If you’ve followed the Hampstead hoax for any time at all, you’ve very likely run across a person named David Howard. Mr Howard doesn’t make cogent (or even incoherent) arguments for or against Hoaxtead. Instead, he tends to pop up like a demented cuckoo clock, interjecting “Google [name of person Mr Howard doesn’t like] polygraph test!” in random online conversations. Strange behaviour, but then this is Hoaxtead. We’re kind of used to that.
We have wondered about Mr Howard from time to time, concluding that aside from his apparent polygraph-related Tourette’s-like behaviour, he’s mostly harmless.
But a few weeks ago, one of our team members did a bit of poking about online, and discovered a side to Mr Polygraph…er, Howard, that we could not have possibly guessed. It turns out that he was involved in a high-speed car chase in his home state of Missouri, which had far-reaching effects.
We’ll let the legal case analytics site Ravel tell that story: Let’s just note that the original criminal charges were filed in August 1981.
Yes, you read that right. In the early 1980s—35+ years ago—Mr Howard was fighting for his right to use polygraph evidence in court.
He was a feisty feller, we’ll give him that:
I’ll crucify them. I’m a helluva man…. They’ll interview me through my cell. ‘Sixty Minutes,’ films watching everything. So do as you please. I’m a helluva man… I will use the lie detector….They’ll build a statue to me in Washington, D.C….
We have no doubt he was indeed a “helluva man”; we’re trying to envision how this announcement must have gone over with the appeal judge.
A bit later, though, he was less ebullient, and begged the trial judge for help:
And at one point he seemed to veer wildly into…well, we’re really not sure how to characterise this one:
‘Bizarrely obsequious’ seems to just about cover it.
You might not be terribly surprised to learn that Mr Howard decided to represent himself at trial, despite a psychiatric examination which offered a diagnosis of cyclothymia. While we have generally understood this to mean a mild form of bipolar affective disorder (aka manic depression), the court understood it as “an insecure person who attempts to over-compensate for his deficiencies when under stress…Howard displayed a very positive attitude about his own ability to prove his innocence of the charges against him without the aid of an attorney”.
Again with the polygraphs…and a healthy dose of paranoid delusion.
In fact, Mr Howard had developed a belief that the police, prosecutor, and judge were conspiring to frame him, because he’d taken a polygraph exam that ‘proved’ he hadn’t intended to injure the state troopers during the 1981 car chase. He believed that this ought to be sufficient to secure a dismissal of charges, and grew quite incensed when this didn’t happen.
Two successive lawyers who’d been hired to represent him withdrew from the case, and Mr Howard refused to co-operate with the state-appointed public defender, who grew increasingly frustrated with his client’s behaviour. At the first trial, the public defender asked the Court to either order another psychiatric evaluation, or allow the defender to withdraw from the case to let Mr Howard defend himself without counsel, as he clearly intended to do:
In the context of this offer of proof, I would offer to prove that he is—with respect to me, has refused to discuss the case with me unless I go to the F.B.I. office in Rolla, Missouri, and submit to a polygraph examination. I would offer to prove that he is—when I tried to call, talk to his father to discuss his behavior with his father, Earl Howard, that he has answered the phone and refused to let me talk to the father, because I had not contacted the F.B.I.
Mr Howard also accused the public defender of taking part in the conspiracy against him. The defender continued:
He’s announced that he is probably going to be a hero because of his efforts in order to make polygraphs admissible in the courts of this nation and that he, in all seriousness, believes that he is going to be elected as the new head of the F.B.I.
We could be mistaken, but we don’t recall ever having heard that the head of the FBI is elected to that position. But that’s not all:
Yes. Bumper stickers about polygraphs. We are beginning to suspect that Mr Howard could very well give Neelu a run for her money.
While the public defender tried his best to convince the Court that Mr Howard’s behaviour was bizarre enough to warrant a new psychiatric evaluation, his pleas fell on deaf ears:
The trial court allowed Howard to conduct his own defense at trial, with the public defender standing by as amicus curiae. Howard’s self-proclaimed qualifications to represent himself were that he was a “good republican”, and that he had watched Perry Mason on TV a few times.
Well sure, why not?
During the trial, Mr Howard refused to allow the public defender to assist him. This led to some bizarre exchanges. For example, during the questioning of one of the state troopers involved in the car chase, the trial judge asked Mr Howard whether he had further questions of the witness. Mr Sterling, the public defender, tried to intervene, with no success:
Mr Howard told the court he had no evidence to present in his own defence, but that he thought that would be all right because the judge was a “republican” and would be “fair”.
When informed the court was not going to testify for him, the defendant said, “Well, I’ll tell my story, I guess. Might as well. Can’t dance.” The court thereupon suggested he discuss his testimony with the public defender but the defendant said he had nothing to discuss.
The trial continued in this vein, and eventually resulted in two counts of contempt of court, for which Mr Howard was jailed; and in the appeal trials, Mr Howard continued obstructing the court, refusing to co-operate with the long-suffering public defender, and generally making a mockery of the judicial system.
Reading the case summary, it occurred to us that Mr Howard’s character, if fictionalised, would have made a highly entertaining episode of a courtroom drama—Silk, perhaps, or Boston Legal. As a real-life story, though, we can’t help but think it sad: Mr Howard appears to have clung to some of his delusions for decades, and it seems that his frequent interjections in discussions amongst the Hoaxtead mob are a sorry echo of a disorder that has plagued him much of his life.