Catherine “Katmandu” Palmer is a 24+ years veteran of the motorcycle industry. Most of you have read/seen her photojournalism work in major magazines. She rides her own motorcycle since 1976. She was in Court during Billy Lane sentencing. Below, she freely expresses her personal feelings and opinion about the case.
“In this day and age of political correctness, I am about to go napalm on you all. I was in the courtroom when William “Billy” Lane was sentenced. I stood in the corridor during the recesses. Reluctantly, I shook the hand of the dead man’s brother. I saw the anguish in a mother’s eyes, and felt the weight of civilized man on a family that has been through HELL for the last three years.
What do you think you know about this case, incident, accident, a pre-destined act of instantaneous carelessness? Have you ever passed on a double yellow line? Never? I do not believe you. Bikers take chances, like beer and whiskey, it’s in our blood. We jump train tracks, weave in and out of traffic and we certainly know those amongst us who can’t go the speed limit, pass in a no passing zone. Where’s the “freedom” at 55? Add more whiskey and we can do it even faster and better looking. Were you around when our nights were filled with whiskey, wine and cocaine? Oh, that’s right; we don’t “go” there anymore.
Let me run it down to you in a way you will understand. And I realize I am preaching to the choir here. Our friend, a BRO, William “Billy” Lane got boned. And when one of our own dies, we all feel it. When a man like Billy goes down or IN, we all lose.
In the full 4B courtroom with the overweight out of shape Brevard County Sheriffs, who huffed and puffed as they did their jobs, seated us on both sides of the room, swaggering with attitude, as Billy’s “people” clearly outnumbered the Morelock Family members. And just who were the photographers of MNO working for? This woman was obviously oblivious to discretionary journalism and why on earth was she wearing a Cabbage Patch t-shirt in the press gallery of the courtroom? Some of the news cameramen were dressed for a backyard also but why give these citizens more ammunition by blatantly appearing “less than”? Pull your hair up and put on a damn blouse.
The prosecutor used state sentencing guide lines, pontificating about rates of speed, forces of impact, physics, and using various photographs of the ACCIDENT scene to show that the truck was this and that upon impact with Morelock’s “motorcycle”. Gerald Morelock was on a SCOOTER, one of those slow moving, un-suitable machines for a major roadway, not a motorcycle. And for god’s sake, do not call him a biker. Morelock was drunk heading home on a Sunday afternoon, left the bar of his choice and neglected to LOOK out onto the highway in front of him. That’s where any similarity on two wheels ends. And why wasn’t Morelock’s alcohol level brought up? What about his lack of experience on a scooter, witness concession that he entered the highway without looking into oncoming traffic? His helmet-less head? His part in all of this?
The final blows came in the form of Billy’s driving record, with several equipment violations and past driving discrepancies. This did not help, granted, but when the prosecutor used one of our very own slogans against us, you could literally hear our eyes roll in our jaded heads.
“Kill a Biker, go to jail.” was and still is a bumper sticker we’ve used for years, in attempts to get the general public to open their eyes to our headlights. Hearing it used in a court of law against one of our own was surreal, vicious, and just plain wrong.
We then got to hear from Morelock’s brother, Bryon, who wanted his brother’s memory to be reflected by a positive outcome to this whole event and music was to be his brothers legacy. When asked if Billy should do time, he balked. All he had to say was no. Then a nephew got up and spoke, saying the same thing, something positive should come out of this. Would this shaggy kid really be able to convey what was best for society at this point? It was pointed out that Billy had early on reached out to the Morelock family, as is his nature. He’s apologized over and over again, to this extended family, offering them any penance for his crime, silently bleeding inside every time he went past the accident spot. Would these people have been so eager to be heard if it was just some poor schmuck at the podium?
Billy has lived this nightmare of three years now. Don’t blame him for using “the system”. It is meant to be used for the people it serves. What else do these attorneys do all day? The Morelock family wanted to put together a musical legacy for Gerald. That’s fine, we all have memory of patches, and mine go back thirty five years. Just don’t invite me. I will spend my benefit money else where. They have received restitution to the tune of millions for a family member that we don’t even know how close a family they were. Why is that still not enough for them? The Morelock’s will be nothing more than a foot note in our nation’s history book, better yet; they will be omitted all together. Wasn’t Uncle Gerry was worth more to them dead than alive? Shame on anyone from “profiting” from the death of a loved one. New suits can’t hide these facts. How could they? How could they not?
Judge Berger listened expressionless. The state recommended 111 months, and as we all tried to get our math heads around it, that comes out to NINE years, the cap or maximum sentence for this case per Billy’s plea of no contest. We all knew Billy would have to do time, some amount of time served to keep the state appeased. No one on either side denies this. Nine years is a long time, life will never be the same for everyone concerned.
Next came Billy’s attorney and the litany of how Billy could better serve the public good by doing his time as a Public Service Announcement for road safety and how many demographics he can reach, and the teenagers he will reach, who won’t listen to him any way. After this day, I hope he never has to do another Public Service Announcement for anything ever again. He’s not the damn poster child for DUI vehicular manslaughter. The lifestyle we live and love reached up and slapped him down, hard, and YOU tell me you don’t ever drive with a buzz on. I say that’s bullshit. Now, the Duchess did say he could have had a number of people drive for him three years ago, eager for the crumbs that fell from his shining star, so maybe when he comes out without his license for life, you’ll step up and offer him a ride.
Unimpressed by the family members, professionals, teachers, friends in Hugh King places and numerous supporters, like the Iraq veteran, his FIT Engineer professor and a brief non-detailed explanation of “The Show” from one newcomer to Billy’s life, Berger took yet another recess. I approached Billy’s attorney, introduced myself and offered to help. Alternative sentencing was the term of the day. Had we not sought your help in writing his character references to the judge? Did the judge even read these? I told Billy earlier in the morning that HE needs to read them after this is all over. Let’s see if the attorneys can do that for him. We all held out hope for Billy’s fate. Rogue’s hearing aid failed just before the judge sentenced Billy. We should have seen that as a sign.
What happen to the new consciousness, a new dawn, a new way of thinking? Where was the “ There but for the grace of god go I…” statement? I did not hear Billy’s attorneys stress the fact that the JUDGE had the power to turn this horrid tale into a positive for all concerned. The emotion of conviction lacked in their voices, pleas were bland, not surprisingly, short. The defense focused on Billy’s celebrity, not his remorse.
Yes, someone died. People die, get used to it. Impact is the same whether its at 5O mph or the slow crushing blow of cancer. I have buried three friends in three weeks. It’s numbing, and my eyes well up at their memory. I will miss them. They aren’t coming back. I must live for them now, with gusto and a concerns for the LIVING!
Billy stepped up and spoke quietly. He said he was blessed. He was honored by the show of support in the courtroom. That’s when the entire room witnessed a good man take full responsibility for the hurt and pain he caused, to so many and while most people think of the Morelock family, I think of the Lane family. I know his parents, his brother Warren could not be more proud of him at that moment. He was genuine, selfless and deeply saddened by ALL his past actions. He thanked all of us for being there for him, said these were his true friends here. He might have said too much, he could have stopped there, as telling the judge that he had acceptance of the fate that was to follow still doesn’t sit well with me. Acceptance is the one of the toughest pills to swallow. We have the right to be mad as well as sad.
This judge was thinking about sending a message to the voters, not what was best for the families on both sides of the law. So when Judge Berger sentenced Billy to six years, three years probation after that, life suspension of his license, and all court costs, we were just devastated. Had this judge not heard a word the defense, and the rest of us, the people of the state of Florida, had to say? The judge followed the guidelines from the prosecutor, so much for thinking outside the box. There goes the Morelock concert deal.
When Billy turned around to extend his wrists for cold steel, the only person he looked at was his mom. It was the more reflective moment of that day. As the deputies handcuffed our friend, I knew this case was finally over. I spoke up, ok, so I shouted “We love you, Billy” to which his head snapped up slightly, he looked out at all of us now, and hope smiled upon us. When the others chanted it also, we love you Billy, we knew they couldn’t take that away from us.
That’s how we last saw him inside that courtroom. A sheriff asked the family to stay a moment, for what reason, I don’t know. But Billy was gone from us. His folks then got up to leave. The Morelock’s followed them out. They exchanged hugs, and while the Morelock’s spoke to the local press, the Lane family and friends did not. We were too stunned and upset.
Six years is a very long time. And unless you know what canteen means, what letters from the outside mean, what no privacy means, you need to refrain from running your mouth about prison. And you need to shut up about how you think he deserved more or less time for his crime. The case is over, there will be no appeal. There’s no money left. We have seen the most artistic, creative young talent of our modern motorcycle times incarcerated for something that could have happened to any one of us.
I’ll let you in on something very personal. Billy doesn’t even like me much. I guess he thinks, maybe, I could be wrong, that because of my “media” persona I must want something from him. We’ve gone toe to toe over miscommunications, all the while smiling for someone who had a damn video camera up in our faces. Imagine calling someone out through the side of your mouth? He got my point and while we’ve been cordial since that Smoke Out, he didn’t return any of my calls. So why on earth would I give a hoot about what happens to him?
William “Billy” Lane is the most important person in the world of custom motorcycles right now, and since he burst onto my scene back in ’99, I had met him and Warren at the Big Toy run in Lauderdale. He was riding Knuckle Sandwich, and walked the walk, not just talking the talk. At length, he spoke to the oldest amongst us with respect and he has proven to be a true visionary who has breathed new life into a yuppie fried world. He brought a youthful exuberance to the staleness that permeated the motorcycle arenas for more than a decade. He was generous with his time, when he could be, and while many of us wanted more of his time than he could give, why would we want to label him anything different than one of our own?
Right or wrong, he is my little brother. I love him like I love you. When my close friends ask me about this sentence, and they start in with their opinions, I tell them if they are not supportive, then please, I don’t want to hear it. There but for the grace go I, me, you?…Oh, that’s right, it DID happened to me twenty eight years ago. Different charges, same end result.
Since those long gone days, I have watched the lifestyle I love be devoured by the mainstream meaninglessness of a rampant, obsessive, greedy world. Movie stars and rock stars on Harleys, Gary Busey, OCC, all that does is make the rest of us feel less than. Now everybody wants to be us, or at least, the “fun” part of us. Prison, or down time. isn’t part of the fun, so they don’t stick around Accidents, death, ruptured lives, love of the sport no more. Too dangerous, they bemoan. Fickle bastards. Where’s the life worth living if you’re going to be afraid to leave the porch? Even Gerald Morelock knew that.
I ask you to pray and think about and for his family. They need your support, prayers, thoughts and kindness. Offer to help in some way. Any “way” is going to have to last five years, not just this month or next. Billy is a strong, resilient, faithful, capable man who can get through anything. Lest we be judged, we should all have his fortitude and grace in the face of a disaster.
I prefer to ride alone”. Catherine “Katmandu” Palmer