Michael Carey: 2-year-old suffers wretched father, dark side of gun culture

Michael Carey

"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune."

So sayeth the English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Bacon insisted the single life is superior to marriage. In his cranky zeal, he failed to acknowledge we all are hostages to fortune -- and children far more the hostage than adults.

I found myself preoccupied with the fortune -- and misfortune -- of children while in federal court watching a civil suit brought by Cherry Dietzmann, the mother of Jason Anderson Jr., a 2-year-old shot in the head during a shootout between his father and law enforcement officers.

Jason Sr., a fugitive drug dealer, died in the March 2006 Homer clash.

His son was left in a vegetative state that continues to this day. Cherry Dietzmann asked for millions of dollars from the City of Homer for medical care and damages. The eight-member jury refused to find the city police department negligent. She received nothing for her day in court.

Part of the trial was devoted to who shot the boy. The defense, through expert witnesses, argued Dad did and prevailed.

It is difficult to imagine a father who would first make his son a hostage -- literally -- in an armed showdown with the law and then attempt to kill him. The word "father" doesn't fit in that sentence. Jason Anderson Sr., age 31 when he died, seems like an unhinged character in a dystopian novel.

I never saw Jason Anderson Sr. alive. But I saw him dead -- that is, I saw many photographs of him dead that were introduced as evidence. The judge, the jury, the lawyers and the few people attending the trial saw those photographs too. Some photos were taken immediately after he was killed, others during an autopsy.

Dead Anderson fully met the contemporary stereotype of a violent career criminal: Bulked up, well tattooed, head shaved. He had been shot 10 times, testified Dr. Stephen Erickson, who conducted the autopsy for the State of Alaska. Contrary to the teachings of Clint Eastwood movies, gunshots do not always leave large holes in a shooting victim. Anderson had been hit by a number of .223 rounds -- typical of the AR-15, the Bushmaster. His entrance and exit wounds were lethal but of modest dimensions. Some looked like welts. Erickson testified that a round on the way out of a body can stretch the skin up to six inches and still never exit.

How do you get a 2-year-old into a conversation like this? It's a disturbing experience but follows inevitably from what happened to Jason. Photographs of his head wounds -- also introduced as evidence -- made me lower my head and close my eyes. Maybe his mother deserved damages; maybe she didn't. Little Jason didn't deserve what befell him when adults completely failed him.

While on the stand for the defense, Dr. Erickson, now deputy medical examiner at the state crime lab in Arkansas, was asked about his qualifications. His response was lengthy and far more oratorical then witness usually will attempt -- or are allowed. He recited his education, training and experience, especially his experience with gunshot wounds, explaining that an American forensic pathologist like himself "walks and talks gunshot wounds." Erickson sees people who have died from gunshot wounds "about every other day."

"This is America. This is a gun culture. This is who we are. In Japan, Sweden gunshot deaths are rare," Erickson said.

And this is who we are made little Jason Anderson a hostage to a lifetime of suffering.

Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at mcarey@adn.com.

Michael Carey