How long will the people of Utah have to suffer for the Hi Fi killings? Or, put differently, how long will people try to transform the men who conspired to commit one of the most grisly murders in state history into victims?
One man, in particular, seems to have an uncanny ability to build a legacy for himself, even from beyond the grave. William Andrews, who was executed nearly six years ago for his role in the murders, just keeps finding a way to plead his case.The Organization of American States, normally a credible group, is the latest to take up his cause. A subset of that organization, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ruled from a far-away perch last week that Andrews was a victim of racial bias and that United States taxpayers owe his nearest relatives compensation.
Compensation? Commission members must have temporarily hallucinated themselves as Lewis Carroll. They seem to have created an "Alice in Wonderland" world in which little things become big and the big things become insignificantly small. They base their preposterous conclusion entirely on the fact that Andrews was black and that the jury was all white and mostly all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time (1974), the church didn't allow blacks to hold the priesthood.
Those are three historical facts. They are anecdotal, and they also happen to be completely irrelevant. Compensation is reserved for innocent victims of official violence - people like the Japanese Amer-i-cans who were stripped of their rights and incarcerated during World War II - not for brutal murderers whose guilt is beyond question.
Let's back up to that day in 1974. It was Monday, April 22, at 10 p.m. when Ogden police responded to a report of trouble at the Hi Fi Shop on Washington Boulevard. The first thing they encountered was a hysterical woman running toward them shouting "They've been shot!" Downstairs, they found four bodies lying motionless. The place smelled of blood and vomit. Upstairs, another victim was lying still. Three of them were dead. The other two were critically injured.
Longtime Utahns know the details - how Pierre Dale Selby and Andrews forced the victims to drink liquid drain cleaner, sexually assaulted one of them, kicked a pen into the ear of another and shot everybody at close range while a third criminal, Keith Leon Roberts, stood guard at the front door, all for $24,000 worth of stereo equipment. Let's focus instead on the evidence detectives collected.
One day after the killing, two boys found wallets belonging to the victims in a garbage bin at Hill Air Force Base. An airman told police two men inside a barracks were acting suspiciously nervous. After questioning Selby and Andrews, police searched their rooms. They found a list of stores that carried electronics, including the Hi Fi Shop. They found cellophane wrappers bearing the name of the shop. They pulled up the carpeting and found a contract for a storage unit near the shop.
The stereo equipment was in the storage unit, along with a bottle of liquid drain cleaner and personal items belonging to the shop's owner. That led to more interviews, more witnesses and more clues, including a blue van that belonged to Andrews and had liquid drain cleaner stains on the floor mats.
This was no spontaneous act of random violence. These guys had it all well planned. They knew they would kill some people, and they knew how to do it. They certainly weren't worried about encountering clogged sinks. They bought drain cleaner because a popular movie at the time, "Magnum Force," showed a man killing a prostitute by forcing her to drink it. No one ever seriously challenged the guilt of the men arrested.
Selby, who was executed in 1987, did the killing. Andrews merely poured liquid drain cleaner into a cup. And there lies the point of contention. Because he didn't actually pull a trigger or force the liquid down anyone's throat, Andrews has been made into a victim of racial discrimination.
Did you catch that logic? Neither did I. Neither, for that matter, did state and federal judges who spent 18 years rejecting 27 separate appeals from Andrews before his execution.
The United States is a member of the OAS and has agreed to abide by its rulings. However, Washington already has said it will not compensate Andrews' next of kin.
Thank goodness. Compensating the man who helped commit such a crime would be like building a monument to high-ranking Nazi officials for their roles in the Holocaust, giving them victim status because they were merely following orders.
Perhaps, as the head of the criminal division of Utah's Attorney General's Office said, the organization ought to concern itself more with human rights violations involving innocent people in Latin American countries, of which there are not a few. Cuba would be a good start.
Meanwhile, Andrews' victims have suffered enough, as have their families and the entire city of Ogden. Twenty-four years later, it's time to let the awful crime rest in the past once and for all.