1994 - What we saw 

It was a very good year for news.

random sampling of some of the news that was fit to print, anno domini 1994: We saw our first 'Free Damien Echols' message last week, scrawled on an overpass in Memphis. The message was followed by the supposedly devilish symbol '666.' This was in the general vicinity of Memphis State University; sophomoritis might account for it. -The Observer, referring to the teen-ager convicted with two others, with no real evidence, in the deaths of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis. (April 21) "I told my mom, 'Watch. You wait and see. They're going to be here. And they showed up about an hour later. They asked me, 'Why do you think somebody would have done something like this?' " -Mara Leveritt, quoting Damien Echols in a cover story reported from Death Row. (June 23) An article in the New Yorker magazine recently offered an interesting theory about what all this anniversaryizing of the past means. A complex, sophisticated theory, but I've forgotten what it was exactly. Maybe I'll get the article out and read it again on the 10th anniversary of its publication. -Bob Lancaster, on a slew of anniversary celebrations. (Aug. 15) In the end, I predict, the most important factor will be the same as in most murder trials in America. His fate will hang, as it does for almost every other defendant from Little Rock to L.A. and back again, on the number and caliber of attorneys the man can hire to defend him. -Mara Leveritt, on the upcoming murder trial of O.J. Simpson. (June 23) ENOUGH! -Complete text of a lapel button the Times began marketing in spring 1994 to let readers show their disgust over the Whitewater investigation. Enough didn't come until Ken Starr left the job of Independent Counsel six years later. Most unique of all is the wild drag race, wherein a two-person team assists a drag queen in climbing aboard a steer and holding on to the finish line. -Reporter item on the International Gay Rodeo Association's first visit to Arkansas. (May 19) The Arkansas Times' position is that the state's exercise of its most awesome power - the lawful taking of another's life - is a page-one story each time it occurs. Our critics would argue that that is an editorial judgment reflecting our opposition to the death penalty. There is at least a grain of truth in that criticism. -Media column, on scant Democrat-Gazette coverage of the double execution of Jonas Whitmore and Edward Charles Pickens. As is their policy against reporting on executions, the D-G had placed a small mention of the execution - the first double execution in the United States since 1976 - on page 3B. (May 19) A newspaper colleague of mine who twice made the Enemies List was given to frequent, solemn declarations that the only thing that kept him going - he was suicidal about half the time - was the possibility that he'd someday be able to append this lead to the main wire service story about the Mephistophelean demise: 'President Nixon was found dead of natural causes in a pumpkin patch last night, entwined in the arms of his longtime lover Bebe Rebozo. -Bob Lancaster, commenting on the recent demise of former President Richard Nixon. (April 28) "It was either me or him. In cities like Little Rock, if you get in an argument with your enemy, you're either gonna get smoked or he's gonna get smoked. I think about the incident, thinking maybe there was another way out than killing him. But at the time I didn't have another way out. I've asked God for forgiveness but I'm not sorry I did it. He disrespected me." -David Mabury, quoting 17-year-old gang member Terence Dixon, convicted in a drive-by shooting at a crowded Asher Avenue nightclub. Claude Stewart, 36, the co-owner of the club, was wounded fatally in the head. By the time the story ran in the Times, Little Rock had already witnessed 29 drive-by shootings that year. (July 21) My days inside Central were now graded by the severity of the pain I endured. Two huge boys with flattops and side burns had begun a full-time mission of making my days miserable. Each morning, they stood in front of my homeroom door to greet me first thing. "Good morning, nigger - aren't you'all gonna talk some more of that coon jab you speak?…" "Nigger" I would whisper to remind myself. That's all I am to them. They don't see me as a real person. There even came a moment when I pinched myself to see if I was really there. So many times I wanted to shout, "I'm Melba, don't you see me? I play the piano, I can make blouses, I can write poems, and I sing." -Excerpt from "Warriors Don't Cry" by Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine. (June 9) "There was a newspaper on the plane. It was some sort of international edition. And there on the front page was a picture of the Razorbacks. It said, like, "National Champions'. Nobody could understand why I was getting so excited." -Travel column, June 9, in which Little Rock resident Stephanie Wilson, who hitchhiked across Africa in 1993, recounted a story from home that made news in Cairo. (June 9) Downtown Little Rock developers are dreaming again, and this time it's the abandoned warehouses along East Markham Street that they want to transform into a thriving entertainment district. It's an ambitious vision in a district characterized now by decrepit buildings, many vacant and empty parking lots. … "It will work," Moses said. "I swear to God it will happen." -Reporter item on Downtown Partnership president Jimmy Moses' deal with the Almighty that made the River Market a reality. (June 16) "Its teeth were every bit as big as my daughter's, and she's six years old." -Smart Talk, quoting Paragould angler Jeffery Williams on the fish he hooked in a pond near Crowley's Ridge: a 5-pound piranha. (July 28) Somebody in the newsroom asked how the interview had gone. Somebody else asked, 'Did he make a pass at you?' I was surprised. 'No,' I said. Chuckles crossed the room. The comments that followed let me know I had earned the ambiguous distinction of being the only woman these reporters had ever heard of who spent more than an hour with the governor without his expressing the least sexual interest. -Mara Leveritt, commenting on her first interview with Gov. Bill Clinton in the early 1980s. (May 12) "Condoms, Kotex and empty Coke cans." -Reporter item quoting Adopt-a-Highway volunteer Marie Summer on what she picked up the most from her stretch of highway. (June 30) I am through with Johnny Burnett because he: is fat farts out loud and never apologizes drives an obnoxious, loud boat uses incorrect English constantly thinks he's some kind of international playboy. Ha! cannot carry on an intelligent conversation about current events is a quitter is an inconsiderate, lousy lover but thinks he's great LIES, LIES, LIES, LIES, LIES. -Items from a list written by Scharmel Burnett (the entire list contained over 50 detailed complaints) and presented by the prosecution at her 1994 trial for the murder of husband Johnny Burnett. Scharmel Burnett was acquitted of the crime. (June 30) Jeanie Robertson, now in the chancery clerk's office, said she was completing her ballot when she looked up and saw Staley, wearing a 'big name tag,' barreling toward her. Staley demanded to know if Robertson had endorsed Alexander. "I said, I don't know about that, but I'll tell you that I'm voting for her.' Staley then followed Robertson into the parking lot, demanding to know why she voted as she did. -Insider item chronicling an altercation between Pulaski County Clerk Carolyn Staley and former employee Jeanie Robertson, over Staley's challenger Jacque Alexander. Staley is still in office. (May 26) Imagine a great hotel hovering invisibly in the air over the entire United States. It's so big it has not one, but many lobbies. It has a public meeting room, and above, levels and levels of private rooms. The hotel bustles 24 hours a day, but it grows exponentially larger at night. People from California to Maine, Podunk to Poughkeepsie, are coming and going constantly. And all of them are talking, talking, talking … -Mara Leveritt, getting her metaphor on while trying to explain the phenomenon of online chatting. (Sept. 8) If anybody has, the first president from Arkansas has earned a Little Rock street named after him, and Asher Avenue could be as good a choice as any. … Asher, a gritty thoroughfare, might enjoy higher status and increased prosperity if renamed for the president. Not likely, but possible. Our preference would be for a Clinton Lane or a Clinton Drive in a swankier part of town, one of the right-wing Republican enclaves somewhere out west. The residents of these areas are no more worthy of the honor that Asher Avenue's regulars, but they are more in need of redemption." -Editorial on the idea of naming a Little Rock thoroughfare after Bill Clinton. Eventually, after much political wrangling, only a small section of East Markham in the River Market was named after Clinton. (June 30) "If you want to meet them bad enough, don't be too proud to do just about anything." -Smart Talk, quoting legendary groupie Connie Hamzy giving a few pointers for those looking to meet the Rolling Stones, who would rock War Memorial Stadium that November. (May 19) The media had called my father repeatedly, managing even to track him to the hotel in LaJolla where he and my mother were supposed to start their vacation. The story is this: my father hangs up the phone in the hotel room, after the umpteenth media call. My mother, at this point, was lying on the hotel room floor doing her back exercises. My father gives a long, weighty sigh, and says, "Why are they hounding me? All I want is a little peace." To which my mother replies, "So why did you decide to sue Norman Mailer for $9 million?" -Crescent Dragonwagon, writing about her father, who sued author Norman Mailer for plagiarism. (June 16)


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