07 - Cheap tricks

 (updated january 23, 2012)
While making a flattering description of Prosecutor Larry Sells, there is information to which Miller only alludes, without caring to dig deeper, and some that he never mentions.
In a clever narrative trick, when he portrays Judge Jane Magnus Stinson, Miller mentions her position on the death penalty. Marion Superior Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson was a hard line judge who would not accept death penalty cases, she didn’t believe in that kind of justice. Any other lawfully administered punishment, though, was fair game. (...) the judge was a strong believer in making the sentence fit the crime.”(p 120-121). The writer's goal is to give the impression that Pender was sentenced by somewhat moderate people. For this very reason, Steve Miller chose, a contrario, not to talk about Prosecutor Larry Sells own opinions on the death penalty and a range of others. These might have made him look less sympathetic in the eye of some readers : the man is favorable to the death penalty and had pleaded it on several occasions.
For this very reason, Miller also only alludes to the context in which the trial was prepared. When he does so, it is only completely out of context. On page 171, he mentions : “Roland (…) felt the entire situation was an injustice and that his little girl was imprisoned because of the aspirations of a few prosecutors.”  Then later again at the end of the book, he quotes Roland Pender on page 274 “Larry Sells was running for public office during her trial. Larry Sells was looking to make a name for himself and Sarah was an easy , high profile subject because she was so naive.”
What was Roland Pender referring to ? There is no answer in the book and for lack of it, the reader will have to turn to the internet.
Larry Sells did, indeed, have political ambitions. During the preparation of the trial, he had made a bid to become prosecutor in Hamilton County.  At the May 2002, Republican primaries, he lost and was defeated by a large margin, getting only 36 percent of the votes. His main campaign argument at the time was that he was successful at convicting murderers and violent offenders, and had good relationship with law enforcement.  Knowing this, we can also better understand how stupid it was of Attorney James Nave to expect the prosecution to offer Sarah a good plea.
Larry Sells didn't renounce his political ambitions after this defeat. He already had an eye on the following election. In 2006, he sought one more time a public office, this time the election for Judgeship in Hamilton county. His campaign theme, one more time, was around heavy sentencing for criminals and he suggested that more jail space should be built in the county. He was again defeated.

It is typical of Steve Miller that he would spend time telling the reader about Larry Sells' attempt at being a model or an actor, but wouldn't spend a line detailing the man's political and professional ambitions, which are more relevant to the story. For it is only in the light of his political ambitions that we can better understand why he went to such extent as to compare Sarah Pender with Charles Manson or to liken her with a domestic terrorist, obviously exaggerated claims. Sells needed hot cases and attention.  He was, indeed, trying to make a name for himself as a prosecutor in the same manner he had tried in Hollywood. Leaving out the political aspect of Sells' public life is one more gaping hole in Steve Miller's story.

The hidden-from-the reader political ambitions of Larry sells also explains why, on page 123, Miller takes the time to write “On august 22, there was little about the sentencing in the media. Despite the significance of the day for a select few close to both Sarah and the victim, there were bigger stories with local ties.” Miller is well aware of Roland Pender's arguments and knows full well what's behind them. And so before alluding to them too briefly, he seeks to refute them and make them loose all credibility. Another cheap trick from a dishonest writer.