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Little Todd’s Tool Box

Christopher Todd Mangrum and his co-defendant in the stolen scanner case, Sarah Walker, were in court again, facing a petition to revoke Mr. Mangrum’s probation, as he had been pulled over by a deputy who found two knives and a hatchet in his vehicle. One of the knives was a “survival knife,” a ten-and-a-half inch blade with a hollow handle for carrying matches, fishing-line, etc.; the other was a small pocketknife.

Walker, Mangrum

Mr. Mangrum’s lawyer, Anthony Adams of the Office of the Public Defender, told Judge Carly Dolan that Judge John Behnke had given Mangrum permission to carry a knife as a tool for mechanical work. Judge Dolan found the note on the probation form but she also found Judge Behnke’s handwriting “indecipherable” and couldn’t read the entire quote about being prohibited from carrying weapons, such as knives, “…except in the [indecipherable] of his work.”

Deputy Erik Berrigan was called. The deputy reported that the pocketknife was in the pocket of the car door, the survival knife between the seats, and the hatchet behind the driver’s seat, all within easy reach, should they be required as weapons. Deputy Berrigan said Mangrum acknowledged the knives belonged to him and claimed he used them to do mechanic work.

Deputy DA Elizabeth Norman: “Did the defendant tell you he had a job?”

Deputy Berrigan: “He informed me he did odd-jobs.”

At this point a certain wag in the courtroom whispered, Wasn’t “The Mechanic” a movie about a mobster who went around killing people for a living; and wasn’t Odd Job a similar type killer in a James Bond movie?”

Norman: “Are you familiar with mechanical work, deputy?”

Berrigan: “Yes.”

Norman: “Can you see a way that a knife would be used when working on a vehicle?”

Berrigan: “I cannot.”

Mr. Adams: “Could the knife be used to cut a transmission line?”

This question made it obvious that Adams had no familiarity with mechanical work.

Berrigan: “I’m not sure.”

Adams: “How about cutting a radiator hose? Could it be used to cut a radiator hose?”

These questions about mangling a transmission line, or puncturing a radiator hose, seemed more like ways to sabotage a vehicle than to repair one.

Berrigan: “Yes. I’m sure it could.”

Adams: “What about cutting a fan belt?”

Berrigan: “Yes, it could be used for that.”

Adams: “Nothing further. At this point the defense would like to call Sarah Walker.”

Ms. Walker testified that she and Mr. Mangrum lived in their car, and that Mangrum did all kinds of handy-man jobs, such as working on tractors and cutting firewood. Nobody seemed the least interested in the incongruous improbability of someone making money cutting a cord of firewood with a hatchet and a knife. What Adams wanted to know was if the knife could be used to cut apples? 

The answer being yes, the dogged attorney rested his case.

Ms. Norman, who seemed as lost as a tailor in a smithy when it came to cutting firewood or turning wrenches, only pointed out that there were no other tools in the car, no toolbox of any kind, let alone wrenches, screwdrivers, etc., typical of most “shade-tree mechanics,” as we used to call them before working on cars became so high-tech and computerized that the kind of work Mangrum was supposed to be doing had become obsolete. Norman only pointed out that Mangrum was on probation for assault with a deadly weapon, and was prohibited from possessing anything that could be used as a weapon.

Adams argued that his client was in possession of the knives and hatchet in the good faith belief that Judge Behnke had approved of him having these things ready to hand, and rested his case. And so here we were with two lawyers and a judge, none of whom had any practical experience of the world, it would seem from this cockamamie idea that a Bowie knife, a pocket knife and a hatchet were intended as mechanic’s tools, and were therefore unqualified in deciding whether or not this whole defense was what any ordinary person would instantly recognize as Mangrum’s flimsy excuse to arm himself.

It was very reminiscent of the time Lewis Finch told Judge Richard Henderson that his client – another probationer caught with a weapon, a “slung-shot,” that is a length of rope reeved through a heavy block, and handy for whirling it around and clocking someone upside the head with – and Finch told the judge his client used this nasty weapon to tie down loads on a logging truck, and that he worked for Anderson Logging in Fort Bragg. Needless perhaps to say, it was shortly after the paper came out that the owner of Anderson Logging wrote in to say the defendant in question had never worked at Anderson Logging, and cables, not ropes, were used to secure loads of logs.

In the end, Mangrum was let go on the charges and his probation amended to say that, Yes, he could have a knife while on probation for his work cutting up fan belts and radiator hoses, but it had to be limited to three inches in blade length. Hopefully, Judge Dolan’s handwriting will be legible.

One Comment

  1. George Dorner February 5, 2020

    Ah, the inimitable Mr. McEwen. An excellent example of liberal arts educations unleavened by real world experience. Well done, sir.

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