Paul Modrowski is in prison for a murder he claims he didn’t commit, and he says he’s been misunderstood because of his autism. This week, Sruthi brings you the conclusion of our story.
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ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.
PJ VOGT: And I’m PJ Vogt.
ALEX: And –
ALEX: Sruthi Pinnamaneni is also in the room.
SRUTHI PINNAMANENI: [laughs] Yes, I’m here.
ALEX: And this is the final installment of the “On the Inside” series, which Sruthi has been reporting. If you haven’t listened to the first three episodes, go back and listen to them or you will be thoroughly confused.
PJ: A refresher — for – for people who have heard. So, this is the story of Paul Modrowksi. He’s a convicted murderer with a blog that his mom, up until pretty recently, published and edited for him. Paul says that he’s innocent, that basically he’s just an autistic person who’s been badly misunderstood.
SRUTHI: Right, exactly. And I’ve been reporting on this story…for what seems like forever at this point, and…all the possibilities have boiled down to, basically, two things. Um, either Paul is, as you said, like misunderstood, wrongly convicted. Or, he’s a remorseless killer who has just gotten really good at telling the story of being misunderstood.
This whole question of who Paul is, it actually played out after the trial at his sentencing hearing.
So at this point, Paul’s been convicted, people have decided he is guilty of killing Dean Fawcett, and now they have to decide whether or not — like, what kind of person is he? Is he irredeemably evil?
ALEX: And that will inform what kind of sentence he gets?
SRUTHI: Exactly. Right? And so here, we’re sitting in the courtroom again, uh, there’s no jury, it’s just a judge who’s gonna decide the sentence. And there’s the people, like Paul’s family, testifying to who he is. And I spoke to this reporter, John Carpenter, who covered these hearings.
JOHN CARPENTER: So when Paul Modrowski’s father was testifying about — something along the lines of — you know, “One time I fell down and m- and Paul- and he came and carried me in his arms. You know, helped me.” And the father really lost it emotionally. You know, was not just crying, but but sobbing. I would say almost blubbering. I was probably ten feet away from the father, so I was very close to the father, looked over at the table where Modrowski was sitting, which was – would have been about fifteen feet away, and I was – it almost sent chills down my spine. He was so, so ice cold. And so, I – I – I think that…I’m not s-
SRUTHI: And that’s what jury saw whole time, like, you were finally getting their vantage point.
CARPENTER: Right. And the and the and — you know, I’m sitting there listening to his father very — it was impossible to not to be moved by what the father was saying. And, you know, literally begging for his son’s life, begging — there’s a judge sitting next to him who has it within his power to order that – order this guy’s son to be killed. And Paul was just staring straight ahead.
SRUTHI: Of course, what this reporter could have been seeing, it could have been autism. Just because Paul wasn’t expressing his feelings didn’t mean that he didn’t have any.
And, when I look back at the transcript of this whole sentencing, a different moment jumps out of me. It happens at this moment where the judge is about to deliver his sentence.
Paul stands up and the Judge asks, “Do you have anything to say to the court?” And Paul says, “Yes, Your Honor, at the time that I’ve been in jail, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my life and the state has shown I haven’t been the perfect angel. But I wish I could have a chance to do things better. I really wish you could give me a sentence that gives me hope for the future. Sometimes they say that I’m unemotional. But deeply, this hurts me. Dean’s picture there hurts me. Because I did not do it. I understand their anger, very much so. They have a right to be angry. But I’m not the one.”
Of course, these were Paul’s words. And I asked the Judge, Sam Amirante, what Paul’s face looked like as he was saying them.
SRUTHI: And then, when you sentenced him? Did he – was there anything? Like, any d- close his eyes?
SAM AMIRANTE: Nothing. Flat. No. Flat affected. Nothing. Nothing. He looked like a murderer.
SRUTHI: But the Judge says that right then, right after Paul spoke, this thing happened. For an instant, he got a glimpse of something … underneath Paul’s surface.
AMIRANTE: Yeah, I’ll never forget this. He had a – one tear ran down his face. And it was very – it was very heartbreaking to me, but I had to do what I had to do as a judge, and uh…I looked at him, I said something to the effect of, “Mr. Modrowski…I’m going to give you the same hope you gave um…Dean Fawcett that night on the railroad tracks, uh, in Barrington.”
AMIRANTE: “That’s no hope at all. Uhh, so long as you shall live, you will never smell the sweet smell of liberty. And you will never breathe in the fresh air of freedom in your lungs again. [indistinct] natural life now in the public corrections [indistinct] without the possibility of parole.”
SRUTHI: When I talked to the Judge, Sam Amirante, he said that like most people in that courtroom he had no idea that Paul was autistic. He said he didn’t know and, if he had known at the time, maybe things would have been different.
And, just zooming out for a second, it seems like, overall, people in that courtroom just didn’t understand autism nearly as well as we do now.
For example — Paul’s defense had put together this giant report, psychological evaluations full of reasons why the Judge should give him a lighter sentence. Like, all these mitigating factors. And I looked at this report with Jennifer Blagg, Paul’s current attorney; we’re sitting in the courthouse flipping through this thick binder.
SRUTHI: “Paul’s mother smoked a pack of cigarettes a day while pregnant with Paul.” That’s a mitigating factor?
JENNIFER BLAGG: Who knows.
SRUTHI: The report also refers to how Paul’s grandmother used to pop pills, or how his father was patronizing to his mother. It says Paul was hyper-active, had A.D.D. — but what’s so incredible is that the one thing it never focuses on is autism.
SRUTHI: Why didn’t they just say the word autism in the whole report? Like, why did they…
JENNIFER: I think…I think this was a byproduct of them not understanding the autism spectrum during that time period.
JENNIFER: You know? I mean here’s classic autism: “He would bang his head as a child when he couldn’t talk from 1 to 4.”
SRUTHI: “I would hold him till he settled down. My wife would sit on him to quiet him down so he wouldn’t hurt himself.”
JENNIFER: He had little capacity to feel pain and a tendency to be emotionally unresponsive.” Rocking — you know, another classic sign of autism.
SRUTHI: So a few years ago, Jennifer decided to do what all these doctors and lawyers hadn’t quite managed to do back then. To take all these different pieces and understand how they work together in Paul’s autism.
She found this expert, a clinical psychologist named Rachel Loftin. And, what Loftin does is she evaluates people who are on the spectrum who’ve been accused of crimes.
RACHEL LOFTIN: I try to find the right tests and the right things I can do that – that give us age equivalence. Which – which is, like, to say, “Oh, he’s functioning at the 8-year level in whatever skill.”
SRUTHI: But somebody like Paul doesn’t fall into that category because it seems as if he’s – he’s intelligent, and so it’s not as if he’s behaving…under his age.
LOFTIN: Uh — in social ways, I – I certainly think he would be. Um, I’m pretty sure on measures of social problem solving, um, he would come out lower than his chronological age by quite a bit.
SRUTHI: Huh, it’s interesting because, sorry go ahead …
LOFTIN: I was just gonna say — some individuals have a – a confidence? I think he probably has a confidence, that also makes him seem more capable than he really is. Or an arrogance, is probably the right word for it.
SRUTHI: It’s funny because this is absolutely something I’ve noticed about Paul — that he can be the showy guy who will go out of his way to remind me how smart he is. And I’d always just thought of it as part of Paul’s personality.
And Rachel told me another thing. Like, um, this – this test that she did with Paul where she laid out a few random objects on the table — like a block, a paper clip, stuff like that — and then Paul had to use these objects and make up a fictional story and tell it to her. And she said that Paul really had a tough time with this one.
LOFTIN: He used objects, but not in a very imaginative way. I remember that it was very basic, I remember he kept going for a long time though, so the story, um, was long enough that I remember I needed to kind of ask him, “OK, how does it end? How does it end?” I remember [laughs] at the time I remember thinking, “Oh, he doesn’t understand what I’m really measuring and he thinks that maybe giving a really long story is gonna help him look better.”
SRUTHI: So, Rachel is basically telling me that the autism informed way more of Paul’s personality than I’d realized. Like, even the parts of him that I like.
PJ: It’s funny — I don’t know if there’s like… the thing that this makes me think of is, like, I have ADD, and there’s so many things that I do — like behaviors or traits that I have — that are like definitely ADD symptoms, but they’re also just who I am? For instance, like I am literally, like I can never leave a place. Like, I always — it always takes me 45 minutes.
PJ: Like, you’ve seen this, like to walk out of an office.
SRUTHI: It’s funny because I know that and I never thought about it as you being ADD, I thought it was just like you wa- you know, wanting to, having a hard time saying, “No,” and leaving a conversation.
PJ: It’s both! It’s both, it’s both. But, like, if you know that one thing, it like helps you be more patient with me. Or, just like put it in context, that’s all.
PJ: Like, and it’s sort –
PJ: – of hard to say like, “Oh, this is where your disability ends and your personality starts.” Like, they’re the same thing.
SRUTHI: Yeah, and so much of this whole process has been like me trying to unbraid the two things. Which, I’m starting to realize, are – is is just…futile. Um.
PJ: But it still helps to know.
SRUTHI: Yeah, I mean, so, th- one other thing that Rachel had told me was, for instance, movies. So, Paul has this habit of relating everything to movies. Like he’s always… he sees…
PJ: Like the GoodFellas thing and like…
SRUTHI: Yeah, like he’s always saying, “I’m the cha- I’m the narrator of GoodFellas,” or, “I’m like the main character of Gladiator.” And Rachel has said, like, this is a thing that she sees a lot in – in her clients. Like, people who are on the spectrum who — they use social cues uh that they see in movies to help them figure out how to act in the world. And it comes up sometimes in terms of them being en- misunderstood. Say, someone who had been watching, uh, romantic comedies and thinks like, “Oh, I can act like this,” and then they’re accused of stalking. And Rachel has to explain to them, “You know, it- -that’s -”
PJ: It’s movies.
SRUTHI: Yeah, exactly. “And – and, obviously, you can’t. Yeah. In real life, it doesn’t go this way.”
So I feel like, you know, of all the people that I had talked with at this point, you know, of all the people who said like, “I know who Paul is, let me explain it to you,” Rachel was the first person where she’s telling me things where I’m thinking, “Wow, OK you’re really making me…look at all my conversations with Paul in a very different light.”
Um…but at the same time, this question that I’ve been trying to answer, like “OK, he — yes he’s autistic. Yes, he might very well have had an unfair trial — but did he do this thing? Like, is he guilty of Dean Fawcett’s murder?” That’s something, she said, she can’t help me with. Obviously, someone who’s autistic, they can be autistic and still know how to lie; you can be autistic and still commit violence. Like, the one thing doesn’t preclude the other.
SRUTHI: Obviously most people, most people on the spectrum are not violent, but there are people who — like you can be a sociopath and be autistic.
And the thing is, when I was digging into that whole sentencing hearing, I discovered all these stories and things that Paul had done in the years leading up to the crime. Like things that weren’t admissible during his trial but were fair game during the sentencing…
And these were things that really upset my picture of Paul. I wanted to ask him about it. And so, I went to Stateville Prison.
PJ: Welcome back to the show. So before the break, Sruthi decided to go to Stateville Penitentiary to talk to Paul in person.
SRUTHI: The Illinois Department of Corrections, they gave me exactly one hour with Paul. So I drove to the prison. It’s about an hour southwest of Chicago. It’s this giant compound surrounded by 30-foot-high concrete walls. And, I entered through this granite lobby…
GUARD: Hello, How are you?
GUARD 2: Who are you?
GUARD: You got an ID?
GUARD 2: [Indistinct] Where you goin?
SRUTHI: I’m going to visit, uh, a Paul Modrowski.
SRUTHI: I went through a few different levels of these heavy metal doors with bars. And then, finally, the guard let me into this small room off to the side. There’s nothing in it except a table, um, a window with bars. And I waited there for about 10 minutes, I was chatting with the assistant warden. And then Paul just strolled into the room.
ASSISTANT WARDEN: Mr. Modrowski, how’re you doing?
PAUL MODROWSKI: How are you?
ASSISTANT: Fine, thank you.
PAUL: Good to see you.
ASSISTANT: This lady [indistinct] –
SRUTHI: We meet.
ASSISTANT: – is here to see you. I’m gonna leave you to your interview and…nice talking with you. We’ll see you later.
PAUL: Thanks for putting this together.
SRUTHI: Thank you…look at that, Paul, we meet after a year.
PAUL: You’ve got gray hair, you’re getting old.
SRUTHI: I am getting old. I am definitely getting old, so are you.
PAUL: Yes, I am. What’s with the headphones?
SRUTHI: The headphones are so I can hear you.
ALEX: W- was the interview – were you, uh, separated by glass in the –
ALEX: – interview room or was it just –
ALEX: – like a table that you guys sat across from one another?
SRUTHI: Yeah, we just – it’s a special kind of table where his seat is much higher than mine so that people outside can see him.
PAUL: See these seats here — this is how they make us visit. I have to stand up on a pedestal.
SRUTHI: It is a bit awkward. I’m not sure…I guess…I guess — how should we do this? I guess lean – lean…if you could lean towards me? And then I can actually — here.
PAUL: Hi. Uh, 1-2-3-4. Testing. 1,2,3, 4.
SRUTHI: There you go.
PJ: What’d he look like?
SRUTHI: Paul … h- he was wearing this blue uniform, no handcuffs. He’s tall but not towering — like, he’s about 6 feet tall — brown hair, very blue eyes.
And as soon as he saw me, he gave me this big smile. Which I was not expecting.
PAUL: I wanted to call you yesterday just to give you some tips and to help you out a little bit about the process here, but I couldn’t reach you.
SRUTHI: Paul was so engaged. He was looking intensely at me, since he’s sitting above me, he’s actually looking down at me, uh, maintaining eye contact the whole time.
And it turns out that he was thinking about autism just as much as I was. He – he told me that the only way he could get through the stress of a face-to-face conversation was by drinking a ton of coffee.
PAUL: Believe me, when I woke up today, you’d a been interviewing…a zombie. Engaging in people socially is very exhausting for me. But I can do it for a short periods of times, and I can mimic your behaviors and those of others for a short period of time. But, if it’s done continuously, I’m just sapped of energy, it just drains me and I just go back to my normal self. So, for this interview, you’re getting the best of me. I think.
SRUTHI: So you’re mimicking me?
PAUL: Well, I’m mimicking social situations. People, they parrot each other. So, I’ve learned that, intellectually, people…I think most normal people will do that instinctively, but I do it intellectually. Like, I’ll see how you’re looking at me, how your stance is…well, you’re…you got a microphone stuffed at my face. But, uh, I try to mimic…your expressions, and I notice that’s how most other people do it.
SRUTHI: Uh, you do it well.
PAUL: Well, I’m very intelligent. If I was…average IQ or lower, you’d probably not – you’d probably see my autism a lot more apparent. But I do have 130 or above IQ, so I think that that allows some people with autism to overcome their disabilities.
SRUTHI: So, here’s why I had come to talk to Paul. The stories that the prosecution had introduced during the sentencing, they established this pattern of violent behavior from Paul. Like, starting from when he was a young teen and escalating all the way up to the murder of Dean Fawcett.
So…there’s a bunch of things, but…I’m gonna give you guys just a couple of them. So, when Paul was 14 years old, he walked up to a kid near a bus stop. This was a kid he knew from school, they had some kind of beef with each other, Paul pulled a knife and stabbed this kid in the arm. The kid had no weapon on him. I actually spoke to him and he said he still has his scar, he actually has nerve damage.
PJ: Oh my god.
SRUTHI: Yeah. Um. So, Paul was charged with aggravated battery and the court appointed a psychiatrist to – to examine Paul. And he wrote up this – this report and, reading it now…there’s something about it that really, like, it makes a lot of the things that Paul, like these other anecdotes that Paul had described to me, it makes them all make sense. Um, the – the psychiatrist says that Paul, he has autism, but — he sees the world as…like, a very threatening place. And he reacts to these threats aggressively.
So, the second incident, it has to do with Paul’s ex-girlfriend. This – this woman named Melanie, um. Back when they were in high school, they were dating, they break up, and then Melanie, um, and her family, they go out of town. When they come back, their house has been broken into, the water bed has been slashed. There used to be, like, a photo of Paul on her mirror, which she took away, and now it’s back. Their family dog — this little white, fluffy dog — was stabbed. Like, I’ve seen photos and, yeah, there’s this, like, horrible gash in the abdomen.
And this whole time, Melanie is getting these phone calls. Like, these harassing phone calls. Um, she recorded one of them, and they played it during the sentencing hearing. So, Melanie says, “100%, this is Paul.” Um, the – the courthouse lost the tape, so, I’m just gonna read from the transcript of – of the recording. There’s a male voice that says, um —
“I’ve got a new name for your family, I call them, ‘pincushions.’ You know what that is? It’s something you stick pins in.”
And then Melanie says, “What do you want from me?”
And then, the male voice says, “A little of this, a little of that. Your head on a lance, your parents’ head on a lance, your dog’s head on a lance.”
SRUTHI: Yeah. So, Paul was never convicted of this thing, but I wanted to ask him about it
SRUTHI: I was looking at the transcripts of the sentencing hearing and I have two questions. One, were you there in her house the day her house was broken into and her dog was stabbed?
SRUTHI: You sure?
PAUL: What, you want me to elaborate?
SRUTHI: Why – so, you’re saying that a friend of yours did it?
PAUL: I know…who did it.
SRUTHI: You’re saying a friend of yours named Harry Adams did it?
PAUL: I’m quite certain it was Harry, yes.
SRUTHI: Why would he have broken into that residence? When the woman was clearly — clearly — connected with you? It was your former girlfriend and you had thrown a book at her younger sister which had gotten you in trouble at school.
PAUL: Well, with the younger sister, you understand that Melanie and Randette didn’t get along that much together.
SRUTHI: Either way, I’m just saying, you had the connection with – with that family.
PAUL: Why would Harry do this? That’s – that’s a good question. I’m – and the answer is that, uh, Melanie wasn’t the typical girl that I went out with. She was very sassy. She had attitude and spunk. She…and she acted very…[sigh] sassy towards them. And she gave them no respect and she called them names and whatnot. My…that didn’t suit well with…the type of people that I was associating with, especially Harry.
SRUTHI: So you’re saying you had nothing to do with it, you didn’t even know they were going to do it?
PAUL: Absolutely not, I – I learned afterwards though, yes.
SRUTHI: And what about the voice message? The answering machine message that was left that said that, um, the things that would be done to Melanie and her family, their heads on a spit?
PAUL: Well, that was me. I used to — yes, I know, you’re looking at me crazy, like, I’m a crazy person. “Why would he say that?” Um…I was just playing with her at the time, I know it sounds kinda ridiculous, but uh, sometimes I would just play with her and such-
SRUTHI: It sounds more than ridiculous, and it doesn’t sound like playing around as-
PAUL: No, you listen to the voice and she knows I’m – she’s very playful. I know it comes across as, yeah, I’m some sick…deviant, uh, person and how could this not be intertwined with the break-in of her house, but that’s the truth of the matter. And-
SRUTHI: I – I just can’t. I mean, I think any one of these things by themselves, I think, you can…get out of? It’s – you know – it’s understandable, shit happens, whatever, “Wrong place, wrong time,” or some idiot friend of yours who blamed you. I think when you look at the entire body of things — like, like if you just throw it all together in a bag and look at everything together? Then it gets harder to believe you. You understand that, right?
You know…you’re basically leaving voice messages to a woman about how you’re going to cut her head off. And then Dean gets his head cut off. I mean, you can look at yourself as the unluckiest person in the world who’s been blamed for all sorts of things…but you’re…as a thinking person, that one’s hard to just brush under the carpet.
PAUL: Do you know how I got the name Victor?
SRUTHI: I believe so.
SRUTHI: You started calling yourself Victor because people used to call you Paulie. And you didn’t like the diminutive. And so you chose the name Victor. Vic.
PAUL: Well, that’s part of the reason. But…where it started to catch on was we went out to see a movie. It’s called the Highlander. And there is a character, he’s the villain in the movie, his name is Victor Kruger. And he’s a Kurgan from centuries ago, thousands of years. Anyways, what the Highlanders do, is they chop off each other’s heads. That is how they win global power. And so, you want to talk about coincidences, that’s a coincidence. Here I’m named after Victor — a Highlander — who cuts off people’s heads. But, cutting off people’s heads is just something people say quite often, especially in prison, yeah, that’s a threat. Yeah, maybe not in your little (civilized world.)
SRUTHI: Not when you’re in high school, when you’re in high school.
PAUL: Oh, you would be surprised what people will say in high school and…and especially around my crowd.
SRUTHI: I would take that as a deflection of the question.
PAUL: Yes, but how many people had died their hair black and was enormously muscular and stronger than most other people and had that crude, crass…type of personality, unfiltered-like…
SRUTHI: Oh, so you’re saying it was on purpose, you actually were going for that comparison?
PAUL: No, I just – they thought it was funny. And it’s…then I started using it because, as you said, I didn’t like being Paulie. So Victor was much better.
SRUTHI: I…I do not know what to make of this one. Basically, I asked him, you know, “All these things that happened when you were kid, like, it looks really bad. Uh, and I can’t believe that you didn’t do any of them. Like, there’s too many coincidences.” And he responded with a non sequitur about how his nickname was a reference to a movie character who decapitates people.
ALEX: Yeah, it seems like he’s, like, joking – like –
SRUTHI: I –
ALEX: – it seems like he doesn’t get it.
SRUTHI: It – it’s totally possible that he was just nervous and blurting out a weird story.
PJ: But it just looks really bad.
PJ: Like, it – and, combined it looks really bad.
SRUTHI: Yeah. Yeah, it does. And, I wanted to get the testimony of this woman whose house was broken into. Like, the one whose dog was stabbed. And I asked Paul’s mom for the transcript and she pulled it out of the boxes — she’s been really great, sending me all sorts of documents — and she pulled them out of her attic and, hours later, I spoke to her, and I said, “Hey, Linda, just wondering if – if you’re, you know, you found them?” And she said, “You know, I’ve been sitting here. I read them. They’re really awful. And I’ve been – I scanned them. I’m sitting in front of the email saying, ‘I should push send.’ And I don’t… want to send them.”
And we had a long talk where I said, “You know, I’ll get the transcripts. But, I agree with you. They make Paul look really bad. And if you don’t want to be the person to send them to me, I completely understand.” And I said, “No matter what happened, I think you’ve really – you’ve tried your best to protect him. And I really admire all the work you’ve put into his blog.” And she started crying.
And then she sent me the transcripts.
PJ: Man, this must be so hard for her.
So, at this point, I’ve been reporting on the case of Dean Fawcett for months. And in my mind, there’s always been two columns. Like, the column of all the reasons why Paul is guilty. And all – and then another column for all the reasons why Paul is not guilty.
And in the guilty column, there’s no physical evidence but there are a few things that I just can’t knock down. Right? So there’s, uh, the witness, uh, that woman Nadine Lenarczak, who saw Bob and Paul, together, pick up Dean Fawcett and drive away with him. And then, there’s Bob Faraci, who…you know, who says he was with Paul the whole time. And – and neither one of these people on their own is – is perfect but, like, together they- it’s like they independently corroborate each other?
And then in the Paul is not guilty column…the main thing that I’ve been left with is Paul’s story of what happened that night. So, Paul says he has an alibi, he was at his sister’s house until midnight the day Dean was murdered. This is a story that his family supports … and I have tried every which way to check it. Like, get somebody outside of the family to corroborate, but there’s nothing. Like, nothing in the police reports, no phone records, nothing.
And then, about a week ago, I spoke to this person who told me a story that I had never heard before. And it puts Paul at the scene of the crime.
Um, I – I can’t…name the person, uh, because they spoke to me on background. Uh, but they said I can use the information. Um…
PJ: And there’s a- they’re a person who…like, at least, you know, could know this?
PJ: OK. Is this somebody who you trust?
SRUTHI: I don’t trust anybody.
PJ & ALEX: [laugh]
SRUTHI: I don’t trust anybody. Um, yeah. So, this person told me Paul was at the scene of the crime. And I said, “But wait, I – I spoke to Paul’s sister and – and she said, ‘No, Paul was at my house that night.'” And this person said, “I don’t think she’s lying, but I think she has her date wrong. I know she has her date wrong, because this is what happened.
“On the evening of December 28th, Paul and Bob Faraci came home from the railroad tracks together. Paul took a shower listening to a band called King Diamond. Like, this heavy metal band.” The story that this person told me was full of details in which I saw Paul that I – I recognized. And you know, in this past year, I’ve thrown so many challenges like this at Paul, and it never fazes him. So, I decided to ask him about this one.
SRUTHI: The thing that has always tripped me up is th- the alibi, right? So, you say you were at your sister’s house on December 28th. Can I ask you a question? Why are you so sure that it was that day? Why are you so sure that it was December 28th?
PAUL: I know [indistinct]? I’m absolutely certain, because it was December 28th, that’s Father’s birthday. And I know it from…you know, my memories from long ago, and even when I was arrested, are very vague about what happened a half a year before. But, one thing I do know is December 28th, 1992, I know exactly where I was at. And that was at my sister’s house. And I remember her, clear as day, beckoning me to talk to my father and make amends for the fight we had like a few weeks earlier.
SRUTHI: What day was it that day? Like, day of the week?
PAUL: I believe it was a Monday.
SRUTHI: I have a question…what is King Diamond?
PAUL: Where did you hear that from? where are you going with this question? Where did you even get that name? Who told you this? Who brought this up to you? You’re just a little…yeah, you’re a little nosy person aren’t you? You love this, don’t you? I can see it in your eyes — you love this work…Come on.
SRUTHI: You’re not answering my question.
PAUL: I understand that. I want to hear where it — where you got this little-
SRUTHI: You asked for-
PAUL: No, no — you’re not going to be Megyn Kelly with me, you’re going to answer my question.
SRUTHI: I have an alternate, um, image of what happened that night. It was Monday night — it was Monday Night Football. The San Francisco 49ers were playing the Detroit Lions. They beat them. You were in the shower listening to King Diamond.
PAUL: What? Where do you get this? Where do you get your information from?
No I wasn’t…I don’t – I don’t – I don’t get that at all, uh. No, I wasn’t in the… yeah, I did take a shower when I got back, probably. I don’t really remember. It’s not like you remember these things, like…taking a shower. As for King Diamond, when I was in junior – late junior high/early high school, I listened to King Diamond, which is a heavy metal band. And it is somewhat…unique, I guess, amongst even people that listen to metal. I don’t know how unique it would be in 2016…
SRUTHI: Paul talked for a while about King Diamond and then I said to him, “OK, but – but did it go down this way?”
PAUL: So you’re implying that I killed Dean Fawcett, and then…then I listened to King Diamond while taking a nice shower at Bob Faraci’s?
PAUL: Well. That’s – that’s just nuts. Why couldn’t it be Danzig or Metallica? Why is it King Diamond?
SRUTHI: I don’t know.
PAUL: You don’t know?
SRUTHI: I’m not sure why you chose to do what you did.
PAUL: Did Bob Faraci tell you this crazy idea? You know how many crazy things Bob Faraci has said?
SRUTHI: At this point, I felt like I had just run out of reasons to believe in Paul’s innocence.
I mean…this is what I’ve come to believe. That Paul is autistic and misunderstood and had a bizarre trial. And that he was involved in Dean’s killing.
And so, I said this to Paul.
I said, “The night Dean was killed, I think you were there. I don’t think you were the mastermind, but — I do think that Bob Faraci could have convinced you to come along. And you went, as you always did. You know, maybe it started off as a joke, maybe it was, uh, you guys just wanted to scare Dean because he had told this person that he would rat you guys out, uh, ’bout these bad checks he’d been writing.
And I can imagine that the both of you picked up Dean Fawcett, took him to the railroad tracks…”
SRUTHI: …maybe Bob shot him, maybe you cut off his head…like, that I can imagine.
I can imagine you being there because of Bob Faraci. My question is, how long…how long would you go…before saying, “OK, this happened. But I’ve had a really good prison record. I can show that I’ve been rehabilitated, let me out?” Would there be a moment? Like, if that was the scenario?
PAUL: Are you nuts? I’ve spent over twenty-something years in this fuckin’ prison. Suffering for something I had had nothing to do with. Now, you might imagine that I could have been present at crime scene, but I was not at the crime scene. And I will be buried in a prison grave before I ever said, “I was with Bob Faraci on that day.” ‘Cause I was not with Bob Faraci on that day.
Now, I know there’s a lot of circumstantial…innuendo and things that sh-s, “Oh, Paul can be a bad guy and he’s mean, and he’s a bully in high school.” And, “Oh, he made a – he made a harassing phone call to one of the girls he dated.” But, I’m not going to be involved in a murder. That is something — a line — that I would never cross. And I would never even get involved in. And Bob Faraci, he is a brilliant con, but I’m not gonna follow him to the railroad tracks in Barrington and kill Dean Fawcett. Ever. Never. It’s just not gonna happen.
And, if it came down to it, and there’s a parole board reintroduced int- in…Illinois…fuck you. I’m never, ever going to say that I was present at the crime scene. Ever. And they can let me die here, I don’t give a shit. I’ve already…my life is wasted away. Look at me, I’m nothing of the person I – I am a hollow shell of the person I used to be and I could just die in here. Doesn’t matter to me if I get out when I’m 50 or something, 60 years old. I don’t give a shit about the remnants of my life, they’ve taken everything from me. This is all I have! What am I going to do when I get the fuck out of there anyways? What, they want to release me when I’m 50-something years old? ‘Cause of parole? ‘Cause I’ve been a “good boy”? I don’t give a shit about that. What am I going to do when I’m 50? I can’t do nothing! So I’ll just die in here.
How’d you like that as an answer?
SRUTHI: And then…he smiled.
The warden comes in the room at this point and told me that I was out of time. And then, like we do at the end of every interview, I recorded a minute of the sound of the room.
ALEX: Oh man.
PJ: [laughs] Oh god.
SRUTHI: And then the warden told me to turn off the recorder. Paul and I got up, left the room. He went through one set of bar doors, I went through another. We could see each other from across the room and he just waved at me. And then I waved back.
And then he turned and walked back into the prison.
PJ: Sruthi Pinnamaneni is a producer for our show.
Paul is out of appeals, but his lawyers are working on his post conviction petition, which could get him a new trial. They’re gonna bring up Paul’s autism and also, they have an affidavit from Bob Faraci swearing that he did not borrow Paul’s car the night of the murder.
The Brown’s Chicken Massacre — that crime that brought so much attention to Paul’s case — that was finally solved in 2002. The real killers, it turns out, had left behind DNA evidence. Partially-eaten chicken bones.
Reply All is me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Chloe Prasinos, and our executive producer is Tim Howard. Production assistance from Thom Cote. We’re edited by Peter Clowney and we’re mixed by Rick Kwan.
Matt Lieber is a new puppy that finally sleeps through the night.
Additional editing help from Ashley Ford and Zac Stuart-Pontier. Fact checking by Michelle Harris.
Special thanks this week to Anthony O’Rourke, Guyora Binder, and Katie Klocksin.
Our ad music is by Build Buildings and our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder.
And a big, big thank you to Dr. Mathew Lerner, assistant professor of psychology at Stony Brook University. Dr. Lerner established a model for understanding the involvement of people on the autism spectrum in the criminal justice system and helped review this story. Another big, big thanks to Professor Richard McAdams of the University of Chicago Law School, who helped with legal questions. You can check out his book, The Expressive Powers of Law. Sruthi recommends it.
Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. You can find more episodes at itunes.com/replyall or in the Google Play Music store. Our website is replyall.limo.