By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
By Jesse Marx
By Maggie LaMaack
By Jake Rossen
Russell Simon didn't look like a thrice-convicted felon. With his gelled, spiked hair, hardy build, and cocksure cadence, he more closely resembled a high school football coach. On a slushy early spring day in 2002, his coal eyes peered at the 14 or so slack-jawed high schoolers assembled before him. There was no podium to lean on, no microphone or prop for his hands to fidget with. Perched on a three-foot-high stool, the tanned and toned 39-year-old was totally exposed—a fitting pose for a man whose emotional vulnerability and raw, candid delivery had made him one of the most dynamic anti-drug motivational speakers in the country.
For the next 30 minutes, the reformed ex-con dazzled the room with tales of slinging kilos of cocaine up from Miami and dealing it on the streets of Minneapolis, of busting a guy's forehead open with a pair of nunchucks, of shooting up a house with an AR-15 machine gun in a fruitless attempt to kill the thieves who had jacked his dope. He waxed poetic on his stint in prison where he slit a guy's throat with a 10-inch homemade blade.
He wasn't proud of it—no, sir—but that was life in the joint, man. He had no excuses to offer. Just a lifetime of regrets.
Also: See a letter Russell Simon wrote us from prison to accompany the story.
"Ten seconds can change your life forever," he told the class. "Either for good or bad. I made some messed-up decisions in my life. I tell you these stories because I don't want you guys going down the wrong path and end up like I did."
He then launched into a tale about smoking weed with his buddies on a trip to the zoo and how that one puff of a joint set off a chain of events that led to his eventual incarceration in a federal prison.
Thanks to his time behind bars, he said, he'd managed to turn his life around.
With 10 minutes left until lunchtime, he opened up the floor for questions. A hand shot up near the front. Simon called on a lanky kid sporting a crew cut.
"Don't you think treatment would be more effective in treating drug addicts?" the boy asked. "Because, uh, some studies have shown that it's more effective. And cheaper...than jail, I mean."
"Nah," dismissed Simon. "If we suddenly said, 'Hey, doing drugs is okay,' more people would start using 'em."
"But what about the Netherlands?" asked the student. "Since decriminalizing pot, their rate of marijuana use decreased and is actually lower than ours."
"We're not the Netherlands," Simon replied coldly. "We're much more diverse and need stricter laws."
Dejected and blushing, the student wilted in his desk.
The memory of this otherwise trivial exchange came roaring back to me in June when I came across a story that jolted me out of my chair.
"Motivational Speaker's Life a Mixed Message," read the headline. According to the article, Russell Simon was accused of smashing his friend's face with a small plaster statue of John Wayne, unloading a .380 handgun in the direction of his girlfriend and battered friend, and forcing his girlfriend to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint. What's more, his urinalysis tested positive for alcohol, THC, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
I read and reread the story three times, all the while thinking back to the first time I had met Simon, and that brief conversation. What, exactly, had happened to the man?
THE COLORS OF THE 12-INCH CLOSED-circuit monitor are smeared together like a wet pastel painting, but there's no mistaking the man. Two weeks before his August 4 trial date, Russell Simon sits in the Isanti County Jail, a phone receiver pressed snugly to his ear. From the other side of the wall, 10 feet away, he tells me he needs to get "the truth" out there, that the allegations printed in the newspapers amount to "propaganda."
"I didn't try to kill anybody," he blurts suddenly. "I didn't try to do anything funny to my girl. It's just not true."
When talk turns to his childhood, Simon hesitates.
"I don't really remember much of anything before the age of 15," he says. "But I do remember the violence. And being scared. My dad would run around outside shooting his gun. My brothers and sisters and I would run into the cornfield or hide under the truck. I'm sure there was some good times in there somewhere. But I don't remember."
The Simon family moved often, traversing small towns in central Minnesota from Shoreview to Montgomery, from Elk River to Zimmerman. All told, he lived in seven different locales before starting high school. Simon's father drove a truck while his mother stayed at home with him and his seven younger siblings. The fridge usually lay barren, says Simon, save for milk, cheese, and meat. Summertime back-to-school shopping consisted of sifting through garage sales searching for the appropriate sizes.
For a man who remembers little from his childhood, he's well versed in the gory details. During his lectures, he would often launch into savagely colorful anecdotes about his youth. He'd speak of being beaten by his dad with a horsewhip or the buckle end of a belt, of his dad pinning his mom against the wall with a butcher knife to her throat as he and his siblings looked on crying, of once taking a flower vase and smashing it over his father's head to stop him from beating his mother.
He tells me he always remembered to keep the wooden-framed bedroom window cracked open two inches to provide a quick escape route for when his father would go on his rampages.
"The next day, it was always as if nothing had happened," says Simon. "We wouldn't talk about it."
In the summer between Simon's 9th and 10th grade years, the family made the move 80 miles straight north to tiny Princeton, Minnesota. On the first day of school, he wore his cardinal-and-black New Prague Trojans hockey jacket to let his new classmates know he was a hockey player. He soon became a fixture of the school's jock clique. But unlike his old circle of friends, his new crew's extracurricular activities weren't limited to sports.
He started smoking hash. In the next two years, he'd graduate to speed. Then LSD. He and his "burnout jock crew" (as he refers to them) would drop acid before school, usually by eating a blotter. Meanwhile, the boozing intensified. Hard liquor replaced beer. Hard drugs accompanied psychedelics.
"For me it was a way to escape," says Simon. "It went back to how I was brought up. I never wanted to be like my dad. But in truth, when I drank, I was probably just like him."
TODAY, BOTH HIS PARENTS ARE DEAD. Simon hasn't talked to his brothers or sisters in nearly a decade.
"I'll tell you the reason we haven't spoken in so long," says one of his siblings, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "Because everything he's ever said or written about his childhood is a total fabrication. These vicious lies about my parents...." There's a frustrated pause. "Our house was never abusive. Unless you consider the occasional spanking 'abusive.' It was all just a ploy to make money."
IN THE SPRING OF 1984, 19-YEAR-OLD Simon pinched his dad's checkbook and wrote more than $150 worth of bad paper. He was arrested, convicted of felony theft, and sentenced to one year in the Hennepin County workhouse.
It was there, Simon says, that he saw a film that changed his life: Scarface.
Simon idolized the lavish, clichéd lifestyle of Al Pacino's Tony Montana character: the cars, the guns, the coke, the women. Never mind the cautionary morality tale woven in Montana's climactic death—Simon would do things differently. He'd avoid the pitfalls. He'd transcend his pedestrian Midwestern life and live like a kingpin.
On March 11, 1985, Simon walked out of the workhouse a free man. Another month later, he met up with an old Princeton acquaintance who had just the scheme for Simon: How would he like to take part in a cocaine-transporting operation?
On April 1, equipped with 10 grand in start-up cash, Simon made his first of many trips down to Florida. At the Miami airport, a man who called himself "Donnie" approached him and hooked Simon up with a rental car with instructions to follow him on his moped.
At a stoplight, Donnie told him to roll down his window. "Here, try it out on the way," Donnie said, tossing two vials toward Simon. "One is ether base and one is acetone base. We got 'em both!"
Later that day, Simon met Donnie and his associate, Luis, at a grimy dive bar just outside Fort Lauderdale. They taught Simon the tricks and etiquette of the drug trade. First: When testing for quality, always be sure to cut the block open and test the middle. Second: Never rob another dealer. Third and most important: No snitching. If someone robs or rats on you, opt for the simplest solution: kill them.
"We'd put the coke in socks—usually about a kilo—drive up I-95 to West Palm Beach," says Simon. "We'd fly back with it, and distribute it. Back then, there were no drug dogs or anything. There were dogs in Miami, yeah, but not in West Palm Beach. That's why we'd fly out of there."
But the crime that would ultimately land Simon in prison had little to do with drug peddling. In 1986, Simon was found guilty of first-degree burglary and second-degree assault after he and a friend, brandishing semi-automatics, broke into a house in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis.
In his self-published book, Inside the Walls: Drugs, Prison, Gangs, and Recovery, Simon writes that the reason he ransacked the house was because the occupant had stolen a half-pound of cocaine from him. The chapter is titled "Code of Honor" in reference to the harshest tenet of the drug trade: If someone steals your stash, you kill them.
"Back then, that was twenty thousand dollars worth to us," he writes. "What are you suppose [sic] to do? You're suppose [sic] to kill em right?"
AT THREE O'CLOCK ON THE MORNING of April 12, 1986, Simon and one of his cronies, armed with two Colt AR-15 machine guns and wearing nylon stockings on their heads, kicked in the front door of a house and burst into the living room. The man they were after ran into the master bedroom with his pregnant wife and locked the door.
"We're going to kill you!" they repeatedly shouted, according to the police complaint. "We're going to kill you!"
As the wife scrambled out the window, Simon and his associate battered the bedroom door as the husband used all his weight to keep it shut.
"Just leave us alone," the man begged, according to court documents. "What do you want?"
"You know what we want," replied Simon. "We want you to shut up about the stolen car!"
(During trial, the victim testified that his younger brother had been involved in a car theft with Simon and that Simon was seeking retribution for confronting him about it. There was no mention of any stolen drug stash.)
The man managed to escape out the window before his assailants penetrated the door. By this time, his wife had flagged down police officer Duane Svardal. The intruders had stolen $200 in cash and a brown leather jacket. They were nowhere to be found. About two weeks later, authorities arrested Simon and his companion at the Hopkins House Hotel.
The trial hadn't begun before Simon assaulted another victim. Out on $60,000 bail, Simon bashed Minnetonka resident John Steffes between the eyes with a pair of nunchucks in Minnetonka's McKenzie Park.
The police complaint offers no speculation as to his motive, though it notes that Simon demanded Steffes meet him at the park and that, when Steffes refused, Simon "threatened to kill Steffes and his parents and to burn their house down if Steffes failed to meet him."
This deviates sharply from Simon's account. He writes in his book that "[Steffes] was all whacked out on the stuff and tried to rob me. He put a knife to my throat."
In his book, Simon describes his initial shock. "After that cell door closed on me for the first time, I felt the aloneness and fear of isolation creep into my body like a violent wave crashing against the rocks of an ocean wall. Absolute helplessness. I didn't like it at all."
On July 1, 1990, during a ceremonial barbeque dinner in the St. Cloud Reformatory day room, Simon confronted a 42-year-old inmate named James Schell as the two returned their meal trays in the cafeteria. It's unclear what instigated the clash—Simon doesn't elaborate on the niceties in his book—but it ended when Simon produced a 10-inch homemade blade and sliced Schell in the face and throat. Schell would later tell the St. Cloud Times he was "drenched in blood." Simon was about to break a pool cue over Schell's head when guards finally restrained him.
Charged with attempted first-degree murder, Simon faced an additional 20 years in prison. He pleaded self-defense and was found not guilty. Soon, he'd be back on the streets.
ON DECEMBER 9, 1993,with $153.97 to his name, Simon, now 30, walked out of prison a free man. He picked up work at Plants and Things, a furniture store/gift shop in Anoka. In May 1994, a casual break-time chat with a teenage co-worker named Dave started him down the road to becoming a motivational speaker.
"He asked about my Theatre of Pain tattoo on my back," remembers Simon. "I told him about my life, about doing time. He didn't freak out or nothin'. He asked if I would come to his school and speak to his class. I said, 'Sure, why not.' I had never spoken to anyone before, but a voice said, 'Do it.'"
A week later, on May 24, Simon showed up at Jerry Sobieck's health class at St. Francis High School, about 40 minutes north of the metro. Wearing freshly pressed khakis and a dress shirt with no tie, Simon propped up an easel displaying two collages of photographs from his childhood and stint in prison. He had the 35 students enraptured from the very first line: "Hi, my name is Russ, and I am a dope fiend and a drunk."
He delivered his presentation to five different groups over five periods, improving steadily each hour.
"He was very much a natural," remembers Sobieck. "He could see through the students' smokescreens. The one thing I said to him was, 'You have a gift.'"
If Simon had a weakness, it was that he'd sometimes get lost in his own story. "Did I say that already?" he'd ask. Between periods, Sobieck handed Simon a stack of 5x7 note cards for him to put together an outline. By the fifth period, he had the story down cold. He bolstered the content with a blunt, no-frills candor that would become his trademark.
Impressed, Sobieck invited Simon back the following semester, and the following year. With each return, Simon appeared more poised, his presence even more commanding.
"He didn't bounce around so much," says Sobieck. "He developed a scope and sequence to his story, and he was more at ease in his movements."
Simon divulged more information with each appearance, and the story grew more and more compelling.
"He started to get really in-depth about his childhood," says Sobieck.
Simon's phone rang nearly constantly with requests for his appearance throughout the state. Word had gotten out. Simon obliged and began touring. Teachers and counselors noticed right away that the guy was a different breed of public speaker.
Now a charismatic force of nature, Simon crisscrossed the country with his story, which he delivered to tens of thousands of high schoolers a year. From Washington to Massachusetts, from Minnesota to Mississippi, he prowled creaky auditorium stages and dusty basketball courts, recounting his demonic struggles with addiction in a charred, authoritative baritone. His voice soared when it came time to drive a point home. It dropped to a hoarse whisper when it came time to bare his soul.
It was this raw candor that separated him from other redemptive motivational speakers. His streetwise bluntness was the perfect weapon against teenagers' exceedingly fine-tuned bullshit detectors. To the wonderment of the principals and teachers who witnessed his performances, he actually got through to the kids. You could see it in the students' faces. No eye-rolling or sarcastic chuckles.
"He didn't talk down to the students and he didn't talk over their heads," says Marcia Ruis, who met Simon in 1994 while working as a chemical health/violence prevention specialist at an alternative learning center in the Elk River school district. "They accepted him as genuine, as real. Students in alternative learning centers can sometimes be a tough clientele, but when he would finish speaking, they'd gather around him and ask questions."
Simon spoke free of charge during the initial six months, his only payment the occasional cafeteria lunch. Over one such meal, a Jefferson High School guidance counselor told him that speakers went around the country making their living this way—even those with less harrowing stories and less oratory talent—so Simon decided it was time to join their ranks and go pro.
He sent out brochures to counselors and began charging for his appearances. Gigs started coming in from farther away. He claims to have made over $100,000 in a typical year, usually on 80-90 speaking engagements, and that book sales—in addition to Inside the Walls, he went on to pen No Way but God's Way in 1999—brought his yearly income to about $200,000.
"It came to me naturally," says Simon. "I'm just a guy with an 11th-grade education and a GED. As they asked me questions, I developed my story. It's pretty easy, especially if you're a Christian, because you've got a testimony: How you were lost, how you were found, how your life is today. Same thing in recovery: What was life like when you were using and abusing, how did you recover, and what's life like now?"
IN THE SPRING OF 1996,a friend introduced Simon to Tawnya, a petite, blond receptionist at St. Paul Surgeons Ltd. Their relationship began with a blind lunch date.
"He came in and picked me up at work with his hair all slicked back," recalls Tawnya. "He was kind of cocky, but he had a lot of charisma and was a great conversationalist. So I thought it was worth giving him another chance."
For their second date, the couple attended a Good Friday service at a Lutheran church in Fridley. Things started to click. After two weeks, Simon told her he loved her. After two months, he proposed. They married on April 5, 1997—exactly one year after their first date—and moved into a snug red townhouse in Vadnais Heights.
But before long, Tawnya penetrated Simon's Prince Charming facade.
"I started getting glimpses into his anger leading up to the wedding," says Tawnya. "He was extremely jealous and controlling. If I took anybody else's advice, no matter how small an issue, he'd totally blow up."
It started with verbal abuse. "Fat bitch" and "fat ho," were his insults of choice. Eventually, the abuse turned physical, says Tawnya. When she bought him the wrong kind of hair gel, Simon exploded in a fury and hurled a small stereo at her as she lay in bed. He proceeded to heave the large bottle of hair gel against the bedroom wall.
In November 1999, Tawnya left Simon, at which point, Tawnya says, Simon threatened to kill her and her family. Along with their son and her parents, Tawnya took refuge in a friend's countryside cabin—a locale unknown to Simon—for 13 days. They divorced in June of 2000.
Meanwhile, Simon's public speaking business continued to thrive. He maintains he was clean during this time, that he was practicing what he was getting paid to preach. He says he didn't relapse until 2004—in the form of a rum and coke purchased at Knuckleheads Comedy Club in Minneapolis.
But Tawnya recounts a different chronology.
"I know for an absolute fact he was drinking while we dated [in '96]," she says. "He'd come home reeking of alcohol. After we married, I never physically caught him or smelled it on him, but I have my suspicions."
Simon embarked on his biggest binges while on tour, she says. According to a November 25, 2007, credit card receipt, Simon and two guests walked into an Applebee's in Danville, Kentucky, and ran up a $178.62 bar tab, which included nine white Russians and 12 shots of Jägermeister.
"I don't think he has a conscience, so I don't think it bothered him," says Tawnya, when asked about how her ex-husband could be claiming 100 percent sobriety in classes and then going out to get liquored up. "And he would always use the term 'relapse.' But here's my theory on his speaking career: Even though he's the biggest hypocrite in the world, if his message touched and helped one person in every audience, then I think it was worth it."
IN MAY 2007,Simon met Pam Wilcox through SingleParentMeet.com, an online dating service. The 47-year-old human resources manager was immediately taken by Simon's charm, but the familiar pattern developed as the relationship moved forward
Wilcox says she was not allowed to open her bills or go on the computer without Simon present. He called her between five and seven times a day and demanded that she provide her weekly work schedule so that he could better keep tabs on her.
"He took over my entire life," she says. "I had no life left. None whatsoever."
Tawnya's and Wilcox's descriptions of their relationships with Simon bear many similarities, including their mutual contention that Simon lied to them about his income.
"There's absolutely no way he ever made more than $100,000," declares Wilcox, whom Simon had told he made over $200,000 when they started dating.
"The weird thing is, he believes most of his lies," says Tawyna. "If it's something he's said so many times, I think he just comes to believe them."
Last year, Simon claimed an income of $51,500 on his tax return.
AT 1:45 A.M. ON MAY15, 2008, Isanti County dispatcher Robert Dowd Jr. received a distress call from a man named Todd Paulson. The low, gruff voice on the other end of the phone said that his friend had just gone crazy. This friend had struck him across the face with a small statue and broke his nose. Later, the guy had gone upstairs and returned with a .380 pistol. "He started shooting at us."
Who? Who started shooting?
"Russ. Russ Simon."
Paulson, a short, goateed prison buddy of Simon's, had driven with Simon to a Cambridge Wal-Mart early that afternoon to buy a battery for Wilcox's black Cadillac. As Paulson would later testify, they got along fine at this point. No bickering. No arguing.
Early in the evening, they decided to hit up the bars. Simon downed at least eight white Russians, with a few shots of Jägermeister thrown in for good measure, before the night ended. Paulson—who had kept up with Simon, but was decidedly less drunk, thanks to a higher tolerance—took the wheel and the duo made the 10-minute drive to Pam Wilcox's country home where Simon had been living since March.
Once there, they woke up Wilcox, who helped a nauseated Simon to bed. He lay down for a short time, only to return, fully nude, to the garage area where Paulson and Wilcox were smoking cigarettes.
"I don't know what set him off," Paulson later testified. "He came at me and pushed me into the TV. I came back at him and punched him a few times. He fell backwards over the table onto the floor."
A two-and-a-half-foot plaster statue of John Wayne perched on the table came tumbling down. Simon got back on his feet, wielding the now-broken John Wayne statue, and swung it at Paulson's face, leaving a bloody gash across the bridge of his nose.
Somehow, Paulson managed to calm Simon down. "He kept saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, go ahead, punch me,'" Paulson says. "I told him to let it go."
The trio sat and talked in the garage area for 30-45 minutes. Just when it seemed the incident had blown over, Simon hurled a 20-ounce water bottle at Wilcox and roared at her, "Get upstairs, bitch!" Simon then slammed her head into the wall so hard that investigators later testified about a cranium-sized dent in the sheetrock.
Simon called for a stunned Wilcox to get upstairs. She complied. As she approached the stairs she saw a flash. Then heard a bang.
She ran back to the garage. "He's shooting at me!" she told Paulson. She hid behind a folded-up ping-pong table as Simon entered the garage firing. He got off at least two more shots, according to witness testimony. Paulson exited the garage unscathed. Wilcox began to follow, but then thought better of it. Her son was still inside.
Fearing for her boy's safety, she crept inside the house. She would later testify that Simon forced her at gunpoint to perform oral sex on him before passing out.
For the rest of the night, Wilcox stayed in the bedroom for fear of waking Simon. Meanwhile, Paulson had taken refuge in a wooded area adjacent to the house and called 911. At 5:45 a.m., about 30 Special Response Team officers in SWAT gear stormed into the home and arrested Simon, who, at this point, was out cold on his stomach, lying on a black-and-silver .380 automatic pistol.
AS THE JURORS FILED into the cozy Isanti County courtroom in Cambridge on August 18, Simon casually took a sip of coffee from a paper cup and eyed the dozen citizens tasked with deciding his fate. His blue sports jacket swallowed his uncharacteristically thin frame.
His bearded attorney, Barry Voss, had scored a modest victory earlier in the day when the judge approved a preliminary motion precluding the use of the urine analysis test as evidence—the urinalysis that was positive for pot, meth, and coke.
Still, Simon's legal defense team had a tall order in front of them: nine felony charges, including two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault, not to mention a count of sexual assault. Moreover, the prosecution had three corroborating witnesses: Todd Paulson, Pam Wilcox, and her nine-year-old son.
During her opening statements, chief deputy county attorney Amy Reed-Hall quoted Simon's "10 Seconds Can Change Your Life Forever" motivational speech.
"Those are Russell Simon's words," she told the jury, before recounting the night in brutal detail. "The events of May 15 lasted longer than 10 seconds. And they changed not only the life of Russell Simon, but also of Todd Paulson, Pam Wilcox, and her nine-year-old son."
Voss then stood up and introduced his case.
"What you will find during the course of this trial is that Russell Simon is charged with nine counts because the police rushed to judgment," he said. "The police simply assumed that those who complained the first and loudest were telling the truth."
The state called four witnesses that first day, all law enforcement officers, testifying to the logistics of the arrest. The jury didn't hear of the night's particulars until the next morning when Paulson, wearing jeans and white Reeboks, took the stand and described his squabble with Simon and the subsequent gunshots.
"Did you fear for your life?" asked Reed-Hall.
"Did you fear for Pam's life?"
During cross-examination, Voss tried to dispel the notion that Paulson felt threatened.
"Why did you fear for your life?" Voss asked.
"He was shooting at me," answered Paulson. "Wouldn't you fear for your life?"
The following morning, the state called its star witness: Pam Wilcox.
"Why did you go back inside after being shot at?" inquired the prosecution.
"All I could think was that my baby's in there," she weepingly told the jury. "I thought I'd rather be dead childless, so I went back inside."
She entered her nine-year-old son's bedroom to console him. That's when she heard Simon's voice call out from the master bedroom just across the hall.
"You have 10 minutes to get in here and suck my dick or I'm going to put a bullet through both of your heads!"
"What did you do?" asked Reed-Hall.
"I followed the request."
When it was time for Simon to take the stand on day six, the final day of testimony, he swore in with a cup of coffee in his left hand. The audience seated before him was considerably smaller than those he'd grown accustomed to over the previous 14 years. But never before was so much riding on his performance.
Voss asked Simon what happened immediately leading up to his run-in with Paulson.
"I went down to the garage," he said. "The door was closed; I listened."
"Then what happened?"
"I opened the door and saw Todd and Pam kissing," said Simon. "Her right hand was between her legs and his legs."
"How did that make you feel?" asked Voss.
"Angry. Disgusted. Betrayed."
But what about the shots? How could Simon possibly explain the two bullet cartridges investigators uncovered at the scene?
"Paulson had the gun," testified Simon. "He told me to get out. As I walked out, I said, 'Fuck you, bro.' And walked toward the bedroom. That's when the gun went off. I went to the floor."
"Did you have a gun in the bedroom?"
"No, I did not."
"Did you put a gun to Pam's head?"
"No, I did not."
"Did you force her to perform oral sex on you?"
"No further questions."
At one point during cross-examination, Reed-Hall asked Simon about his relationship with Wilcox's son. (Wilcox had testified that Simon had physically abused him.)
"He was such a good kid!" Simon blurted. Suddenly, he broke down and appeared to cry on the stand. He turned to the jury. "You know what's shameful? How these things can get so distorted! I never hurt him! When I grabbed him by the collar it was to tell him I love him!"
He furiously brushed his cheeks and eyes with his right hand. The jury couldn't see any tears.
IT TOOK JURORS A DAYand a half to reach a consensus. Just before 3 p.m. on August 26, the jury filed into the courtroom one last time to render its verdict.
On the first count of attempted murder in the first degree: not guilty.
On the second count of attempted murder in the second degree: not guilty.
But then it happened—a rapid succession of "guilty"s that sealed Simon's fate: guilty of two counts of attempted murder in the second degree; guilty of two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon; and guilty of one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
As the judge polled the jurors to confirm a consensus, Simon's stoic face offered no hint it belonged to a man who had just been doomed to spend up to 35 years behind bars.
As the bailiff escorted Simon back inside the walls, I thought back to what Simon had told me two weeks before the trial.
"This is life or death for me, bro," he had said. "I'm 45 years old now. If I can't see my son, I've got nothing to live for. I'm going to take my own life if I go to prison again. There's no doubt about it."