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"It was a tough case," says Sherman, a blunt-talking, no-nonsense attorney. "The evidence, facts and the law were all against us."
Having no really good defense options, Sherman chose to portray Brown as a brave and caring man who tended to a segment of society no one cared about. "No one else would deal with transsexuals," he said in his closing argument. "John Brown said, ‘I’ll deal with them.’ Did he do this for money? No. He did it because he cared. And if you don’t believe that, then you have my permission — as if you needed it — to find him guilty of murder."
Unfortunately for Brown, after a day of deliberations that is exactly what the jury did.
Sherman, who is planning to appeal the verdict, says he still can’t understand how any California court ever got the authority to try Brown for murder. "Brown is guilty of practicing medicine without a license," he says. "I could also go with the notion that he was guilty of manslaughter. But murder? Come on. How does California even get jurisdiction? If you shot someone in Mexico and he died in California, could you be charged with shooting him in California? Of course not. It’s the same principle."
Besides, he says, it was never Brown’s intention to murder anyone. He was trying to help Philip Bondy. "He believed that if you are a consenting adult you should be allowed to do what you want to do. Who is not to say the 48 hours [that Bondy lived after the surgery] weren’t the happiest 48 hours of his life?"
Brown’s sentencing is now set for December 17. Given the small latitude open to the judge in such matters, says Sherman, Brown will most likely get 22 years to life.
Which to Gerry McClellan, an investigator for the California medical licensing board who has followed Brown’s career for nearly 25 years, is very good news indeed. Brown, says McClellan, is one of those people who, because he lives his life almost entirely in his own mind, is impervious to reality. "He has no social conscience. He really believes in what he does. That’s what makes him so dangerous. He is a sociopath, a sincere sociopath. Jail is a momentary hindrance to him. He’s been burned before — he keeps putting his hand on the stove. There is some kind of grander scheme he is fulfilling. I just don’t know what it is."
Actually, as Brown tells me in a series of late-night collect calls from prison, it isn’t his scheme. It’s God’s scheme. And there isn’t just one, there are many. In the main scenario, Brown is released from jail, raises money and finishes development of a "hyperthermia chamber" that, he says, will cure cancer, AIDS and genital herpes. As Brown explains it, the patient would be placed in a chamber with an IV drip to replace lost fluid, swathed in bandages and sprayed with hot water to induce a healing fever.
Brown has also developed a prototype of an asphalt removal machine that uses chisels set at a 45-degree angle in a rotating drum, which would cut the cost of such removal from $2 to $4 a linear foot to a mere 50 cents. He has designed an aerodynamic attachment for the rear of trailer trucks that he says will reduce fuel costs by one third. He has plans to write four books: an autobiography based on his medical career; a full explanation of the movement of tectonic plates; a proof of the existence of God based on gaps in evolutionary theory; and most important of all to Brown, a novel about the life of Jesus based on little known facts in the historical record. This last book, which causes Brown to sob whenever he talks about it, will tell the story of what he believes was Jesus’s youthful betrothal to Mary Magdalene, his uncle’s crucifixion in an earlier Roman terror campaign, and Jesus’s role in orchestrating his own crucifixion.
In the meantime, Brown is pursuing what he calls the "Doc Holliday" scenario. Before he was arrested, Brown had written to a dozen states, asking if they would consider giving him a license if he would agree to work as a general practitioner in some small rural setting without a resident physician.
The problem at the moment, of course, is that he’s locked up in jail. But even that, Brown believes, is not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle. After he lost his license in 1977, he says, he went to live on a 550-acre Mexican ranch. As he was walking up a hill one night carrying a kerosene lantern, God spoke to him, clearly and distinctly. "Words started pushing into my mind," says Brown. "The words kept coming up for two days. The message began, ‘Why do you kick against the traces?’ It went on: ‘You should know that the details of your life have been arranged so that you would be where you are now, doing what you are doing.’ I knew that meant working with the transsexuals. It went on: ‘What you are doing is appreciated, because these are my children, too.’"