I have a request to make, passing on a message from a friend of mine. The gist of it is that his nephew died as a result of PTSD and depression, before he could appeal a court decision to clear his name. His family, though naturally shattered, is trying to get the appeal through regardless, to clear this young man’s record. The Change.org petition is linked here, and I’m hopeful your compassionate nature will take the time to follow a link and tick a box for a truly good cause. I’m told the appeal is going to be on August 23rd, 2015, so let’s try to get this filled up!
For those of you in the gaming community, Daniel Bishop is one of our modern day luminaries. As an author he is prolific, having written many, many adventures for dungeon crawl classics RPG, including tournament adventures, modules, blog advice posts, and a long-running correspondence with myself and others. He is stubbornly fair with his rulings, and that’s why I value him as a judge: he takes the facts at hand, weighs them realistically, and responds with the simple answer, neither pandering nor malicious, but truthfully as he sees it. Above all, I think, he understands games as a teaching tool: while choices for characters can end in failure for the imagined character, the players at his table learn and grow for future games. He mentored me through my first book, before even knowing me. I’m not alone: a legion of authors and gamers have Daniel to thank for various acts of guidance. As soon as I heard of his petition for his nephew, I took it upon myself to spread the word as best I could. This is a good cause. I cannot pretend to be a hero but fail to act when I have the choice.
Another mentor of mine, a justice of the peace in the UK, found that the raw humanity he saw in court made him appreciate the troubled youths in his community, and we ran a youth club for them (real hard cases, and he did true good in their lives). In my own time in social work I, too, learned that (dangerous people aside) many cases were better solved with compassion. I made mistakes, I’m sure, but I learned a great deal from them.
I hope the judge in Walt’s case sees this appeal, not as an insult to their judgement, but as an opportunity to do good. Law is something I believe in, something that exists entirely to help the people. In this case, the current design of the system failed Walt, the tools at hand were inadequate: tragically, we learned all too late that his diagnoses of depression and PTSD were not fake.
Yet I feel that it doesn’t have to fail his memory, nor fail his family. They need the good judgement of a true mediator. I hope, if that judge or anyone in a position to help is reading this, they could grant his family what they need, and clear his name.
Suicide is, in my opinion, not an act of choice as much as it seems to be so. I know this from personal experience: I have had extreme anxiety, to the point where I quite my former career path and reformed my life, and my family’s life, to survive it. While I’m still alive, I also didn’t have the pressures this young man went through. He was accused of a crime his family can prove via phone records he wasn’t involved in, by witnesses who are obviously unreliable; a kid, he was locked up in solitary confinement in jail “for his own protection”, despite it being classified as a punishment IN JAIL and a form of inhumane torture. All this while diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, by medical professionals.
When the judge ignored Walter’s evidence and condemned him, rejecting his medical diagnoses of PTSD and depression as “purchased”, I’m certain Walt felt alone. That’s what depression does, beyond reason: the frontal lobe shuts down, the ability to use logic decreases, and the victim of depression CANNOT think outside their situation. I’ve had mere disappointments make it so I can’t get out of bed. I cannot imagine the despair of seeing my life warped to endless inhumane imprisonment, locked in with actual criminals and brusk prison officials.
The fact is we have an opportunity to make a difference right now. I’ve signed the petition, and I’m certain you will, too. Read the documents of the case to decide for yourself, see the gallery, and maybe pass this on to the custodians of the law of our society so that they can have the chance to do the right thing.
I’m going to repost his uncle’s story below, and also pictures of Will so you can see him, not just imagine. Before I do that, however, I wanted to make it clear that this issue means a great deal to me. I’m sorry I couldn’t post sooner, my inadequate understanding of how to make a poster with photos just not being up to the deadline for Walter’s appeal. Without delay, then, here are the links to the Change.org petition, a gallery of photos of him from family and friends, a video on prison issues in the United States by John Oliver, a link to the documents of Walter’s case, and his uncle’s words on the matter.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and, I hope, help us set things right.
The following was written by Daniel J Bishop:
On 30 April 2015, my nephew, Walter Wessel IV, took his own life as a direct result of his experiences with the Wisconsin judicial system. He was accused, while a minor, with criminal damage to property over $2500. One of his accusers has now subsequently committed suicide.
Like many teenagers, Wally had a rebellious side. He initially refused to speak to the detective assigned to the case, citing his Constitutional right to do so. This seems to have upset the detective enough that she made it her mission to see him convicted. In the preliminary hearing, the judge indicated that there was not enough evidence to go to trial.
Consider the highlights:
(1) The prosecution withheld the recordings of the interviews with the only witnesses for the state from the defense.
(2) The investigating officers took DNA evidence, which did not match the accused.
(3) There was, in fact, no physical evidence presented.
(4) The witnesses for the state had their juvenile charges either completely dismissed or adjudicated as a result of their testimony. Again, one of these has now committed suicide himself, following the death of my nephew.
(5) These witnesses not only had a motive to fabricate an accusation, but they were consistently inconsistent in their testimony about that accusation.
(6) My nephew had an alibi for the time the crime had been committed, which could be verified by phone records, and that person testified in court.
In the initial trial, the court-appointed defender was clearly incompetent, and sabotaged the testimony of my nephew’s witness. Upon appeal, the District Attorney stated that they had worked hard at finding the guilty person, going so far as to use DNA analysis, although she neglected to mention that the results of the DNA analysis did not support conviction.
The appellate judge ruled that, although my nephew had not received a fair trial, his Constitutional rights had not been violated because (1) he had heard the evidence against him at the pretrial hearing and because (2) the judge did not believe my nephew’s testimony.
My nephew committed suicide during the appeal process. Although his family has tried hard to restore some sense of justice, they don’t even have a reason behind the second appeal’s failure. They now have until 17 August 2015 to request a further appeal from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, and have no hope of being given a fair hearing if the matter can simply be swept under the carpet.
According to my nephew’s attorney “The Supreme Court is very hostile both to one another and to defendants. Even if they did take the case, I don’t think they would grant him relief. In the last few decisions they’ve released in criminal cases (including one of my cases), the supreme court has gone out of its way to deny relief to defendants and in doing so (in my opinion) created very bad law.”
My nephew, Wally, was not perfect. He did have run-ins with the law as a juvenile, but he was also turning his life around. He was gainfully employed, well-liked at work, and in line for promotion. He smoked pot recreationally, and he drank about the same amount as his peer group.
Wally was sent to the Huber Facility, where he was provided hard drugs by other inmates. To the best of our knowledge, this was his first experience with hard drugs. On the day after his release, his probation was revoked for drinking and drugs, and was sent to prison to wait his revocation hearing. He had been diagnosed with depression while in custody for awaiting his revocation.
He elected to go to a boot camp for 6 months, although depression disqualified him from going, and after a couple of months he had to leave because they were afraid that he would kill himself. His probation officer knew at the time that he had been diagnosed with depression by two different doctors, one paid by the state. His probation officers broke the rules by sending him there, and should have offered him a drug program instead. Neither his parents nor my nephew were made aware of this until it was too late. His lawyer suggested a doctor assess his mental state. He was found to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most likely related to his conviction of the crime and what followed. He was once again released to probation.
After 3 months, Wally smoked again to ease his depression, an act that cost him 18 months in prison. His mother, my sister, said: “But before the judge sent him to prison he commented on how convenient it was that we were able to buy a diagnosis of PTSD and then he went on for what seemed to be at least 10 minutes telling my son what a piece of shit he was. Then he sent him to prison, not because he was a danger to society but because he needed to be punished. I guess that wanting to end one’s life is not punishment enough.”
Because Wally was small, he spent a lot of time in solitary confinement for his own protection – a small room with no windows. This is normally a severe punishment, and there is growing consensus among psychologists and human rights advocates that it is a form of torture. This was after he had been diagnosed with PTSD.
Four months after my nephew got released from prison his grandfather died. He was depressed and again smoked pot. Since this had been the second time (he admitted to both times prior to any tests) he was locked up for 3 days. His grandfather died, he smoked a joint, he had to go to jail for three days.
I don’t have the words to tell you what Wally’s suicide has done to his family. No, he was not perfect. But he was also not guilty of this particular offense, and no reasonable court interested in a just outcome would have found him so. Therefore, I am asking you to help. When the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is considering whether to hear this case, and when they rule on it if they do, they need to know that the outcome matters. They need to know that people are watching and waiting to see what they do.
Below is a link to his court records. These are a bit misleading, because the two Dane County traffic offenses were related to another person by the same name. The final case in Waukesha relates to sending a topless picture of an ex-girlfriend to a then-current girlfriend. The prosecutors sought a 40 year sentence.
We would like to give this case as much coverage as possible. What I am asking you to do is simply to share to Facebook or elsewhere. Even if it does not help his case with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it will be of enormous comfort and support to my sister and her family.
I beg you to help me.
Daniel J. Bishop”