The lawyer called it art. The sheriff called it graffiti. The sheriff won, meaning the pencil frieze that killer William Melvin White etched on cell walls won't survive spring cleaning.
"It is not going to be preserved," Sheriff Michael Hennessey's spokesman, Rich Dyer, said Tuesday. "It's essentially graffiti. We can't be in the position of having every inmate allowed to decorate."The issue of what to do about White's work came up when one of his former defense lawyers made an informal request that it be preserved.
White, 48, began serving a life sentence last June at Pelican Bay State Prison for the torture-slayings of two teenage boys.
He drew the frieze, using pencils supplied by his lawyers, on the walls of a holding cell in San Francisco's Hall of Justice, where he waited between court hearings.
The soft-pencil swirls in comic book style depict mythical beasts, muscular women and futuristic cityscapes. In one corner is the signature: "Art by William Melvin White, longest inmate in county jail 7th floor, been here fighting seven years."
Dorothy Bischoff, an attorney who defended White, wanted to lacquer the sketch.
"He was a very damaged individual. His artwork was one of the few ways he had to channel his energies in a positive direction," she said.
Luis Gomez, whose son Ted was 15 years old when he was killed by White in 1984, opposed preservation.
"I think it's a tawdry way to memorialize somebody who is a pedophile, who's been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder," Gomez said.
White is also in prison for the separate slaying of 17-year-old Larry Gaines.
Ted Gomez had artistic ambitions, too, his father said.
"It's obvious that my son can't draw and paint anymore. He's been underground for over seven years now," he said.
Dyer did not know when the work would be washed away.
Meantime, other occupants of the holding cell have added their own touches: "Marzo, 3/92, 16/92, 30/92," reads the legacy of one.