happened before he met Carlson, during the time he claims active membership in CHS--slamming another skinhead's face with a beer mug, knocking out a tooth and leaving a diagonal scar the guy still has across his lip. Others took place after he says he left the gang. In 2003, he was part of a group that pushed another skinhead to the ground, punching and kicking him from all directions. These victims were mostly non-racist skinheads associated with the group DSB (which stands for Dumb Skater Boys). Waiting to testify for the prosecution, one of them commented on Chaddock's supposed change of heart. "Jesse's still a Confederate Hammerskin," he said. "Those guys just got afraid to pick on black people, because they know they'll get their asses kicked. That's why they started picking on us."
Carlson says the racism charge is bogus. "If he were a racist, would he really be dating me?" she asks. And she says none of the incidents were unprovoked. Yes, Chaddock drank. Yes, he fought. But it wasn't like he went out looking for trouble. She remembers some of those DSB guys making fun of Chaddock after he had his bike accident--calling him neo-Nazi trash, pretending like they were injured, too. That was in May 2002, after Chaddock crashed his motorcycle so badly it bent in half. Chaddock actually lived in Lakewood at the time, and he ended up in a wheelchair for three months with two broken feet. "The doctors told him he'd probably walk with a limp for the rest of his life," Carlson says. "Jesse never, ever would have wished that on someone else."
But what happened to David Cunniff was far worse.
Chaddock's criminal trial began on March 28, with Toby Shook handling the case for the prosecution. For more than a week, spectators crammed the courtroom: Cunniff's friends and family; Jesse's camp, including his mother; and prosecutors who poked their heads in to watch Shook in action. One of the district attorney's top prosecutors, Shook is the man who won the high-profile case against the Texas Seven, the escaped convicts who shot and killed an Irving police officer during a 2000 robbery. Shook and Cunniff had known each other for years from high school (they both went to Woodrow Wilson) and run-ins at happy hours and local watering holes. Only days after the incident occurred, Shook took the case.
The prosecution levied two charges against Chaddock: aggravated assault (which carries a sentence of two to 20 years) and engaging in organized criminal activity (which carries a far stiffer sentence of five years to life). Shook argued that Chaddock never left the Confederate Hammerskins. That's why he never covered up all his racist tattoos. That's why he was out with known skinheads like Sean Tarrant and Judd Horn that night. That's why he'd beat up a skinhead, along with Judd Horn, less than two months before the Gypsy Tea Room incident. And that's why he attacked David Cunniff by smashing a beer bottle over his head, throwing him to the ground and beating him mercilessly until he was dragged off him.
Shook says the incident began when Cunniff saw Terry Shanks--the small one with daggers down his cheeks--flick a cigarette at a black man.
"Hey man, that's not cool," Cunniff said.
Shanks turned to him. "Do I fucking know you?"
No one could agree on the line that came next: Maybe, "I don't know you, and you don't wanna know me." Maybe "I don't know you, and I don't wanna know you." Maybe Cunniff just walked away.
Chaddock heard something, however, and he dove straight into the mix. "What if I wanna know you?" he asked, clocking Cunniff in the face with an open palm.
Witnesses for the prosecution, a string of well-scrubbed college kids, told harrowing (if somewhat contradictory) tales of what happened next. Russell Kirk, a student at Austin College, saw Chaddock tackle Cunniff to the concrete and heard a terrible cracking noise. He saw Chaddock straddle Cunniff's unconscious body and strike him three or four times. "It was like hitting a corpse," he said.
Detective Truly Holmes, who tracked the Confederate Hammerskins throughout the late '80s and early '90s, took the stand as a skinhead expert. Holmes was a key figure in putting Sean Tarrant behind bars, and at Chaddock's trial he gave a near-dissertation on racist tattoos as slides of swastikas and SS soldiers and crossed hammers were shown on the screen (all taken from the arms and chests and legs of Chaddock and his running buddies). Holmes talked at length about Sean Tarrant, offering pictures of a young Tarrant, holding up a "Heil Hitler!" sign in front of a Confederate flag and discussing the white power band Tarrant still plays drums for called the Bully Boys, whose album contains such songs as "Fire Up the Ovens" and "Hammerskin Nation": "You fuck with one of us you fuck with us all...Make an enemy of the Hammerskins that could be fatal."
A great deal hinged on whether the jury believed Chaddock was still a Confederate Hammerskin, since the organized crime charge carried a much steeper penalty than aggravated assault. And though juries are urged to keep an open mind, what the prosecution showed was scary, psycho stuff.
After the court adjourned on the second day, one juror looked at another on the elevator and said, putting her hand to her chest, "Oh God. Are our names public record?"
Chaddock's lawyer, Phillip Hayes, claims the trial was not fair from the beginning. He says Shook's objectivity was skewed by his friendship with Cunniff, resulting in an organized crime charge that was overreaching. He pointed to media coverage screaming the word skinhead. He claimed the prosecution's case was more about Sean Tarrant than Jesse Chaddock. He painted a portrait of a different gang--a gang of well-connected lawyers and Lakewood country club members, a "skinhead expert" with an ax to grind--who mobilized to protect David Cunniff at all costs.
Hayes claimed all the talk of skinheads was a red herring to distract jurors from the facts of the incident, which he says had nothing to do with organized crime. "They want to blind you with these things so you don't apply the law," he said in his closing statement. "Don't hold Jesse accountable for something he did 17 years ago. Don't charge him with something because you hate him. The gang's gone. The gang's defunct. It was a bar fight, and you know it."
That was Chaddock's story from the beginning--a bar fight gone bad. But it was tough to imagine. David Cunniff brings his girls to an Old 97's show and picks a fight with a bunch of scary-looking guys?
Still, Chaddock swore he intervened because he thought Cunniff was going to beat up Terry Shanks--Cunniff towers over the kid--and it's not impossible to believe that in Chaddock's mind, Cunniff was drunk and looking to fight. Chaddock had seen plenty of people start shit in bars. Hell, he'd started plenty himself.
No one knew Chaddock's violent past better than his friend Scott Beggs. Despite his initial reaction, however, Beggs came to the conclusion that Chaddock was being railroaded. "It just didn't go down like it was portrayed in the media," he says. Although he didn't witness the incident, Beggs questioned his employees at the Tea Room, trying to sort out what happened. "Broken bottles, skinhead assault, none of that shit. From what I could tell, it was two dudes in a bar, mouthing off to each other."
The theory wasn't without evidence. At the hospital, Cunniff's blood alcohol content tested at 0.098 (just shy of the legal limit), although he claims he only had three or four scotch and waters over a six-hour period. Plenty of witness testimony could support the theory that the gash down the middle of Cunniff's scalp, the one that required 20 stitches, was caused not by a broken beer bottle (evidence of the prosecution's organized crime charge) but from hitting the stairs of the merchandise area when the two men fell after the initial blow. (It was never clear whether Chaddock tackled him or Cunniff, punch-drunk, fell into him.)
But no testimony could explain away the severity of the injuries: three of his neck vertebrae had been fractured in multiple places--what his doctor called one of the two worst neck injuries he'd seen, consistent with high-speed collisions. What kind of fall causes that?
And the contrast between the two men was stark. On one hand, you had Cunniff--clicking around the halls every day with his arm braces, joking and flirting with anyone who stopped to talk. He conducted himself graciously on the stand, even offering some much-needed comic relief. When Hayes asked him when he first found out Chaddock had been in the Confederate Hammerskins, Cunniff meant to say he couldn't remember because he was heavily sedated. What he said instead was, "I don't know. I was heavily seduced."
Chaddock, on the other hand, was expressionless through most of the trial, often shifting uncomfortably in his monkey suit or whispering to Hayes. It was hard to know what to make of him--especially when he finally took the stand.
Having been silent for so long, Chaddock couldn't shut his mouth during his testimony. His answers were rambling and informal. When he showed the jury a tattoo he had covered up, he said, "I won't tell you what it used to be. Let's see if you can guess." Some of his responses began with the phrase, "OK, check it."
When Hayes placed photos of Chaddock's tattoos on an overhead projector, Chaddock hopped up on the arm of the witness stand and seemed to quite literally want to hold court. When Hayes put up the wrong slide, Chaddock snapped at him. "No, no, no!" he said, swatting at the air. Later, he pantomimed the Gypsy Tea Room incident in the middle of the courtroom, like some class demonstration in stage combat. When he got to the part where he strikes Cunniff, he slammed his hand into the judge's bench.
"I hadn't quite seen anything like that," Toby Shook says. "I mean, I've seen some psychopaths, but he was really out of control."
Lawyers cramming the courtroom walked out with mouths dropped open. "He's hanging himself in there!" one of them said, exiting.
"What you thought about Jesse on the stand depends on what you thought of him going into the testimony," Hayes says. Some saw an unhinged sociopath. Others saw a goofy, grade-A knucklehead. Says Hayes, "I had prosecutors tell me that if nothing else, they believed him."
The way the law is written, Chaddock didn't necessarily have to be a Confederate Hammerskin to be convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity. A gang, by definition, is a group of three or more people who organize to commit a crime. Maybe the jury believed Chaddock was still in CHS. Maybe they believed his association with Tarrant and Horn formed its own type of gang. Either way, they found him guilty. It took less than two hours.
Determining his sentence took longer, however. For two days, they were hopelessly divided--some jurors wanting the most time possible and some wanting to give him probation--and, in the end, they compromised and gave him 19 years. It could have been better. It could have been a whole lot worse. (Hayes didn't file a motion for a new trial. Chaddock's case has been assigned to an appellate lawyer, and he is deciding whether to appeal.)
"Initially I was a little disappointed," Shook says. "Obviously we wanted more. But 19 years in the Texas prison system? I sure wouldn't want to spend 19 years there."
Though doctors once told him he would never walk again, David Cunniff danced the other night. It was an Eleven Hundred Springs show at AllGood Café. Afterward, he went to a party and climbed up a flight of stairs. Thanks to time in Baylor Rehab, which he calls "extraordinary," and the aid of a revolutionary new robotics program at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Cunniff does most things himself these days--from big things like driving a car to little ones like dialing a phone (he can even do both at once, although he knows he shouldn't).
But his whole body hurts. He can't sit for long or the pain in his lower back and rear end grows unbearable. "I lost 30 pounds, so I've lost my cushioning back there," he says, laughing. "I didn't have that much to begin with." As a result, he fidgets constantly, often repositioning himself when he's seated. He carries a special wheelchair cushion for padding. But sometimes the only thing that alleviates the pain is to rub his rear end. He was talking to his daughters the other day when he started scratching his backside. "Daaaad!" they scolded him, noticing he had his back to a very public window. "Everyone can see you!"
Last Wednesday, Cunniff accidentally left home without his pain medication. "You don't mind if we stop for a little drug deal?" he asks, pulling his white Suburban into the Café Brazil parking lot in Deep Ellum. Before long, his daughter Courtney, newly 16, comes careening wildly into the parking lot in her red Nissan SUV.
He smiles and shakes his head. "Who taught you to drive like that?"
She shrugs and hands him a bottle. "You."
Courtney is a cute teen girl wearing a jean skirt and flip-flops, her stick-straight brown hair pulled back casually in a barrette. A junior at the Arts Magnet, she has the humor and precociousness of her father, although she jokes she also inherited his lack of interest in academics. She lives with her dad in his home in Lakewood, and during his stay in the hospital, there were days when she would not leave his side. This afternoon, she is accompanying him to get hand braces at the Upper Extremity Specialists center, near UT Southwestern.
On the way, Cunniff palms a couple pills and swallows them. "I only have to take one of these a day, but instead I take 40."
Courtney rolls her eyes and pops a piece of Laffy Taffy in her mouth. "He's so lying."
A slab of blue putty sits to the right of the driver's seat. When I ask what it's for, both daughter and father respond at the same time. "It holds the car together."
Upper Extremity Specialists is staffed by enthusiastic women who light up when Cunniff enters. "He's an inspiration to the other patients," says occupational therapist Sarah Garza. "It helps them to see him working so hard."
Indeed, Cunniff has become a poster boy for rehabilitation, with a benefit concert, a golf tournament and a 5K run in his honor, not to mention recent profiles in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News. Now he's famous. When people see him, they whisper to friends, "Is that... the guy?" For a while, he received applause whenever he appeared in public. His whereabouts were even reported by the news--like the time he showed up at an Amber Campisi appearance, to get his Playboy signed.
Cunniff sits down with his palms facing up and lets Garza pry open his hands. As she straightens out his fingers, they stiffen and tremble. Garza is making braces for him to wear at night, when his hands involuntarily clench up. It's something his doctor wants to ward off, since it wasn't so long ago that Cunniff couldn't open his hands at all. His 2-year-old son, Ryan, actually learned to wave by watching him--a tight fist that goes side to side. That was back when Cunniff couldn't dress himself, couldn't open a water bottle, couldn't turn the key in the ignition. Recently, he had to have his front teeth fixed, because they were all messed up from trying to open things.
As Courtney waits patiently for her father to be done, she talks about the music she's into these days--The Shins, Radiohead, Ben Folds, The Decemberists, a classic roster of critical darlings. She's always loved live music; that's what brought her to the Old 97's show in the first place. The band was the perfect mix of her indie sensibilities and her father's taste for twang. These days, she doesn't go to shows as much--for a while, she panicked in crowds. And she hasn't returned to the Gypsy since the incident. It didn't bother her until one of her favorite bands, Eisley, played last week. It was disappointing not to go. Of course, she's never going back to that place again.
David Cunniff's family is not the same family they were last year, and the gravity of what that means is still sinking in. But he has come to appreciate the slow, stubborn miracle of his body. The first time he picked up a Kleenex was like a revelation. Last week, he buttoned the top button of his shirt. (Admittedly, it took a while.) And for now, he has to be content with these things. The truth is, he's pretty lucky. He was talking to another patient the other day, a guy who broke his neck jumping into a pool too shallow. The guy told him, "I would give anything--anything--if I could just get back my pinch."
Weary from sitting through his therapy, Cunniff stands up to stretch his legs and accidentally knocks his metal walking cane over. It clatters loudly to the floor.
"I hate that thing," Courtney says.
He smiles and winks at her. "Don't worry. I'm gonna get rid of it some day."
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Before Chaddock was sentenced, his mother took the stand to talk about the mistakes she'd made in her son's childhood, the guilt and sadness of watching his life unravel. As she spoke, Chaddock crumpled into tears.
"I could see the hurt in his mother," Cunniff says. "And I remember somebody saying something about how his niece and his nephew pray for him, and I realized that a lot of people were hurt by this." It was a trial no one won. Not really. In his victim's statement, read before the sentencing, Cunniff told his attacker that he prayed for him and would continue to pray for him. "But I don't feel sorry for him," he says. "He deserved exactly what he got. I'd be happy if he'd gotten more."
Scott Beggs disagrees. "I understand there's a lot of people who do not like Jesse, and they have very good reasons not to like him," he says. "But 'skinhead' had nothing to do with that fight. Skinheads had nothing to do with that, period. Jesse was wrong, and he probably needed to serve some time for that. But 19 years is a pretty stiff sentence."
David Cunniff knows about unfair sentences. "Jesse will be eligible for parole in nine and a half years," he says. "And I'm not gonna be able to get out of this body in nine and a half years and be healthy again." He shifts uncomfortably, once again, in his chair. "I hope I'm wrong."