Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Police: Census worker labeled 'fed' killed himself

The part-time Census worker who was found dead with "FED" written on his chest and his government ID taped to his forehead "killed himself but tried to make the death look like a murder, authorities have concluded," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Bill Sparkman, 51, "apparently was trying to preserve payments under life insurance policies." Police said Sparkman discussed his plan with a friend a few days before he carried it out in early September. (Photo by Tara Kaprowy, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.)

The case got wide media coverage and Internet comment, including speculation that Sparkman was killed out of hatred of the federal government, the longtime enemy of marijuana growers that contribute heavily to southeastern Kentucky's poor economy -- and that more recently has become the adversary of local officials and political supporters snared in a Department of Justice corruption investigation. Liberal commenters "were trying to turn Bill Sparkman into a sacrificial lamb for ObamaCare," Manchester Enterprise editor Morgan Bowling told Robert Stacy McCain of The American Spectator, a conservative publication.

Sparkman's alleged ruse worked well "in a media environment where the public seems to prefer ideology, opinion, speculation and outrage over fact and reason," Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen writes. "Hateful and irresponsible speech comes from the political left as well as the right. Until the public rediscovers the difference between news and entertainment, journalism and advocacy, people like Bill Sparkman will continue playing the talking heads for fools." Estep reports, "Many people felt the speculation and coverage of the death played on Appalachian stereotypes and gave Clay County an undeserved black eye," Estep reports, and state Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said many in the news media owe the county an apology.

Charles House, former editor of the Enterprise and The Sentinel-Echo in nearby London, told Carl Keith Greene of The Times-Tribune in nearby Corbin that the news-media treatment was “like the things they’ve done over the last 30 or 40 years with the TV networks. When they have a Clay County story they prepare their script in advance. Then they send their producer here and they find the requisite number of stereotypes to mouth the words for their script. They pose them in the stereotypical setting, usually Pat’s Pool Room. And the story tells itself. Then they go home and everybody’s happy, except for Clay County (Wikipedia map), which has been smeared once again.” (Read more)

Police said there was no evidence of a struggle and "FED" was written from bottom to top, indicating that Sparkman wrote it. His hands were bound with duct tape, but loosely enough to allow him to create without help the conditions found at the scene. A cancer survivor, Sparkman told a friend he believed the disease had returned and he would die. However, there was no physical evidence of that. "He had significant debt and didn't have a full-time job," Estep reports, citing State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski, commander of the London post.

"Sparkman’s son, Josh, had questioned previous reports his father may have committed suicide," reports Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service. "Rudzinski said investigators met with Josh Sparkman who she said 'understands why we waited as long as we did' to announce the results of their investigation. 'Our hearts go out to him,' she said."

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