Gifted felons

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  September 12, 2007

"Stabbed in the back: Officials reward a prison hero by endangering his life." By Lance Tapley.
In an interview, Mark Cible described Gary Watland as “brilliant.” His computer prowess was especially impressive, Cible says.

Watland, 45, spent many years in Merced, California, a small Central Valley city where his parents still live. His mother, Beverly Watland, suggested in a telephone interview that her son’s intelligence set him up for trouble in life: “There are different levels of people, and when the really bright people can’t handle the people who aren’t, then they go off the handle.”

As Watland grew into adulthood, however, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and spent three periods in a mental-health institution to “get his medications clear,” she says. Still, he functioned in society, getting a community-college associate’s degree, marrying, and fathering a daughter, now 12. He worked at computer and telephone-repair jobs.

Watland’s second wife, Susan, had ties to Maine. The couple moved here in the summer of 2004. That fall, Watland shot and killed a drinking companion, Wayne Crowley, in Anson, after Crowley and Susan had scuffled.

“We couldn’t believe it,” his mother says of this homicide. “Gary is not the person to hurt anyone.”

“If he could have just stayed on the right medication,” she says. “But he was having trouble getting someone in Maine to give it to him.”

Because state officials would not let me interview Watland, I wrote him letters, offering the opportunity to tell his side of the events related in these articles.

For the most part, he declined, but in one reply he wrote: “I have an almost instinctual ability to thwart computer security measures, an insatiable curiosity, and a willingness to flout the law. Hence my current living situation.”

He describes himself as a genius and a member of MENSA, the high-IQ society. In a recent letter, he said: “I assure you I am quite sane.”

There are parallels in Watland’s and Cible’s lives. Until they pleaded guilty to murder, neither Watland nor Cible had been in trouble with the law. According to newspaper coverage of their cases, both expressed remorse. Cible, 36, whose family lives in southern Maine, also is a father — unmarried, with a daughter around the same age as Watland’s. Cible, too, shot and killed a drinking companion. The investigating state trooper told a newspaper both Cible and his victim had their judgment drowned by alcohol.

Cible, too, is bright. This was apparent when I interviewed him in the brick-and-concrete Trenton prison near the New Jersey State House. As I walked away from my two-hour session, the prison public-relations official who had listened in commented: “Just think what that guy could do on the outside.”

Cible had worked as a welder, but he has written three book manuscripts in prison, where he almost completed courses for an associate’s degree — with a perfect 4.0 average, he says. He tutored other prisoners. A white man, he spoke up against racial prejudice that guards expressed toward African-American inmates, in his NAACP role.

He was, however, hardly a model prisoner. He spent years in solitary confinement — a couple of such Supermax detentions, he says, because of nasty literary satires about corrections officials. He got small additional sentences tacked onto his time for harassment by mail of the mother of his victim. Cible claims he was warning her to stop harassing his family.

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Related: No alibi needed, The memory of looking, Taking from the poor, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Education, Crime,  More more >
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