I was wearing “the homicide pager” the night that Yuma County Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Hudson murdered Yuma Police Department Lieutenant Daniel Elkins and Arizona Department of Public Safety Sergeant Mike Crowe, two men I had worked with for the last couple of years just like I had worked with Jack Hudson and also Jim Ehrhardt and Larry Wheeler for the last couple of years when I was a young drug prosecutor in the Office of the Yuma County Attorney David Ellsworth.
But the police didn’t call the homicide pager that night. Instead, they called Ron Jones, a man born and raised in Yuma, then a senior deputy county attorney and, himself, a former Yuma County Attorney from back in the day when all the private attorneys in town took their two year turn running the county attorney office in this rural Arizona county that borders both Mexico and California. Jones gave the police one excellent piece of advice that night, “Get a search warrant for everything you do whether or not you think you need one.”
Normally in our small prosecutor’s office, whoever was wearing the homicide pager when a murder occurred would be assigned to prosecute the case. But not this time. This case wasn’t going to be prosecuted by someone who had never prosecuted a murder case before.
Instead that job went to the two prosecutors who each had the most experience prosecuting first degree murder cases in Yuma, Tom Varela, then head of the drug prosecuting section of which I was a member, and Conrad Mallek, who had previously headed the drug prosecuting section and who also had recently successfully prosecuted the murder of two Stanford-bound graduate students who were killed late one night at a highway rest area by a pair of California drifters, an ex convict, Gregory Dickens, and his teenaged lover, Travis Amaral, who would have gotten away with their murders had the seventeen year old not later confessed the killings in California when police there we’re investigating Dickens for sexually abusing Amaral and other teens.
When the Chief Criminal Deputy County Attorney Mary White was breaking the news to me that our boss David Ellsworth was breaking with the normal routine to assign his most senior prosecutors to the Hudson murders, Mallek poked his head in the doorway of my basement office and said to White, “I hear you need ‘The Pro From Schmo.”
To this day, I still don’t know what Mallek meant by that nickname he gave himself other than that it rhymed and was as good a way as any to break the ice . . . and maybe some tension too.
And there was plenty of tension surrounding this case. The Yuma Police Department and Arizona Department of Public Safety were furious that the then Yuma County Sheriff, Ralph Ogden, had tearfully told the media the day after the murders that his deputy, Jack Hudson, had been “exemplary . . . the one with common sense” and that he wished he “had 184 more files that looked like [Hudson’s].”
I was actually relieved not to be lead prosecutor on this new case. I certainly didn’t want my first murder trial to be the biggest case in Yuma County since the Tison Gang murders in the late 1970s. Hollywood later made a movie about that case starring the badass actor Robert Mitchum as the convict killer, Gary Tison, who talked his three young adult sons, Donald, Raymond, and Ricky, into breaking him and another convicted murderer, Randy Greenawalt, out of Arizona prison which lead to a murder spree across three states before it finally ended. And this case had the potential to be just as notorious. There were already major media vans with television satellite dishes mounted on top of them parked all around the courthouse when I got to work that were reporting everything they could statewide and nationwide, maybe worldwide too for all I knew.
When my year old letter of commendation for Jack Hudson was one of the first things found in Hudson’s personnel file at the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office and my name was immediately added to the defense team’s list of mitigation witnesses, Mallek was royally pissed off at me as if I had intentionally planned to place my letter of commendation for the former Yuma County Deputy Sheriff “Rookie of the Year” in the deputy’s personnel file just to mess up his prosecution! After my interview by the defense team didn’t go the way that they must have hoped and my name was dropped from their list of witnesses, Mallek cooled down. Varela just found the whole thing ironic was all.
Mallek was funny like that. One minute he was livid about something and the next he would drop back into the role for which he was a natural, that of mentor and teacher and friend.
“The Pro From Schmo!” To this day Mallek says that he doesn’t remember calling himself that stupid nickname . . . but he did . . . and somehow to me the name made sense.
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