Gaines case a black eye for legal system

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By Ben Carlson

Column as I see ’em …
I’ll bet you’re curious about this photo, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but first let me say how disappointed I am that the fellow charged with drunk hunting and wanton endangerment has pleaded guilty instead of standing trial.
David Gaines, a Lawrenceburg man who in my view was railroaded into this mess, pleaded out on three Class D felony counts and in essence now admits to shooting in the direction of other hunters earlier this year in a dove field.
The drunk hunting charge was dismissed, based on him agreeing to plead guilty.
I say Gaines was railroaded because he was originally charged with misdemeanors but refused to cop a plea and seemingly dared prosecutors to prove him guilty for allegedly having birdshot from his dove gun hit former Fish and Wildlife officer Rex Burkhead from nearly 200 yards away.
If, and it’s a big if, the birdshot defied physics and flew that far, it would have hit Burkhead with about as much force as being kissed by a kitten.
Then, out of the blue and just days before his trial, those charges were ratcheted up from misdemeanor to felony counts, allowing prosecutors to avoid the dubious task of convicting him in District Court — not to mention the underlying family and business squabbles that were what this case was actually about to be put on full display in open court.
As I predicted days after the charges were cranked up, Gaines would almost certainly have to plead out because it’s simply too risky to stick to his guns and risk being a convicted felon for the rest of his life.
I’m sorry to say I was right, but that doesn’t make this entire sordid case any less wrong.
This case is a black eye for Anderson County’s entire legal system, although a pass is certainly warranted for the Fish and Wildlife officers who responded to that dove field and were simply doing their jobs.
Now about that photo …
I snapped it Saturday after nearly spitting my iced tea (unsweetened, thanks) all over my windshield while driving through the McDonald’s on the north end of town.
To keep it clean here, I used my admittedly lousy Photoshop skills to blur the pair of S’s between the A and H, as well as the truck’s license plates.
The iced tea spitting wasn’t because it surprised me so much to see such utter disdain of the president and the people responsible for putting him in office. Political discord was remarkably offensive in the years leading up to Obama’s election — remember the former vice president, Al Gore, shouting “Bush lied and people died?” — so this guy’s dissent being so vibrantly displayed isn’t all that surprising.
It’s unique, though, because I cannot recall ever seeing a vulgarity so prominently displayed on a vehicle, and couldn’t help but wonder two things: 1. What kind of response does this guy get? 2. Has his tailgate message ever gotten him pulled over by the police?
So after taking the photograph, I waited for the man to come outside and asked.
Seemingly unfazed that someone dressed to kill (deer) would be taking a photo of his truck, the guy walked up, pumped my hand hard enough to make it sore and proudly stated he is from Louisville.
“I catch a little [crap],” the man said. “Most people like it, though, and honk or wave when I drive by.”
He added that he does catch more [crap] in the cities because they tend to bend more liberal, but when he gets into smaller towns like Lawrenceburg, he rarely gets anything but a positive response.
As for the police, he said they’re not a problem, including when he drove around Obama’s hometown of Chicago.
“Illinois State Police came alongside me and gave me a thumbs up,” he said. “Police are the same everywhere.”
But is it legal to use a vulgarity like that on your tailgate, I asked.
“Ever hear of the First Amendment?” he retorted. “You’re looking at the First Amendment on display.”
I guess so, but on that Saturday morning in Lawrenceburg, it seems to me the First Amendment was working some serious overtime.