By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
A year's worth of dust covers two sturdy, handcrafted work tables--lit by a bare, 100-watt bulb--in a corner of Carl Wesley's basement in South Minneapolis. Unopened letters, faded sales receipts, and reams of multicolored scratch paper share space with a dozen rolls of 3M adhesive tape, a trio of rusty shears, and an empty tin of Hershey's Cocoa Mix filled with razor-sharp X-acto blades. News and art magazines are sealed up and preserved in transparent plastic bags: The Washington Post Magazine, 1988; The Secretary, 1993; Business Ethics, 1991. The photo-driven, often abstract collages on their covers all feature Wesley's byline.
The bookshelves, too, are coated in dust. A couple of them house well-worn favorites: The Films of Charlie Chaplin, folios on Van Gogh and Monet, The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, Tolstoy's War and Peace. Some of them are crammed with yellowing memorabilia that smell of mothballs: a pair of Everlast boxing gloves, a New York Yankees hard hat, antique Coke bottles, coffee cans, toy trucks.
The walls are an artist's canvas. Blown-up shots of Little Richard, Madonna, Malcolm X, and Marilyn Monroe double as wallpaper. Scrawled words--"hip hop," "whack," "nitro," "juice," and "peace"--dress the concrete blocks like graffiti, and the ceiling beams read like a New York City subway map--"SoHo," "East Side," "TriBeCa." All that's missing is a rumbling train.
On the bare floors, fine art clutters the place, some of it finished, most of it broken or torn. A trumpet, its rust speckled with paint, sticks out of the handmade wooden frame it has been glued into. The glamour shot of a platinum blonde--legs spread, in only high heels--is tinted gold, her silicone breasts accented by squiggles of color. A broken boom box, circa 1985, juts from a giant piece of scrap wood; the black lettering above it reads, "Relic of a Bronx Killer." A few inches away, "Me" has been carved--clumsily, as if in afterthought--into the grain.
Above it all, high on a shelf, the red digits of a cheap digital clock blink 12:09. 12:09. 12:09. In Carl Wesley's imaginary world, time stands still.
Upstairs, at a few minutes past seven, the Wesley family is getting ready to turn in early. Barbara is busy in the kids' room, humming a lullaby to her year-old daughter Ruby. In the living room, '50s jazz swings softly from the radio as Hector, dressed in fuzzy blue pajamas and worn slippers, sits cross-legged on the wood floor, hugging a deflated "Happy Birthday" balloon. He has just turned 3.
Barbara says today's round-trip to the St. Cloud Correctional Facility, though exhausting, was worth it. Hector let loose with a delighted yelp when he first saw his "dada" waiting in the visiting room, dressed in those bargain-basement dungarees and that worn denim shirt. The guards allowed Carl to cuddle Ruby, a privilege that helps him navigate the silent nights alone in Cell Block D and quickens the days spent folding laundry for 25 cents an hour. And Barbara got a 60-minute dose of conversation to keep her going for another week. "The funny thing is, since he's been in prison, Carl's been much more his true self," she says. "He's relaxed and calmed down. That's the real Carl. I always saw it. I always knew it was there."
Few of Barbara's friends are surprised she's clinging to her weekly visits like a life preserver. Denial comes before grief works itself out, and it has been only two months since her 40-year-old, African-American husband got handed a three-decade sentence in Hennepin County District Court. What her friends, and nearly everyone else who knows Carl Wesley, don't understand, though, is exactly how or why it came to pass that he ended up behind bars in the first place.
That he and an accomplice, Kenneth Schendel, robbed the Brooklyn Park Check Cashers store on October 13, 1997, in broad daylight, with the purpose of splitting $12,000 in cash, is mind-boggling in itself. Wesley had no criminal record at the time. His wife earns a respectable living at the University of Minnesota. He is, by all accounts, a loving father. He's also an award-winning commercial artist with a graduate degree from Harvard. That during the robbery he mutilated and murdered the store's clerk, a 41-year-old man named Gregg Gallup, with a serrated switchblade seems to defy logic. That Carl Wesley had deliberately set out, once the idea of murder was hatched, to socialize with the victim--hanging out together for months, listening to music, taking in the local art scene--is almost too macabre for many of his acquaintances (not to mention Gallup's family) to fathom.
"I've tried to understand it, because the guy's my neighbor and a friend," Hamline law professor Joe Daly says. "But I guess what it boils down to is a guy can do one thing in one second and pay for it for the rest of his life. It's one of the most incredible cases I've ever been involved in."
Initially, Wesley believed his reputation as an educated artist and the disbelief among his professional associates might counter the mounting evidence. Arrested 10 days after the killing, Wesley maintained he was at the wrong place at the wrong time; that he was little more than a patsy. The deep cuts in his hand, he said, were explicable: When, to his surprise, Schendel started the stabbing, he had tried to stop it. He said that he'd stayed silent because he was scared--Schendel, a crook and now a killer, might turn on him if he intervened. He said it so often he started to believe it.
While both of them waited behind bars this past winter and into spring, the Hennepin County assistant attorney weighed his options. Ultimately, he decided to go after Wesley, all the while knowing that it would take some work to convince a jury that he was a man capable of such violence. But all the physical evidence--the blood, the DNA, the fingerprints--pointed to Wesley as the lone killer. So the prosecutor made a deal with Schendel: Testify against Wesley, serve 15 years as an accomplice, and see daylight before retirement age. Jury selection for Wesley's first-degree murder trial was slated to begin on July 6, 1998.
In the meantime, Joe Daly, along with Minneapolis-based defense attorney Keith Ellison, took Wesley's case pro bono. Their strategy began with the admission that indeed Wesley was flawed. True, he'd racked up thousands in debt, abused drugs, and was consistently unfaithful to Barbara. But that's where it stopped--he wasn't a killer. He had no history of violence, premeditation couldn't be proved, and there was no reason to believe Wesley could so coldly dispose of a friend. Schendel, on the other hand, was, according to at least one homicide detective, a snitch with slippery fingers.
But during jury selection, Wesley got the jitters. At the same time, the prosecutor got nervous about Schendel's credibility, and worried that Wesley's young kids might mist up a juror or two; he started to figure that the inarguably stupid nature of the crime would get in the way of convicting a Harvard-educated man. So, in the eleventh hour, the two sides brokered an agreement. Wesley would plead guilty to second-degree intentional murder, be eligible for parole in 20 years, in time to see Hector graduate from college. "What I did to Gregg Gallup is an abomination to humanity," he told the judge in an emotional confession recorded on July 10. "I'm not a bad person. But I did a terrible thing."
After the confession, when the county prosecutor was asked whether he had planned to parade Wesley's art in front of the jury--to afford them a gaze into the killer's imagination--he said no. Looking back, dismissing such a tactic may have been hasty: To understand Wesley, to comprehend his crime, a jury would have to be invited below the man's well-spoken, rehearsed surface. They would have to see past the studious spectacles, the shy shrugs and boyish dimples to catch a glimpse--however fleeting--of his squandered talent, consuming selfishness, and fascination with crime and punishment. In order to convict, without a doubt they would have to be shown a place like Carl Wesley's basement.
While Wesley awaited trial in the Carver County jail, a friend of his phoned Mavis Karn, a licensed social worker who has counseled gang kids incarcerated at Stillwater. She agreed to meet with Wesley, then encouraged an aggressive stint of self-analysis over several months. Karn told Wesley to pick apart his thinking patterns--disassemble the network, pull loose the wires. In her opinion, Wesley's logic board had fried: He'd lost sight of what makes human beings moral.
"Carl was really self-absorbed and preoccupied with himself and just kind of taking things that happened in the world around him intensely personally. He didn't have much of an awareness that there were other people in the world," Karn says. "The habit is still there, but up to the trial, he was really beginning to wake up to how the family of the person he killed must've suffered."
Karn hasn't visited Wesley since he was sentenced. As he picks nervously at his nails in the visiting room at St. Cloud prison, it is apparent that her influence is fading. He's still trying to explain how it all went wrong. But now the self-analysis is more self-serving than revealing--a combination of buck passing and adolescent bravado. He wants people to know he's "truly sorry" for knifing Gregg Gallup 70 times. He wants them to know he accepts his lot. But most importantly, he wants everyone who cares about the case to believe he, too, is a victim--of circumstance.
In an attempt to put into words a life he himself can't yet make sense of (and to maybe make some money for his kids' college fund) Wesley is writing his autobiography. Already filling more than 100 pages of a college-ruled notebook, printed neatly in #2 pencil, the tale is a study in self-indulgence, with its lead character more beguiled hero than villain. "It didn't really occur to me until I started rehashing things in written form," he says, "but I've always lived a double life."
The work-in-progress begins with his mother Barbara Hill, who was just 15 when she gave birth to her only son, in North Carolina. Too young to take care of the boy, she sent Carl to a tenement on the West Side of Manhattan to live with her mother. Across the street lived Carl's aunt Dora, her Puerto Rican husband Jacinto, and their children Timothy (who was born in 1958, the same year as Carl) and Hector.
Recalling Harlem as if it were a set piece from West Side Story, Wesley writes that those early years left an indelible mark. Uncle John ran with street gangs. Jacinto made wages as a loan shark and two-bit gambler. The whole lot of them were, in Wesley's words, "poor, poor, poor...A good deal of our entertainment came from what we could see from our windows."
In 1962 Carl's mother and her sister Mary were dating managers at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Just 4 years old, Carl would tag along to matinees and see Ray Charles swaying, James Brown sweating a storm, and Diana Ross in all her early glory. In a series of collages Wesley finished between 1993 and 1997, "Harlem Flavor," he recalls those times. Using blown-up photos of his favorite Apollo musicians, the artist forever preserved their youth and celebrates their stature in a vibrant wash of color.
Wesley's first taste of attention for his artistic talent came early on, in kindergarten, when a teacher praised his finger painting. The regard was addictive. "I remember liking the tactile experience, soiling my hands, using them as a brush," he recalls. "But I think what really pushed me over the edge was that I got all kinds of praise. I realized it was something I could do."
By second grade, the family had relocated to Stamford, Conn., following his stepfather Leonard, an auto mechanic Wesley remembers as an abusive philanderer. The extent of the mistreatment isn't clear, but it serves Wesley's recurring autobiographical thesis: From the start, his life was always a struggle, and he was the victim. After the move, the childhood details are vivid, and repetitive: girls and growing pains, fights with parents, getaways back to the city. One memory stands out from the rest, though.
While Wesley went to public school, his young cousins Hector and Timothy attended a private Catholic school in New York. Hector had his heart set on becoming an altar boy. Timothy, on the other hand, was prone to mischief, and flirted with trouble even as a young kid. To Wesley, they were the family's Cain and Abel. One afternoon, on their way to church, the two brothers got into a snowball fight. Retreating from a round of Timothy's hits, Hector stumbled on a curb and his body was severed in half by a passing coal truck.
To this day, Wesley believes Timothy always blamed himself for Hector's death--that he never recovered from the accident. Kicked out of school a short while later, Wesley's surviving cousin spent the bulk of his teenage years shuffling from one juvenile home to another. Once he hit 18, crime turned into a full-time job. He hawked heroin on the streets of Harlem, then graduated to armed robbery. Timothy is currently serving time for armed robbery in upstate New York. In Wesley's imagination, still, the blameless angel died in innocence, while the culpable one fell from grace; good can't last, evil endures.
"The discussion of criminal activity is not new to me. In fact, it's fascinating to me," Wesley says. "I'm used to the talk. It's just the activity that is so alien. I mean, I have a cousin who's doing 25 to life. He's a stickup kid. How could I not have been at least a little fascinated with the idea?"
Two months before the crime, Wesley borrowed money from his wife's parents to take out an ad in The Directory of Illustration, a thick promotional guide art directors from magazines all over the country use to hire illustrators. Seven examples of Wesley's best work fill the spread: a poster for the St. Paul Saints baseball team, made up of black-and-white photos from the Negro League; a collage of rave reviews designed for the cover of the Jesse Johnson CD Bare My Naked Soul; a gallery work, "Mogambo" (street slang for sex), featuring an archival photo of Ray Charles; and a piece from Wesley's "Clocker" series. Dominated by a likeness of Timothy, his twentysomething face hardened into a vacant stare, "Clocker" documents, in icy greens and blood reds, Wesley's obsession with his cousin's tortured soul.
The directory, published by Serbin Communications, wasn't sent out until after Wesley was arrested. In the year since, it stands as an absurd reminder of what might have been. Barbara still gets phone calls from art directors at magazines--Vibe called last winter--hoping to hire her husband. She politely tells them Carl is in prison.
The lost opportunities are nothing new. In 1976, Wesley began a four-year stint at the Parsons School of Design in New York. Those classmates at the prestigious institute who remember Wesley say he was driven, yet unassuming. Quiet and polite. From there, he spent a year at Southeastern Massachusetts University before receiving a scholarship to study art at Harvard University.
"I lived in Harlem and went to Harvard. Not many people do that. That was the problem," Wesley says. "I was singled out from the people I was most comfortable being around, the people I grew up with--relatives and friends. There was a point when I was sitting at Harvard Yard during commencement and feeling such a relief that this education thing was over with. The thought crept into my mind about de-educating myself. Not that I want to be a dummy. But everyone had these expectations."
Leaving Boston to live with Uncle Jacinto in New York, Wesley began to develop a portfolio by working for trade publications, daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and national magazines, including Esquire. "In the 20 years I've been doing editorial design work, I'd say Carl's had a uniquely personal character," says Twin Cities designer Kathleen Timmerman, who has followed Wesley's progress as a friend and colleague for more than a decade. "The medium that he uses--airbrush and photo collage--isn't overly literal. His work doesn't follow the trends. It's a very personal style for him, and a number of people have tried to copy it. He's genuine."
Wesley was on pace to take a bite out of the Apple. A layout he was hired to design for Essence won a Print Magazine Award of Excellence in 1987. That same year he also designed a cover for the Washington Post Magazine, which earned a Society of Publication Designers Award. Besides consistently churning out solid work, Wesley was well-liked by his employers. Thoughtful, affable, and willing to turn assignments around quickly, he was on the A-list.
In spite of the professional success (or perhaps as a result), Wesley was also busy developing two habits that still haunt him: drug use and a tendency to blame others for his troubles. In Spanish Harlem, Wesley says, he turned into a moving target for drug dealers working his uncle's building. It wasn't long before he picked up the crack pipe. By the late '80s, Wesley took to disappearing for days on end, driving art directors mad over missed deadlines. "You have to understand, there were drugs everywhere," he says. "I was a single guy with a low overhead. I had the means to buy drugs. The thing is, these guys would see me coming home with a portfolio, money in my pocket. That's basically how the problem started. It's not like I went looking for it."
Bob Lascaro owns his own design business in New York. When Wesley lived in New York, Lascaro worked as the art director at Ziffdavis, which once published the trade magazines Road and Track and Skiing. A friend who often sprang for dinner with Wesley once his earnings had been squandered on dope, he still can't believe the artist with that "lush, photographic sensibility" who resorted to talking in a "Jiminy Cricket" voice when cornered over deadlines could be capable of deadly violence.
"Carl always delivered beautiful stuff," Lascaro remembers. "He was very, very good. Plus, he was pleasant, he had a great sense of humor, and he was very open as a human being.
"Then I started to have problems with him. He'd show up a couple days late, with pieces that were subpar. I looked at him and said, 'What's going on with you? Are you smoking the wacky weed?' He kind of laughed and admitted there might be some kind of problem. He was rocking back and forth in his life. I kept using him, because he was a favorite. But the bottom line is, there aren't a lot of people who have time to take their illustrators out for pizza and lend them money." Even now Lascaro wonders out loud about "what could've been" had Wesley not been consumed by his demons.
By 1988 Wesley figured that changing scenes might curb his bent for self-destruction. Encouraged by Timmerman, he moved to Minneapolis, where he hoped the stakes would be lower and the living easier, saner. Two years later, Wesley says, his IRS-reported earnings approached $30,000. Local publications such as the Twin Cities Reader, Minnesota Monthly, City Pages, Corporate Report, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press were returning phone calls and putting his work into circulation.
The success was short-lived. Over the next three years, Wesley started to dabble in drugs again, sometimes checking out for days at a time. He started hanging out with "lowlifes" and laying low. Art directors he'd worked for around town found themselves frustrated, just like Lascaro. Wesley seemed adrift, turning in pieces that didn't measure up, focusing on the paycheck instead of the work. "He was a really sweet guy who was always down on his luck," Phil Tippin, an art director for City Pages between 1992 and 1995, recalls. "And I always thought that was self-manufactured. To me it was one thing only: He was desperate all the time. I would never hear from him unless he needed money. But did I think he was so desperate, so consumed by his troubles that he would kill someone? No way."
Wesley says it wasn't his idea. The killing, yes, he did that. But it was Kenny Schendel who put the thought in his head. Schendel who dreamed it up. Who set the date. Who stole the money. Who spurred Wesley to "finish him off." Schendel's a liar, a redneck, a thief. Schendel couldn't even be trusted to split the take--$12,000 cash, which police say is still missing. "It was his low thinking," Wesley insists, "that made this whole thing happen."
For what it's worth, investigators and attorneys on both sides of the fence are still prone to believe some version of Wesley's confessed account of Gallup's murder: that Schendel wrote the script and Wesley acted it out. In law-enforcement circles, how the two committed the murder is a matter made clear by analyzing the crime scene. What baffles them are the whys: Why rob an acquaintance in broad daylight? Why not wear masks? Why not use a gun? And why were these two men together to begin with?
In Wesley's mind, the final question is the only one worth answering: He was sucked into the friendship and, so, into the murder--before he could stop it, and almost against his will. One morning, a year after moving to Minneapolis, Wesley called a check-cashing store on Lake Street in Minneapolis, hoping to cash a freelance check. Bobby Quinn, the establishment's owner, answered the phone in a heavy Brooklyn accent. Intrigued, Wesley decided to pay a visit. When he walked into Quinn's shop, he noticed pictures of Coney Island on the wall. They hit it off immediately--two New Yorkers homesick for the old haunts.
Over the next few months, Quinn introduced Wesley to several acquaintances who patronized or worked in the business (Quinn employed Gregg Gallup for a time, before he closed up shop and moved back to Brooklyn). The circle of friends was fluid, mostly working-class guys who liked to see live music, watch football, and drink beer. Some were wanna-be musicians or artists. A few were both. They all swapped CDs, smoked dope, and--when they could afford it--snorted a little coke. Quinn's house served as a sort of clubhouse, where the guys could get high, bet on sports, and trade their hard-luck stories. Barbara Wesley, who Carl started dating about the same time he met Quinn, called it "slacker central."
As Wesley puts it, "These weren't criminal types. They were working people who loved to go to the Cabooze and watch shows. Part of the reason why I had no problem hanging out with them had to do with my background. I was always uncomfortable with my so-called status. I didn't feel comfortable leaving a certain class of people behind."
Schendel started hanging around the group in 1992. He was more partial to country-western than to the circle's sound, '70s R&B. While the rest of the guys hit bars downtown, he might take off for a weekend of hunting or fishing. He hung out on the sidelines, dropping by Quinn's on occasion to hook up with the regulars. Still, he and Wesley started spending time together one on one, playing pool or watching movies and getting high at Schendel's place.
As for his home life, in 1992 Carl and Barbara picked out a house in South Minneapolis. She took out the mortgage and signed the closing papers in her own name. Carl hadn't reported his income in New York and was trying to work out a payment plan with the IRS. "The house was kind of the beginning of building this dream of mine of having a family," Wesley says. "And I tried to do all the IRS asked me to do. But when it came to paying money, I couldn't just turn things over to them. I wanted a chance to live my life properly, and they didn't seem to care."
The couple married when Hector was on the way in 1995. In short order, according to Wesley, the walls started to close in, junkie style. Besides a $21,000 debt to the IRS and a career in tailspin, Carl had to worry about a newborn. Suffering from what he believes was depression (although it was not diagnosed) that led to bouts of creative paralysis, the struggling artist started spending more time away from home. "What I was going through, my friends were going through," he says. "Tension with partners, crying children, arguments with the wife. There was a camaraderie."
Wesley's double life became tougher to juggle. His drug use was not, as he puts it, "at New York levels," but it was steady--a habit. When Wesley's friends got together, they got together to get high. His infidelities became legend around the circle. He still calls his fooling around "the same kind of stupidity that led me to stab someone--because some other idiot decided it was to happen. I mean, what are you going to do? This woman calls me at home, says, 'Come over here and fuck my brains out.' There were nights I really didn't want to leave, but I'd get in the car and go--like a zombie."
Since his arrest, Wesley's buddies from the clubhouse are not only reluctant to talk on the record, they don't even want to be identified. They're shocked by his brutality, disgusted with Schendel's foolishness, and believe both men should have received stiffer sentences. However, one former friend feels it's a duty to set the record straight on "Wesley the Victim": "I never saw Carl utter a single respectful word about any female the entire time I knew him--including his wife. And money? As far as that goes, Carl wasn't working, and his wife makes good money. All he had to do was stay home and watch his kid, and there's six or eight hundred bucks a month saved on child care. But he was too busy getting stoned and fucking bums."
The Wesley family accountant, who has been working on Carl's finances since he came to Minneapolis, also wonders why his client became so desperate, why he didn't take the steps necessary to get out of the red. "I never thought the IRS was killing these guys and taking food out of their mouths," says the accountant (who prefers to remain anonymous). "From my perspective, we were in the process of putting his tax liabilities to sleep. Barb is making around $50,000 a year. For a family of four, that money won't get you rich, but it's not poverty level either. He was in here about two weeks before the crime, and he was despondent about income, sure. But he always was. I said, 'Carl, why don't you just get out there and get a job? If you made $15,000 a year, it would be a windfall to your household.' But he never really seemed to be able to get things going."
By the winter of 1997, Wesley says, it was "depression" that prevented him from getting his life together, that crippled his art and kept him from going after lucrative assignments. Once he had dropped his son off at day care, he would either get high or go back to bed. The house. The marriage. The kids. "I was coming up short," he explains. "That was hard for me to take. I had been successful, and now everything was getting away from me. I was in a cycle. I got high to medicate myself. Because I was high, I wasn't very productive and that led to my depression. The visual image I have is the guy at the carnival spinning plates. One plate is going, then the next. By the end, it was like my life was full of spinning plates.
"What puzzles me is that I allowed myself to get sucked into this crime. It was just timing. If it were the Friday before, I might've said, 'You're out of your fuckin' mind.' But it just happened when all these things were hounding me. I needed the money. If we robbed him, we'd have money. If we robbed him, we had to kill him. That's all I could see."
Ten days before taking the man's life, Wesley invited Gregg Gallup to an art crawl in Lowertown St. Paul, where he'd been renting studio space. (Over the last couple of years, when Carl did score a free-lance assignment, Barbara says a lion's share of the money went to pay for this space, along with art supplies.) The two men talked late into the evening, listening to CDs while Wesley showed off his art to his friend.
At 41, Gallup was settled into his rent-free living space in the back of the check-cashing shop, with spare time between customers to practice his electric guitar. Few things pleased him more than commiserating with another creative soul. Gregg's father, Lynn Gallup, a retired electrical engineer living in Edina, describes his son as "a very quiet guy who kept his own counsel. He never wanted to be part of the corporate culture. He was a '60s kid. He just wanted to be a musician, but not a structured musician. So he drifted from job to job until he finally landed this check-cashing thing."
As Wesley tells it, he and Gallup had known of each other for more than a year before the murder. Through Bobby Quinn, Wesley knew him by name. At one point late in 1996, Gregg even attended a party at Wesley's house to watch Mike Tyson fight on TV. Still, they were just casual acquaintances whose paths crossed on occasion--nothing more. That all changed, Wesley says, in May last year: "Out of the blue, Kenny says, 'I know who we can get.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I know where Gregg keeps the money. He doesn't keep it in the safe. He keeps it in a box.'
"He went through all this detail. There's no camera in the shop. Gregg's back there all alone. There's hardly anyone coming or going. He wanted the money, and he figured the only way to get it was to kill Gregg. I don't know if there was any blood lust. All I know is that when he brought it up, it troubled me. It was like he was buffing an apple in front of someone who's hungry.
"So I decided to stop in at the check-cashing shop in Brooklyn Park and see if Gregg was there. Over the summer of 1997, I visited him as many times as I had a check to cash; maybe a dozen times. I wanted to get to know him, because what Kenny had proposed to me was troubling. When I went to visit him, I often brought my son. There were times when I would've preferred to do my business and move on, but it just seemed Gregg wanted some companionship. So I would sit for a while. I would even offer to make a breakfast run through McDonald's. I'm very generous that way.
"But it was during the art crawl that I really got a feel for who Gregg was. He seemed really impressed with my work. It was like, 'Hey Gregg, I'm more than the guy who hangs around with Kenny and those other knuckleheads! This is what I do.' He may have understood that. He had some duality too. I think we would've been friends."
Wesley won't say exactly why he felt compelled to socialize with Gallup. When he wants compassion, he says there were fleeting thoughts of whispering a warning to his friend. When he's in a contemplative mood--on the "edge of accepting the consequences of his actions," as Mavis Karn puts it--he'll come close to admitting that he was sizing up his prey: the operational definition of premeditated murder. When playing the misunderstood martyr, he puts Gallup in the same category as the drug dealers in Spanish Harlem, the IRS, and Kenny Schendel.
"I know from spending time with him that he, too, was not an angel. There were things Gregg would say to certain customers that troubled me," he says. "Once, two young black boys had come into the store and they just wanted quarters for video games. And from where I was sitting, I could see a box of quarters under the counter. Gregg's reaction was like, 'Get the fuck out of here, I don't have any quarters.' It made me angry. I had been placed in situations like that as a child."
Wesley's version: New Jack City, an arty action flick starring Wesley Snipes, is playing on the VCR at Kenny Schendel's house. Ten a.m. on October 13, 1997. Wesley's smoking half a joint, and Schendel is cranked up, talking about the Check Cashers store. It has to go down today, Schendel insists. No more waiting. As one character's throat gets slashed, Schendel stops the tape, hits rewind, and plays the scene again. "See," he instructs, "that's how you do it."
At 3 o'clock, Wesley gets into his Geo Prizm, Schendel into his Ford pickup, and they drive toward Brooklyn Park. Wesley thinks about taking a U-turn, and doesn't. A few blocks from their destination, they pull into a parking lot, and Schendel climbs into Wesley's car. Minutes later, they're outside the store, sizing it up.
"I didn't even know Kenny had brought a knife," Wesley insists. I never really thought it was going to happen. To some degree, I guess I was humoring him. But again, I just wasn't thinking. The marijuana didn't allow me to give any real rational thought to what I was doing. He reached into the pocket of his plaid hunter's vest and gave me a knife. Then I had this feeling of toil. It took Kenny a good 10 minutes to convince me to get out of the car."
When Wesley and Schendel enter the store, Gallup is napping. He gets up and comes to the service window, then invites the two men into the back room. (Police reports filed after the crime confirm that there was no forced entry.) For 20 minutes, the three exchange small talk, mostly about a stack of CDs sitting nearby. Wesley is agitated. The threshold is crossed.
"Gregg got up to get a CD. I'm behind him, to his right. Whenever Kenny and I made contact, he's communicating with his eyes: 'Do it. What are you waiting on?' I pulled the switchblade out of my pocket. Once the knife was in my right hand and open, there was an urgency to try and get this thing over with.
"I didn't get into position to do the old Wesley Snipes move. I was probably 3 or 4 feet away as Gregg was leaning over to put the CD in the stereo. At that point, the movie only came into play as far as the neck seemed to be my target. I made my first lunge and struck him in the neck. Gregg let out a yell and moved to the back door. The first thing he said was, 'I'll split it with you.'
"From that point, he went on to repeatedly beg me not to do it. 'No, Carl. No.' He's moving to the back door. I'm in pursuit. Now I'm trying to silence him. I'm sure I could've stopped after 20 blows. But he was still vocal, which was a clear indication that he wasn't done with. Gregg was in his socks, and he slipped on his own blood. He was lying on his back, still begging."
To finish the killing, Wesley administers two wounds--one, according to the coroner's report, in the lower right side of Gallup's back. The knife grazes Gallup's liver, then punctures his stomach. And the second to his face: "I wanted him to stop pleading to me. It was hard enough. His pleading made it more difficult. I just wanted him to stop talking."
Wesley, who smoked two packs a day, stands up, wheezing. He has cotton mouth. He's dizzy, disoriented. Schendel is at the back door with the money. The whole scene slows down and turns surreal.
At his sentencing on August 27, as he faced Gregg Gallup's family for the first time, Wesley described in detail what happened next. Since then, whenever he revisits the crime scene in his imagination, he makes sure to re-create it--as if the scene were a collage of his own making, with dead quiet at its heart. Telling it, Wesley says, helps him sleep at night.
"As I was about to leave through the back door, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was a spiritual presence, telling me to turn around and look at what I did. Gregg was still breathing. It was wet breathing. At that point, I heard his final exhale. It seemed to be amplified. And then, when he was silent, there was this peace, like a blanket in the room. I was winded, but I recognized the peace: There seemed to be a completeness for him."