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The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City by Laura Tillman My rating: 3 of 5 stars I don’t know how to explain my feelings toward this book. It is an extremely compelling story, but the writing quality is poor. There seemed to be no real outline or backbone to it. The purple prose only highlighted this flaw, as did the repetition of unimportant things and the lack of refreshers given for details that seemed more important. If all you knew about the case was the manner in which Julissa, John Stephon, and Mary Jane died, then it would seem impossible to feel bad for John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho, but what happened to them within the justice system is awful for other reasons. This is a case where a man with a severe mental illness (paranoid schizophrenia) and an intellectual disability (IQ in the low 70s) and a woman who had a shared psychosis with this man because of her own intellectual disability (IQ in the 50s) end up imprisoned, and, for him, end up on death row, but the writer is busy talking about superstitions & personal fears. It’s almost like she doesn’t completely perceive the gravity of the situation, the level of injustice that’s going on. As lovely as it is to learn about regional cultural beliefs, I was more concerned about the fact that this man who should be in a hospital will probably face lethal injection. The writer could only view this as horrible once she met Mr. Rubio, but it seems like anyone with a basic sense of compassion would figure out after learning about his background. Instead, she was oblivious to it, which made her seem callous. It made the whole book feel callous. Also, the stalking of Ms. Camacho’s family was a bit disturbing. I understand she felt that she needed to hear from them for her newspaper article and her book, but her behavior was quite creepy. I’m surprised that they didn’t issue a restraining order after the second or third time she showed up outside the woman’s front door. The writing honestly reminded me of what you’d find in an essay by a bored, uninformed student who waited until the last minute to do an assignment. I have a hard time believing that this is something the writer was encouraged to get published, at least in its current form. I have no doubt that she has talent, but the fixations on pointless details within the work are distracting and annoying. I wish she had explained more about Rubio’s mental health than how a superstitious grandmother convinced her to throw away a perfectly good pair of tennis shoes. This wasn’t her memoir. This wasn’t even a memoir for the building. It was an unfocused work of nonfiction that was rather disappointing. View all my reviews

Review: The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory ...


Woman incompetent for trial for burning kittens, arson charge The woman who was accused of setting fire to a clothes basket with 14 kittens in it in 2008 has been found incompetent to stand trial. The ruling says nothing of her mental capacity at the time of the fire, only that she is now incompetent to stand trial. Marshall County Circuit Judge Tim Jolley ruled that Jessie Mealer, 67, of Ruth will not stand trial on the charges. He dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning they can’t be brought back. Mealer is currently in a nursing home. Jolley issued the ruling following a hearing in which an Alabama Department of Mental Health psychologist said Mealer is suffering from dementia. Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall said he will not appeal the decision. Ruth Volunteer Fire Department Chief Nancy Nolen said the fire is the worst thing she’s seen in her 10 years of service. In his ruling, Jolley said: Mealer suffers from dementia, and her mental condition will continue to deteriorate; Mealer is not capable of caring for herself; There is no substantial probability that she will become competent within a reasonable period of time and that the threat of substantial harm to herself or others does not exist. On June 5, 2008, Mealer allegedly poured kerosene on a clothes basket that held the 14 kittens and set it on fire. The incident happened at a residence on Fieldcrest Drive. Six kittens died at the residence, and two died later at Westside Veterinary Clinic. Mealer, who at the time lived near the residence where the kittens were burned, was charged with first-degree arson. She was taken to Arab City Jail then transferred to the Marshall County Jail and later released on bond. Ruth VFD was called to the residence that day because Mealer allegedly lit a fire at the front door of the residence. That fire was extinguished, but firefighters were called back a few hours later because she allegedly lit a fire at the back door. “We got there expecting to see flames, but we didn’t,” Nolen said. “Then someone began screaming, ‘The kittens are on fire.’ We saw the kittens the first time we were called out there.” The kittens were from two different litters. “One litter was about 8 weeks old and the other was about 4 weeks old,” Nolen said at the time. “I’ve never seen anything so horrible in my life.”