It is impossible not to compare the cold case arrest and treatment of a black man from Ohio named Leon “Stash” Dudley to the treatment in the cold case arrest of a white biker named Ronald Stahlman seven and a half years ago. And a comparison of the two cases illustrates the capriciousness of American criminal justice. Comparing the two cases may also illustrate something more.
The Aging Rebel reported on Dudley’s case yesterday. Police charge that about 2:30 a.m. on November 3, 1979 Dudley emerged from a car in the parking lot of a Houston nightclub with a gun. There is no indication that Dudley was threatened. Never-theless he grievously wounded a young, white man named Charles Eugene Philleo and murdered another young white man named Stephan Tramble Chambers whose father founded the Bandidos Motorcycle Club.
Dudley ran away, was indicted, and was eventually apprehended in Euclid, Ohio at the end of June. The prime evidence against Dudley seems be statements made by an unnamed witness who was with Dudley the night of the shooting. Dudley’s case has received little attention. He is now free on $30,000 bail and he has returned to Ohio. He is due back in court in Houston on September 8 and his lawyer, Catherine T. Samaan assured the Houston Chronicle the other day that her client is innocent.
Stahlman was arrested in Payson, Arizona in December 2008 with much greater publicity than has accompanied the Dudley case. He was accused of murdering a young, black man named Bernard Williamson, at about 3:30 in the morning, in Warren, Ohio – which is about 60 miles from Euclid – on April 29, 1979, which was 188 days before Stephan Chambers died.
What made Stahlman’s case sexy was the accusation that he was a member of the American Outlaw’s Association. What may attract attention to Dudley’s case is that the man he killed was the son of a famous biker.
Stahlman wasn’t an Outlaw. He was a member the Handful Motorcycle Club which eventually patched over to the Outlaws but he was never an Outlaw. He was a life-long biker. His father was a life-long biker. At the time Stahlman disappeared, he was riding a rigid frame, 1963 Panhead-Shovelhead hybrid with an open chain primary and a jockey shift. And, after he saw his son for the last time, Stahlman’s father sold the motorcycle to a member of the Outlaws with the condition that the new owner could never sell the bike to anybody but Ron – if Ron ever returned. And, Mr. Stahlman just assumed the man’s word was good.
The night Bernard Williamson died, Stahlman and another man named Roger Collins were drunk in Collins’ pickup truck. Collins, accidently rear-ended Williamson’s car. Collins staggered out to apologize. Williamson beat Collins to the ground. Stahlman staggered out to help his friend and within seconds either Collins or Stahlman stabbed Williamson nine times.
Stahlman fled to Arizona with his wife and daughters. Collins eventually turned himself in. He told police Stahlman had done it, pled guilty to assault and obstruction of justice and was punished with six months in county jail.
The Warren police reactivated the Williamson murder investigation in 2005 and a task force comprised of various police agencies finally arrested Stahlman on December 9, 2008. Stahlman was never Mirandized. Afterward, a U.S. Marshal named Peter J. Elliott said, “Violent fugitives, such as this, will continue to be sought and arrested no matter where they attempt to hide.” Stahlman was indicted at the end of the month.
Stahlman was assigned a public defender named Tracy Ann Laslo. She was a divorce lawyer who had never handled a major criminal case before. He was prosecuted by a district attorney named Christopher D. Becker who the Supreme Court of Ohio called guilty of “misconduct” in a previous murder case. Stahlman finally got a bail hearing in February. He told a judge named Andrew Logan he was innocent and Logan set his bond at $2 million.
Stahlman went on trial April 7. Becker’s opening statement began, “We have no evidence against Mr. Stahlman.” There was a camera crew in the courtroom. Stahlman thought they were from a local television station. They were from a production company shooting a documentary and the only person who did not know who they were was Stahlman. Stahlman thinks Becker was trying to generate publicity for his reelection.
The evidence against Stahlman was Collins’ word. He testified, “I got knocked down pretty quick. I think I was out, too, for a moment.” His arm was cut and he remembered Williamson “sitting there, leaning on the car, so I ran past him and got into the (pickup) cab.”
The men drove away. “We were going down the road,” Collins testified. “Ron was kind of upset. He says, ‘I think I might have stabbed that guy.’”
The case against Stahlman was so thin that in mid-trial Becker convinced Judge Logan to add “complicity to murder” to the charges against Stahlman.
At the time, a source told The Aging Rebel, “By the end of the first day Becker knew he couldn’t prove to a jury that Stahlman committed this crime (of murder.) So Becker asked the judge to add complicity to the charge. Complicity under Ohio law means ‘to aide, abed, or assist.’ And, since no was disputing the fact that Ronald Stahlman was there he was (automatically) guilty of complicity. Becker knew Stahlman would walk out of that courtroom a free man if he didn’t come up with something. So that’s why he came up with the charge of complicity.”
This Little Rag
The new charge carried a mandatory penalty of 15 years to life. So Stahlman, caved. He pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and on April 8, four months after he had been ripped from his old life, he was sentenced to one to ten years in state prison.
Becker defended the complicity charge to The Aging Rebel stating that, “conspiracy law permitted Stahlman to be charged as a complicitor, and in fact the State does not have to convict a principal offender.” He attacked “this little rag of a website’s” coverage of the Stahlman case. The coverage, Becker believed, was “very bitter” and had “a clear agenda against law and order.”
“So now he (Stahlman) can age and rebel in prison for a while,” Becker concluded.
Stahlman did not rebel. He “laid low” and did four years and three months at the Lorain Correctional Institution. While he was in prison, the production company that had filmed his trial tried to interview him. He refused. He was released from parole in 2015.
One of the first things he did when he was free was buy back his old motorcycle. “After 35 years they kept their promise to my father” Stahlman wrote. “My mother and my old partners went and got my scooter back! It is hard to put a lifetime of bikes and brothers and family into a few paragraphs. It’s impossible. I grew up knowing only bikers.”
“I think being in prison is hardest on bikers,” he said. “I’ve been in the wind my whole life. Not riding was very depressing to me. I got my old bike back. Life is good again.”
Dudley may take hope from the joy Ron Stahlman feels after his long ordeal. Or maybe his case will be nothing like Stahlman’s.