Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kerrie Droban: Running with the Devil

By Kerrie Droban (Guest blogger)

KERRIE M. DROBAN heads a private law firm, specializing in criminal defense and capital litigation. She is an award-winning poet as well as author of the novels In the Company of Darkness and The Watchman’s Circle, which won the Daphne duMaurier Award for suspense writing. Her true crime book, Running with the Devil: The True Story of ATF’s Infiltration of the Arizona Hell’s Angels, is available in hardcover and will be out in paperback this fall. Critics have compared Kerrie’s writing to Patricia Cornwell and Tami Hoag and have described her novels as "riveting, compelling and shocking" tales filled with "heart-stopping action" and at times "terrifying characters" who “will live in our thoughts for a long time to come." She has participated in over 30 felony jury trials and authored over 50 legal briefs, one of which, State v. Ring was heard by the U. S. Supreme Court and resulted in the remand of over 180 death penalty cases nationwide.

At times we all wish the truth was fiction. It might be more palatable. After all, imagination is a kind of frontier without borders or restrictions; with true evil, at least we hope there is definition, limit and some moral barometer. And if there isn’t . . . we search for explanation, excuse, and even justification. And if we don’t find any . . . then we look for motivation, for clues in a person’s childhood, for that toxic cocktail that transformed them into a monster, for brutal figures who influenced them, used them, abused them and ultimately erased what made them human. And if we don’t find those factors . . . then we’re left with the untenable hypothesis that there really are natural born killers.

Why else would a Phoenix woman who had been “happily” married for eight years to a devoted and wealthy arts dealer decide one day to throw his body into a freezer, defrost him, dice him up and put his remains into a large garbage bag? Or, a father conclude that it was okay to keep his daughter hostage in a makeshift cellar for twenty-four years so that she could gratify his sexual urges and bear his children? Or, a woman slice up her boyfriend to drink his blood in a perverse vampire love ritual?

Every day as I stand in the courtroom and defend against this kind of pathology I search for a way to mitigate my clients’ horrific choices. The challenge is to find a kernel of good, to convey to the judge and the jury that something about them is worth salvaging because our knee-jerk reaction is to warehouse them in cells or exterminate them like rats. My real life experiences have fueled my desire to write true crime because I don’t want refuge or respite from the real stories or the real macabre. I want to understand. Writing is a kind of catharsis for me, a way to process savage behavior with a goal toward inspiring change in the social institutions—schools, families, prisons—who house and guide these sad individuals.

My goal, in many ways, is to do what the operatives did in my book, Running with the Devil -- to journey through the darkness in order to understand the criminal mind, its violence, rage and purpose. The undercover operatives lived for eighteen months as outlaw motorcyclists in order to infiltrate another vicious gang, the Hell’s Angels. They lived a triple life as outlaw bikers, ATF agents and family men. And the stress nearly destroyed them.

Their goal was to cripple the Hell's Angels, chill the club’s criminal exploits and enlighten the public about the gang’s activities. In the end few of the criminal charges against the bikers held and the ATF operatives were rewarded with fear of reprisal from the Hell’s Angels without government protection or, sadly at times, even government interest. But the operatives’ efforts were not entirely in vain. The Hell’s Angels’ public persona was tarnished and the club’s reign as lord of the flies has diminished. But what may have died as a news story lives on in Running with the Devil. With both of their secret lives exposed—the operatives’ sacrifice and bravery and the gang’s savagery and pathology—the public cannot forget what happened or why it happened.

That’s the real goal for me in writing true crime, to preserve a moment in time and to hopefully learn from the experience so that we can effect change through information and knowledge.

Visit Kerrie’s web site at


Anonymous said...

Getting bogged in the minutia of writing is easy. Your essay reminds us to focus on what we're trying to do when we tell a story. And thanks for defending people I grateful I don't have to deal with.

H.D. Thomson said...

Kerrie, I had a chance to read your book, and it's truly fascinating. I can't imagine going undercover like these people did. I thank the police for doing what many are unwilling to do to keep crime at bay, including myself.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

I've always wondered how authors can write true-crime books without getting overwhelmed by the horror of it all, but your reasoning makes perfect sense.

And it's so nice to know there are people willing to take on that kind of job, on behalf of all us wusses who'd be too scared. Thanks, Kerrie!