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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Autism Expert -- January 29, 2011

I stayed up until daybreak today to make sure I made the barbershop line. On Fridays, any time from 2 to 5 a.m., a guard will go around the upper floor of the Roundhouse making a list of inmates seeking to have their hair cut. He will not wake any one up to ask if they want to go, and if you are not up, he will pass your cell by. The barbershop line is not run until about 6 a.m., but the list is made hours in advance. Only so many inmates are permitted to go, and from Friday to Friday an inmate is never certain if the guard will make it to his cell. The last time barbershop was run the line stopped about five cells from mine, however, and I was confident I would make the list this week.

My hair has grown a lot since my last hair cut just before going to Seg in September. I could cut my hair myself with the beard trimmers I own. I am rather proficient trimming or tapering my hair even with using an electric razor. However, it is difficult for me to cut the back side of my hair despite how I may try to angle small plastic mirrors to see what I am doing. My cellmate in general population is a barber, and this was a benefit to me back then. I could have my hair cut any time I wanted. I planned to see him at the barbershop and sit in his chair.

About 3 a.m., a guard came to my cell with a clipboard writing men's names down for the barbershop. He wrote mine down and I considered going to sleep until 6, but I saw breakfast trays were in the building. If I went to sleep, I would only have to wake up again so I decided to stay awake, and finally around 4 a.m., trays were passed out on the upper floor. Normally, I put the contents of my breakfast into a bowl with a lid or a ziplock bag until later. However, I thought I may as well eat now, and pull an all-nighter.

Despite drinking coffee with my breakfast, I was extremely tired as 6:00 approached. While I waited for the barbershop line to be run, I read a newspaper. My eyes were heavy and every now and then they fell shut. I went to the window and watched as the sky lightened. 6 a.m. passed and I saw the sun's rays begin to reflect off buildings and the old Stateville water tower. My window faces north, and I never see the sun, but I know its position in the sky by the angle of light and shadows it creates. When count was conducted at 7, I knew barbershop had been cancelled, and exhausted, I fell asleep. That will be the last time I wait up for the barbershop line.

I was not asleep long when my cellmate woke me and said I had a visit. To confirm what he told me, the door of my cell was opened a little and closed electronically by the guard in the gun tower. In general population, visits are announced on a loudspeaker, but in the Roundhouse, a prisoner's attention is achieved by opening and closing their door. Slowly I got up from my bunk. I was dead tired and did not feel like going anywhere. I had planned to sleep until mid-afternoon. I looked at my watch and saw it was only 9 a.m. No one in my family comes to visit so early, and I knew it could not be my lawyer because I had just seen her. It had to be the autism expert.

A few months ago, a psychologist who was considered an expert in the field of autism was retained by my parents, as suggested by my appellate attorney. It was thought my trial attorney had made yet another mistake by not having such an expert testify at my trial or sentencing hearing. The psychologist was hired to make a complete report and possibly testify if my appeal is successful in obtaining an evidentiary hearing. The state of mind and intent of a defendant is enormously pertinent in determining guilt, especially in a capital murder case. In my case, it was essential for the prosecutor to prove that I sought, or desired, the death of the victim by lending my car to my roommate. My trial attorney believed this evidence was absent and therefore did not render any defense. He did not contest the lies of the interrogating officer who claimed I confessed to lending my car and, in fact, he told the jury in closing arguments that his testimony was true. While the case was incredibly weak, the prosecutor was successful in painting me as a very cold, indifferent, and malign person to my jury and judge.

I have the transcripts of the closing arguments of the prosecutor in my box, and I have pulled them out to quote the last words spoken by him: "They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Don't look into his eyes. You may have shivers come up your spine. And surely don't touch him, for if you do, his body must truly be cold to the touch." Having autism, I often have an expressionless or stoic appearance. Expressing emotions can be difficult especially when exhausted, stressed, and deprived of sleep for weeks. My trial lasted over a month whereupon I was transferred back and forth to the courthouse Monday through Friday in a loud cramped transport bus. Often I was awakened before the crack of dawn, not to return to my jail unit until late at night. I was kept in holding cages for hours with hundreds of loud, obnoxious detainees, some of whom tried to kill me. In the courtroom, I faced the prospect of execution. The television and newspaper reporters regularly reported that I was expressionless throughout proceedings, even during times I suppose most people expected me to show emotion, and I do not doubt that I looked like a zombie. However, possibly if my trial attorney had an expert on autism testify early on, people may have looked at me a little differently. Possibly, jurors would not have been so incensed that I allegedly let the victim go off to his death.

In January, the psychologist met with my parents. They gave her copies of all my school and psychological files. They also answered numerous questions about my childhood development. Although I learned to walk at 9 months, I did not speak until I was five years old. It was not until I entered a special education preschool program that I learned to communicate verbally. I was a very introverted child who did not seek out play with other children and preferred to be by myself. I was easily aggravated by loud noises, bright lights, and a number of other things. However, while I had a number of over sensitivities, I had a poor sense of touch and pain. Once I fell off a jungle gym and cut my scalp open. Although I was bleeding heavily, I did not realize anything was wrong until some other kids brought me home. A doctor diagnosed me with autism at a very early age and told my parents I would always be disabled, however, by the time I was in grade school, I doubt anyone knew I had autism other than some teachers and therapists. My grades were nearly perfect. I excelled in sports, and had comprehension and vocabulary skills that exceeded my peers. Some people may have thought I was a bit eccentric, a loner, or without social graces, but not autistic.

At my clemency hearing last year, the prosecutor told the Prisoner Review Board that he had observed me in the courtroom and he did not think I was autistic. The prosecutor would have probably said this even if I behaved like the Rain Man, but autism takes the shape of many different forms. It is now labeled "autism spectrum disorder" by psychologists for a reason. There is a great variance among people with autism. Approximately one in every 110 children born today has some form of autism, and I doubt James McKay could identify a fraction of the million-plus people with autism in America, especially those who are 18 years old or older.

I met the psychologist in one of the legal visiting rooms. She was a woman approximately 40 years old, with short auburn hair, plain dress, no jewelry, and no makeup, not even a trace of blush. Although she was at a maximum-security prison, I did not sense she would be adorned any differently outside the prison walls. She was a woman without flash or style, but comfortable and confident in who she was and her work. I did not need to know she was an expert in her field to get a sense she was a very competent, organized, and intelligent person. Her personality was a bit flat, but then some may say the same of myself especially after I only had a couple hours of sleep. I was not interested in any small talk anyway, and I really did not care to take all the tests she had. When I walked in the room and sat down, she asked if I knew who she was, and I said, "Of course, you are Rachel..." She asked me if I was told to expect her to come. I simply said "yes," but I had no idea she would come today on the day I had stayed up all night waiting to go to the barbershop.

The first test she administered was a generic intelligence test. I did not know what the purpose of this was. I had been administered multiple IQ tests in the past, and she had all my records. Although some people with autism are also retarded, my IQ is well above average. It would not be an issue on any appeal. In fact, the prosecutor argued at the death penalty hearing that because of my high intelligence, I should be held accountable all the more so, and be executed. Apparently, the doctor was just being thorough and while I cared not to think too hard, being half asleep, I appreciated her motivation to perform a very comprehensive evaluation.

After the intelligence test, I was given a vocabulary test. However, this test was not just to gauge the extent of my vocabulary but my ability to discern emotion. I was given an adjective that described a specific emotion, and was supposed to pick out the correlating picture that went with it. The pictures were of people in various poses of expression. With every word, I was shown six pictures to choose from. After I selected one, she would flip the page and I would be given a new word. The words began simple, but then became more complicated, subtle, and unusual. At the end of the test, I thought I was towards the end of a national spelling bee where only people who studied the dictionary would know the meaning or how to spell them. I do not think I did as well on this test as I did on the intelligence test.

I was given a simple puzzle to complete. I quickly assembled the pieces, and the autism expert asked me if I liked to do puzzles. I told her I do not spend my time doing them, but I know I am good at it. However, I do not believe the purpose of the puzzle was to see how quickly I completed it, but how I completed it. All the puzzle pieces were of the same shape, and the puzzle had no picture, only a specific design. Some puzzle pieces were pink, however, and others were blue. I ordered the pink and blue pieces in a specific way, although I was not instructed to do so. I just do not like disorganization or the mixing of colors indiscriminately.

The psychologist had a number of short riddles for me to answer. If I had not been so tired, I may have found these amusing. I had never before been given riddles as a part of a test and it was unexpected. I still cannot figure out the riddle of riddles. What was the purpose of them? I did not know. Furthermore, I still cannot figure out what has six strings, goes around your neck, and is often plugged into an electric socket. I thought about answering "a guitar," but an electric guitar is never plugged directly into an outlet. It is first plugged into an amplifier that has an electric cord. Furthermore, the guitar does not go around your neck. The strap does.

I was shown a children's book with no words, only pictures of flying frogs. The woman opened the book and told a story and then expected me to complete it. I felt like I was back in first grade and it was story time. I never liked far fetched, goofy stories though, even when I was a kid, and I was not very good at creating a story about frogs that flew around a small town at night. The pictures were ludicrous and it was difficult making rational sense of it all. At daybreak, the frogs apparently lost their ability to fly, and the townspeople were left as perplexed as I was. The last page of the book showed a night scene with not frogs, but flying pigs. She asked me if I got it..."When pigs fly?" No, I did not get the story, but, yes, I knew what people meant by saying "when pigs fly."

I was asked if I did not like books of fantasy, and what type of books or movies did I like. I answered that I read mostly nonfiction, but when reading fiction I tend to like serious, deep and intense stories that are soundly based or with a historic backdrop. I can like science fiction, westerns, war-related, mystery, suspense, or romance books as long as they were well written and not goofy or lacking common sense.

I mentioned "Gone With the Wind," and she wanted to know when I read it. The movies I like are also of the same caliber. You will never catch me watching a dumb action flick, slap stick comedy, or an absurd, outlandish fantasy. She seemed to express this fit her stereotype, or maybe, she just agreed with my tastes.

After the children's book, I was given an odd task. The psychologist brought out a bag with various small objects in it. I was told to select five, and make a story from them. Before I did, she told me a brief story of being on the beach using a martini umbrella toothpick, a sponge, and three other objects as an example. I was a little amused by her story, and again reminded of story time when I was a child. I complimented her on her story, although it was apparent it was rehearsed and I could only guess how many people with autism she had said it to.

For my story, I chose a toy Porsche, a 6 of clubs playing card, a white cardboard circle, a candlestick, and a feather. I told a fantasy of picking up my girlfriend in the car to go on a date. While driving, I was distracted by a call from a friend who needed me at a place of business that also served as a gambling operation. There were slot machines, sports betting, and card games. The 6 of Clubs represented the building, and I drove the toy car up to it like I was playing as a child. I went on to say my friend wanted my help with his bookmaking operation, and the girl who I had brought with me was annoyed by my diversion, so I gave her some money to play the slot machines. After assisting my friend, I took my girlfriend out to a park. We walked over a small bridge that went over a stream, and I turned the playing card over and bent it to represent such. While on the bridge, a full moon was out and I used the white cardboard circle to demonstrate this. I gave the girl a kiss before crossing to the other side, whereupon we came to a gazebo. From a bag I had brought with me, I lit a number of candles and I held the little candlestick into place. In the moon and candlelight, we danced. It was late, and the night air was chilly. Using the feather to symbolize a blanket, I wrapped my girlfriend in it before walking her back to the toy Porsche and driving her home.

The psychologist seemed surprised by my ability to create an intricate fantasy. I believe I know the purpose of these story telling assignments. A person with autism is not supposed to have an imagination, but I never lacked such. Although I may be puzzled by flying frogs, I tend to believe I have always had a creative and imaginative mind.

Then I was shown a map of the United States that had numerous cartoon-like representations of places, and events the area was known for. For example, at Cape Canaveral, it had a depiction of a rocket blasting off. I was told this was not a test. She just wanted to use it for a basis of conversation. Although it may not be a conventional test, I knew it was a test of some sort to pick my brain, and I looked at her. She asked if I had been to any of these places, or do I recognize anything on the map I wished to talk about. There were a lot of little drawings, and I believe I recognized all of the depictions even though some were very crude or goofy pictures. I told her that I had been to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and she wanted to know all about my experiences there. I told her about Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls. Lookout Mountain was a mountain top where a person can see many states. Ruby Falls was a cave lit up with lights inside for tourists. At the end of the cave was a large waterfall. It was named Ruby Falls because many semi-precious stones were found in the cave. She seemed satisfied with the conversation, and I did not address any other pictures on the map.

The doctor asked me if I could tell her how to brush her teeth, supposing she had never done it before and did not know how. She identified a toothbrush, cup, and a tube of toothpaste that were hypothetically in front of her. I was not given enough information, so I asked her if the toothbrush was a regular sized one, or the 2" toothbrushes we are given in a maximum-security prison. I also asked her if she was left or right handed before I began to describe the systematic way I brushed my teeth.

When all the tests were done, I was given an enormous litany of questions. What was my description of a friend? How did friends differ from non-friends? Did I have any friends? Did I have any friends before my arrest? How many? Did I date before my arrest? What was the purpose of a long term relationship? Do I ever hear voices or see things others do not? What are the main problems I have in prison? What were my fears and dreams? The questions went on and on. This was definitely the most comprehensive psychological evaluation I ever had, and I would have been more cooperative or forthcoming if I did not want to go back to my cell as soon as possible to cover myself with a blanket and go to sleep.

After she was done asking all her questions, she asked if I had any of my own. The psychologist had a lot of experience with people with autism, and I was interested if she could tell me where I fell on the spectrum. She apparently did not want to answer this, and told me she would give a full report to my attorney. I then briefly told her how I was convicted of murder based on a theory of accountability for lending my car, and if it was her opinion I was guilty, assuming those facts were true. She told me she had already been informed of the circumstances of my case and she was genuinely baffled by what happened to me. However, to my surprise, she did not know the law. She has been called numerous times by defense lawyers and prosecutors to give testimony regarding autism and was considered an expert by the courts. Hopefully, she will put together an impressive report for my attorney to present to the court.

I had spent several hours with the doctor and was eager to get back to my cage to get some shut eye. I was thoroughly exhausted by the melee of tests, questions and talk. I had no more questions for her or her for me, and I left without saying goodbye. I do not know of what value her report will be to my appeal. It is extremely difficult convincing the court to grant a defendant an evidentiary hearing, let alone a new trial, particularly after all your regular set of appeals have been lost or dismissed.


  1. Say, why didn't you look into jurors' eyes at the trial? And why didn't you raise hell to testify AT YOUR TRIAL? Both actions made you look guilty, autism or not. You can't turn back the time but I would like to know and the answers will be expected at your nex trial/clemency petition, etc. Also, map of Barrington...why? You have to deal with the details of everything my friend...and explain them to the satisfation of the free world otherwise you're at the mercy, or evilness, of prosecutors who love shy, speechless defendants who put their lives in the hands of their useless lawyers.

    1. My attorney led me to believe he would contest the lies of the interrogating officer. It was not until half way through his cross examination I was stunned to learn he had no intention of doing so. When he returned to the defense table, I expressed my outrage but was told to be quiet and things were going great. Immediately after his testimony, I met with my attorney in a legal room and we had a fierce argument. I demanded he recall Dep. Chief John Robertson to the stand and then place on all the witnesses who would discredit him, including myself. I told him it was imperative that I take the stand to tell the jury how he lied. My attorney refused and threatened to drop my case in the middle of trial if I did not go along with his strategy. I knew he had made a terrible mistake, but there seemed like there was nothing I could do.

      I did not have a map of Barrington. I had a map book of the entire state of Illinois. On one of the pages was a map of Barrington and the surrounding area. The interrogating cop who lied about my statements also lied to the grand jury. He claimed I had made a mark in pen near where the body was found. Before my trial, however, my attorneys ordered other copies of the Rand McNally map book and discovered all the copies had the same line. It was not put there by me but the manufacturer.

      At the end of one of the prosecutor's closing arguments he told the jurors the eyes are the window to the soul. He inferred to them I was a very cold, uncaring, maleficent person devoid of emotion. In fact, he dared them not to look into my eyes or they would get shivers. I know my blue eyes are very sharp and can be construed as mean or dispassionate. When I am deprived of sleep or under continuous stress, it is exceedingly more difficult for me to connect with people emotionally through body language or otherwise. I probably did look like a zombie after a month long trial where my attorney was working against me and my life was at stake. Thus, I tried not to make too much eye contact with my jury.

  2. What about an ineffective assistance of council action?

  3. What special accommodations did you have in school?

    1. I was sent to a special education kindergarten far from my home, and I received speech therapy from K to grade 5. Periodically I would meet with a therapist or psychologist when my class was engaged in some unimportant activity. The understanding of ASD was minimal in the 1970s and I do not think I benefited in any way. Furthermore, I disliked being removed from class because, although other students did not know why, it was noticed by them. My high school years were another matter. I could write a book about those years.

  4. What happened in high school?

    1. A Former Neighbor of the FamilyOctober 21, 2015 at 11:29 PM

      I see Paul didn't respond.... I recall a group of seniors were constantly picking on him and starting fights with him. The first week of high school, his locker was broken into and all his books were stolen....and his new scientific calculator. He could not do the homework assignments without books. His mother talked to the principal about these problems, but he refused to replace the books. Instead of investigating the matter, he insisted that Paul be sent to a special ed school. A week later, one of those older boys attacked Paul on the way to school. Paul got the better of him, and was arrested. The principal got his way and Paul was forced to go to another school out of the district.

  5. Paul I'm so sorry.

  6. Did you ever get a full report?

    1. Yes, a full report was provided by that doctor. Nothing Paul or his parents didn't already know, but it may be useful if Paul ever gets a new trial.


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