Writer’s Cramp by Byron Case
If you were accused, unjustly, of murdering one of your friends, by a psycho ex-girlfriend, and imprisoned not for one, but for two life terms in prison, getting angry and wallowing in bitterness and despair would be pretty damn easy.
Or, you could make comics.
That is what Byron Case has decided to do, in his new comic strip Writer’s Cramp, featured on his blog, The Pariah’s Syntax.
I’m about to summarize Case’s situation, though if at all interested, you should check out Davy Rothbart’s essay, “The Strongest Man in the World,” in his collection My Heart Is An Idiot. Rothbart, a good writer, and contributor to public radio’s This American Life, is perhaps more well-known as the founder and editor of FOUND Magazine. His essay is what informed and convinced me that Byron Case is in prison for a crime he didn’t do.
You can also read a book about this case, called The Skeptical Juror and the Trial of Byron Case by John Allen, who was responsible for presenting key information left out of the trial.
Byron Case was dating a girl named Kelly Moffett, the two of who were friends with another young couple, Justin Bruton and Anastasia Witbols-Fuegen, who had a tumultuous relationship (as well as lives). After a fight in Justin’s car one night, with all four inside, Anastasia jumped out and ran off into a sketchy part of town. Later, her body was found in a nearby cemetery, shot through the head a close range. The next day Justin Bruton’s body was found in another town: He’d killed himself by shooting himself with a shotgun.
The case was considered a murder-suicide, though left open due to no evidence one way or the other being available. A few years later, under apparent urging from a counselor, Kelly Moffett changed her testimony and accused her then ex-boyfriend Byron as the one who killed Anastasia. With little more than her word as evidence, Byron was arrested and brought to trail.
The other important ‘evidence’ for the jury was a transcript of a conversation Kelly made herself by holding a tape recorder up to the phone while talking to Byron late at night. This after authorities had already tried officially recording her and Byron’s phone conversations without Byron saying anything. The jury never really heard Kelly’s poor recording, instead relying on a transcript of the convo, which left Byron seeming to say some odd things, and saying nothing to key questions.
The other big factor in the jury finding Byron Case guilty was his appearance: a goth kid in a small conservative midwest town, known for wearing black trenchcoats and listening to Marilyn Manson (these after the Columbine shootings). Without any motive, and without any substantial evidence, Byron was convicted. His friends and mother have been fighting ever since to get a re-trial, but that’s the real Kafka nightmare: getting a judge to actually consider to real transcript, and Kelly’s history as an alcoholic and drug user who might perhaps benefit in her reputation from the sympathy generated as her as victim.
But that’s all the background. And as a former metalhead who wore lots of black and dated a kinda crazy drug-using girlfriend and associated with other potentially suicidal and angry young people, this case kinda hits home.
But what really fascinates me is that Byron Case responds to his situation in a creative way. He already has a book of poems and essays out, also called The Pariah’s Syntax, and now, in 2015, he’s delving into writing and drawing a comic strips series, Writers Cramp, on his blog, The Pariah’s Syntax: Unbound Notes From An Innocent Man.
The artwork is basic, on purpose, with Case giving himself a stick man persona, and each comics trip so far is three panels, which Case uses to good effect. And the effect is what I want to talk about: he’s going for humor. Comic strips lend themselves to humor of course, in particular with timing, and time, between panels
The one Writer’s Cramp episode I find the most fascinating is number three, included here. I get it, and I think anybody doing some kind of creative project gets it. What’s left out, though if you know Byron Case’s story, implicit, is that the situation is, probably, happening in prison. I sense that Case is backing away from any explicit mention of prison for these comic strips, and I could maybe understand why, but I feel, and hope, that he should make his prison experiences an explicit part of Writer’s Cramp. To find the humor (because of the despair of the situation) in his situation might make the strips more powerful, and funny (in a heartbreaking way).
But who knows, Byron Case is just exploring comics making. Ideally, and if there’s any sanity in our judicial system, he’ll get a mistrial declared and be out to pursue whatever he wants, like living a real life back in the real World.
But again who knows: prisons are big business these days, and as recent events last Fall show, some people aren’t even making it to prison, just getting by police. There’s a lot of injustice going on right now in America, which puts more people in prison than any other country. Certainly all kinds of people need help and support, but consider a fellow comic fan. You can visit the freebyroncase.com website and contribute money, or simply sign a petition asking for the judicial system to at least reconsider the case.
If you’d like to read more about Byron Case, maybe help financially, maybe sign the petition, you can start here at his website: Free Byron Case.
Visit his blog here to check out more Writer’s Cramp comic strips, as well as other prose writings: www.pariahblog.com
There’s also a Free Byron Case Facebook page.