Oct 17, 2010View Source
Posted on Thu, Oct. 14, 2010
Ronnie Polaneczky: The Ira Einhorn Interview
By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News Columnist
IRA EINHORN still has the white hair and goatee he sported in 2002, when he was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, whose mummified remains were found in a trunk in Einhorn's Powelton Village apartment in 1979.
And those blue eyes haven't lost their freaky intensity as he approaches the eighth anniversary, this Sunday, of his conviction.
But, at 70, Einhorn is thinner than the husky bear we knew back then. His hairline has receded, revealing a scalp that looks like marbled ham, and he has lost some front teeth. Those that remain are lemon yellow, and his breath is foul.
It's a beautiful fall morning and I am visiting Einhorn at Houtzdale State Correctional Institution, in mountainous Clearfield County
"How was your trip?" he asks.
"Beautiful," I tell him.
It feels utterly surreal to be making small talk with Einhorn, who says that he hasn't given a press interview since his conviction.
He once held Philadelphia's rapt attention. A counterculture icon of the'60s and '70s, he was a hippie guru to the rich, famous and influential, mesmerizing them with messages of peace, love, intellectual enlightenment and global connectivity.
But awe turned to loathing in 1981 when Einhorn, on the eve of his trial for Maddux's murder, went on the lam for 16 years in Europe, becoming our most high-profile fugitive.
He was arrested in 1997 in France, where he was known as "Eugene Mallon." He lived in a picturesque village with a Swedish wife who bore an unsettling resemblance to Maddux.
But French authorities blocked his extradition to the United States, arguing that Einhorn had not gotten a fair trial (he'd been tried and convicted in absentia here), deserved a new one and should not be executed if found guilty.
The French finally sent Einhorn back to Philly in 2001. He was convicted in 2002, given a life sentence and sent to Houtzdale, where he's dwelled ever since.
I'd mostly forgotten about him, until his letter landed on my desk some months ago. He wanted to talk about the flawed U.S. justice system, he wrote.
So we arranged to meet. Not because I doubted Einhorn's guilt. He killed Maddux, and the bastard is where he deserves to be. But I wanted to see what had become of the man whose brazen flight from justice had once so incensed Philadelphians, they'd participated in an annual contest to throw tomatoes at a poster bearing his image.
I'm pleased to find that Einhorn - whose intellectually hungry followers used to devour his perceptions, then clamor for more - says that he is virtually ignored now that he is Prisoner No. ES6859.
During our five-hour visit, he complains that most of the copious letters he writes - to this genius author or that ground-breaking professor, in hope of stirring delightful discussion - go unanswered.
"I'm a pariah," he says, self-pityingly, oblivious to the possibility that his being a murderer might limit his pool of willing pen pals. "Once you're in prison, it's as if you no longer exist!"
He seems to expect me to cluck in sympathy. Instead, I feel satisfaction for the family of Holly Maddux, whom he put through hell.
For a narcissistic gasbag like Einhorn, being irrelevant is a punishment more cruel and unusual than death.
Still, I've driven hours to see Einhorn, so I settle in for a chat.
I tell him that I believe he killed Maddux, so I'm not interested in hearing his claims of innocence. Einhorn is equally adamant that he won't discuss his wife, Annika Flodin, who remains in France, other than to say that she is the love of his life.
"I had a lot of lovers when I was younger, anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800. I had a lot of erotic energy," he says, though not "Wilt Chamberlain's erotic energy. But from the moment I met my wife, I was monogamous."
He misses their intellectual banter, or any riveting conversation, actually. Much as he likes many of the 130 inmates and corrections officers on his cellblock, where he has a job as a clerk, they're not the deep-discussion sort.
"I've spent a lifetime creating a knowledge factory in my head," he says, tapping his blotchy scalp. "But everyone here just sleeps or watches television. It makes me sad."
He rises at 5 a.m., works on the series of "erotic short stories" he's writing and composes a journal entry, as he has daily since the early '60s. He says that his musings now comprise some 30,000 pages.
He would like his journals archived in a university, after his death, for study.
"They're an important view of daily life at this time in history," he says airily, his ego apparently undamaged by eight years behind bars.
He subscribes to domestic and international periodicals too numerous to name, but I'll say this for his reading addiction: It sure keeps him interesting. As he excitedly weighed in on everything from metaphysics and epigenetics to global warming and design science, it was easy to see how Ira Einhorn, 1957 Central High grad, became Ira Einhorn, darling of the pseudo-intellectuals.
His manner was so expansive, charming and generous, I temporarily forgot that we were sitting in a prison because he had killed a woman, lived with her corpse in a trunk for 18 months and had had the hubris to believe that he could outsmart detectives who pursued him for two decades.
Sociopaths are good that way.
Einhorn has logged hours in the prison library, learning the law and becoming appalled at all he didn't know about it. He speaks with anger about inmates whom he believes are innocent.
"Not everyone is," he says. "I'm no fool. But some of these men, you just have to look at their files to know they shouldn't be here. They didn't have the right representation."
He rails against a justice system that doesn't seem interested in keeping itself accountable to a higher ideal. He thinks it's a reflection of a society gone mad, a betrayal of all he preached in the '60s and '70s, when "you knew you had to be responsible, or you were lost."
This, from a man who went on the lam for 16 years.
Our time stretches on, and he talks about how bad he feels for introducing so many people to recreational drug use back in the day ("People weren't ready to be responsible with it," he says. "I have to own my part in that."); how the government owes returning war veterans decent medical care; how he now believes that family, first and foremost, is everything.
It's a bizarre, fascinating and far-reaching conversation that has my head spinning by the time we shake hands goodbye. And I can't help thinking, as I head for home, that Einhorn, by taking Maddux's life, has squandered his own.
A fine way to redeem it might be to admit his guilt and throw himself into advocacy work for those inmates who, unlike him, truly are innocent and in need of help from a man whose brain is big enough to figure out their next move.
But it'll never happen. Because sociopaths aren't good that way.
Posted on Thu, Oct. 14, 2010
Einhorn on Einhorn: 'I am a unique pariah'
Several months ago, Ira Einhorn initiated correspondence with Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky. This is an edited version of his recent take on the judicial system.
SINCE MY ABRUPT return to the Pennsylvania Prison System in 2001, I have had numerous conversations with shocked former citizens who have repeated the same words to me, in different form, again and again: "I never dreamed that people caught up in the judicial system could be treated so unfairly, with such lack of concern for their rights."
I'm ashamed of my previous unawareness. And of my lack of empathy for the many lives ruined by a system that feels criminal to me now in so many ways.
These former doctors, soldiers, firefighters are kin to your neighbors, or are maybe even your husband, brother or son.
So I am not talking about some alien band of people who deserve your disdain.
Virginia's Sen. Jim Webb has said it well: "With so many of our people in prison . . . there are only two possibilities: either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something wrong."
The wrong is so ingrained that a lawyer I know has said to me, repeatedly, mentioning grave injustice, "They're prisoners: Lawyers, D.A.s and judges hate them. They don't care what happens to them."
Read that statement again as you think of those judges who permitted thousands of teens to go to jail in Luzerne County so that two men could line their pockets. Your daughter, your son, your brothers and sisters incarcerated so that greedy men could make money off the chaining and transporting of their bodies,
"Justice," "ordered liberty," "fundamental fairness" and "due process," spit upon by those who pledged to uphold it.
A shame on us all for allowing our youth to be so debased.
Anyone who studied the law can't believe what has been done in my particular legal situation. I am of that number, as I now have spent thousands of hours in the law library.
I have been treated as if our Constitution, a document forged in blood and courage, does not exist.
The essence of our Constitution is found in the first, fourth and fifth amendments. They guarantee rights whose assertion in the late 18th century should be the pride of all Americans. All the rights guaranteed by these amendments were trampled upon when 10,000 pages of my private journals were seized in March of 1979.
The protection of such material, which constitute the inner sanctum of an individual's being, is the bedrock upon which our unique union of free people stands.
To seize them was to desecrate our history. To then turn my property over to a journalist is to destroy the bond under which property is seized. To allow him [Levy] to use my property for his own private gain is to erase our tradition of private property and to tell John Locke, Benjamin Franklin and Tom Jefferson that their lives were risked in vain.
There is no similar act in the history of our law.
I am a unique pariah.
The list of errors in my case is long. They add up to a deliberate attempt to destroy what is part of our civic religion: equal protection of everyone under the law.
Recent events have added to this travesty: My enormous record has been "lost"- thousands of pages just gone. Poof, no more Einhorn!
Then a clerk in a small civil suit returned a proper motion without date-stamping it or entering it on the docket.
To correct the error, I filed four more motions. All of them were just discarded.
All the proper court officials were informed. Silence. Criminal behavior given the nod. If you allow injustice to occur, without crying "foul," it will spread like a plague. Arrogance and uncaring behavior becomes the norm.
And then we all suffer, for what is obvious to anyone who knows any law is that what has been done to me is done daily to your relatives and friends.
The Daily News "Tainted Justice" series opened a door to a very dark room that we must have the courage to enter and carefully scrutinize.
There is a grave illness in the Pennsylvania judicial system. Sunlight is the only answer.
It can be provided only by an honest press and an informed people. A public awareness that says "no" in thunder to the spreading illness that Luzerne symbolizes.
An awareness that would erase the shame of allowing so many innocent fathers, brothers and sisters languishing in jail.
3 STARS – THOUGHT PROVOKING
Life is not always fair and we don’t all live happily ever after. For some, life brands you as a loser in childhood. Such was the experience of Kenny Waters, a man whose life was traumatic from the start and who ended up in prison for life.
In a sobering biographical tale, “Conviction” takes us through the real life experience of Kenny (Sam Rockwell) and his sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank). Their early days began in foster homes leading to a sixteen year battle to free Kenny from unjustly being incarcerated for murder. Throughout their lives, Kenny acted out his anger and built a reputation for himself as a fighter and a bully. Kenny only had one true friend in his life, his sister, who was his support, defender, and ultimately the angel of his redemption.
Kenny never was a likeable guy, instigating trouble wherever he went. But Betty Anne saw his potential for good even though she was alone in that opinion. Ultimately what she did for Kenny, was give him the kind of unconditional love that few of us ever receive.
When Kenny was accused of a brutal murder in the same town in which they lived, everyone knew he was capable of this kind of rage. When the case was pursued by an ambitious court, his less-than-honest friends and a former spouse collaborated in fingering him as the killer. He was thrown in prison for life. Even though Kenny protested his innocence, he knew that his reputation preceded him and that no one would believe his story.
What is remarkable about this story of a societal loser is the depth of compassion that his sister gives to him. Betty Anne had never finished high school, but she was determined to prove his innocence. Even though she is a single mother of two boys and can barely make ends meet, she proceeds on her own to get her degree, then enters and graduates from law school, and ultimately becomes a lawyer. Throughout this ordeal, she is given tremendous moral support by Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), another law student who is amazed and heartened by Betty Anne’s commitment and love for her brother.
The roadblocks Betty Anne must overcome include her own brother’s lack of confidence in both her and “the system,” a system he is convinced will never let him out alive. Sixteen years into this process Betty Anne is befriended by a legal support group headed by Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher). Scheck has had great success in using DNA to prove the innocence of people wrongfully convicted. The obstacles were tremendous, including the fact that the evidence no longer exists and that Kenny’s own family, including his daughter Elizabeth Waters (Karen Young), believe he is guilty.
It is no secret that Kenny Waters is finally let out of prison a free man. What takes this story to a powerful level is the experiences of reconciliation that occur along the way, especially between Kenny and his daughter. Kenny doesn’t come out of prison a nice man, but his story gives a powerful example of what loving the unlovable can ultimately accomplish.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The fact that everyone believed Kenny could have been a murderer was a major cause in his conviction. How many people do you think are convicted on reputation rather than behavior?
2. The love which Betty Anne expressed by giving her life and her career to securing her brother’s release is a powerful tale. Do you have anyone in your life who loves you with that level of devotion? Is there anyone you love unconditionally?
3. The conviction of several people have been overturned by DNA and other modern methods of defense. What would you do if you were wrongfully convicted and then released? Would you forgive or be embittered?
AUTHOR: Hal and Denny