By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – So I interviewed convicted triple murderer John Allen Booth Jr. at the jail on Friday.
A personable enough guy, notwithstanding the fact he’d just been found guilty several hours earlier of shooting four people in the head, including a 16-year-old boy.
Of course, I suspect he was friendly towards me, given that he’s been locked alone in a jail cell for 16 months. Plus, I’m not somebody who chased him down, locked him up or got in his way when he was trying to collect drug money.
Charming is probably an overstatement, however, I’m guessing there are people who would use that description.
I thought it would be good to hear from the 32-year-old former Onalaska man directly, given two weeks of a trial where others were in charge of painting the picture of who he is and then his own testimony that left me – and I’m sure others – with several questions.
So what in the heck did that mean, after the jury announced its verdict Thursday, and you say, “And vote for Barack Obama”? I asked.
He laughed. He tends to say things just to get a reaction, he said.
“It was pretty much that, or tell ’em all to fuck off,” he said. “It didn’t mean nothing.”
This was no comprehensive interview.
I’d hoped to meet with Booth in the afternoon, after his sentencing was over and all that would be left was for him to pack up and get ready to go to prison for the rest of his life.
However, for whatever reason, my visit got arranged for early in the morning, before his 10 o’clock appearance in Lewis County Superior Court to be sentenced.
Really only enough time to ask a few questions, try to at least learn a couple of basic facts and make our acquaintance for perhaps another interview in the future.
So I asked, how do you suppose John Lindberg got out of that house alive; hiding in the bathroom while – as prosecutors described – everyone else was shot to get rid of witnesses?
“I don’t think that’s what was going on,” Booth began.
But he stopped before sharing his theory. He’d already testified he was not there.
“I’m gonna appeal, this is gonna have a new trial within the next five years,” he said. “That’s a guarantee, so I’m not gonna say too much.”
Ineffective assistance of counsel will be the main issue, he said.
“My lawyer was almost incompetent,” he said. “I mean, I like the guy, he’s a great guy.”
But Roger Hunko can’t put two sentences together, he said.
He offered this: Lindberg lied about what he said he saw, Linn Perry’s testimony didn’t match with what he said in police interviews, Denise Salts isn’t all there, she was shot in the head after all, he said.
Our visit in the Lewis County Jail lasted only about an hour, I mostly listened. Had to listen hard because we were separated by a glass partition.
The 6-foot 3-inch inmate sat on a ledge on the other side, handcuffed with his ankles shackled.
“That extortion case was bullshit, that’s not how I work,” he said. “Am I a big dude? Yes I am. But I never threaten anybody, I make them invite me to their homes.”
Booth described his “style” is more like sitting down and talking, giving people options.
“I don’t threaten people,” he said again. “Cause I know that I’m a three-striker. If I go to someone’s house and start slapping them around and taking their shit, I’m never getting out of prison.”
“Do I collect money? Yes I do,” he said. That’s business. My muscle’s my hustle.
“I got a thousand one liners.” He smiled.
It’s something he’s done his whole life, he said. When he was young, he used to punch people in the mouth, but as he got older he found didn’t need to do it that way, he said.
Born in Centralia, by age 13 he was out there, running amok, a young gang member, he said.
“I don’t have regular contact with family members,” he said. “I’m from the streets, we kind create out own family.”
He’s not sure where his parents are, he said. His mother, Paula Wilson, came to see him one time, he said. His father has spent time in prison, and for all he knows, may be dead, he said.
Booth said he has one older brother who might live in Rainier, Ore.
Booth bounced around between his parents, and lived in a lot of places, like Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Federal Way, even southern California, he said. And was locked up in juvenile a lot, he said.
Said he became a member of the Crips gang before age 13. In the early 1990s, remember that gang-banging “was at it’s fullest,” he said.
At age 16, he moved back to Onalaska, to what was his grandmother’s house on Middle Fork Road, he said.
“I was an athlete, so I always figured I’d be a pro boxer,” he said. “But then, once I got locked up all the time, I couldn’t get nobody to sponsor me. So it was all bad.”
By the time he was 31 years old, he’d been in prison three times. He got out in December 2009, after serving five and a half years for hitting a man in the head with a crowbar at a Saturday night dance in downtown Centralia.
He lived in the Tacoma area, and had 18 months of community supervision from the state Department of Corrections.
“When I was out there right now, I had a 9 to 5 job. I’m on parole, I had to have a job,” Booth said.
He was happy at the upholstery foam making business where he worked, he said. It was a good company.
But was also was a personal trainer, teaching people how to work out and to fight.
“I pretty much had it going on, I thought,” Booth said.
But as part of a gang, he pretty much had to sell drugs, he said.
So what about Robbie Russell, I asked, and the theory Russell had you extorting money from David West Sr., thinking West Sr. should owe him the money from his bail from the June 2009 incident when the two of them of in trouble attacking, threatening a group of teenagers in Winlock? (West Sr., who along with his teenage son D.J. and a friend Tony Williams were fatally shot inside the West’s Salkum-area home, made a plea deal and was a witness against Russell in an upcoming trial.)
“Basically what they say, I’m a goon for Robbie Russell … I don’t work for nobody ya know,” Booth said. “If you’re a friend of mine, I’m extremely loyal, I’m coming through for you no matter what.”
There were so many things going on that never came out, Booth said.
West Sr. was going to prison, he said.
“He owed me some money, he needed to pay that money, he was paying that money,” he said. “It was not a big deal.”
Booth’s red and white striped prison garb literally hangs on his lanky frame.
It wasn’t that way in August 25, 2010 when he was arrested some four days after the shootings. Then, he said he was 220 pounds but in jail he’s dropped 50 pounds – of muscle – he said.
No it’s not nerves or anything like that, he said.
They don’t feed him enough, he said. He’s allergic to pork, so instead he gets noodles, he said.
He’s only let out of his cell once every three days, and so he spends his time reading a lot, doing crosswords and push ups, he said.
And he slept fine the night before, he said. That was after the jury convicted him on every count, and knowing he would be going upstairs to a courtroom in less than an hour where he would be told the mandatory sentence was life with no possibility of release.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’ve known this was coming since the day I got arrested.”
He decided to turn himself in – before he was captured without incident in Spokane – to help out his friend, former cell mate, Ryan McCarthy, he said.
Only, Booth calls him by his nickname White Folks.
He compared it to Darcas Allen getting 490 (420) years for being a getaway driver for Maurice Clemmons who fatally shot four police officers in Lakewood and then was shot dead by an officer.
“On White Folks, they’d a hung him if they couldn’t get me,” he said.
I’m glad he’s going to see daylight again, so, whatever, Booth said.
Booth asked if I’d seen the toxicology reports.
“Everybody there was higher than a kite, with the exception of me,” he said. “I don’t do drugs. At all.”
“When you get all them tweekers, with guns and stuff, they’re unpredictable,” he said. “So am I surprised that that happened to ’em? Not a bit.”
Is it relevant? he asked. Kinda, he answered himself.
“Don’t’ get me wrong in this whole situation, you know what I’m saying. I feel for people’s losses,” he said.
He understands they lost loved ones and are lashing out, but he wasn’t there, he explained.
“The only thing I’m devastated about is I’m never getting out of prison,” Booth said. “And that actually hurts a little bit sometimes.”
“Hey, how come you didn’t report on me spitting in Dusty Breen’s and Dan Riordan’s faces?” Booth asked, referring to two Lewis County detectives.
I didn’t know, I told him.
It was coming back from court, a month or two ago, and he’d told Riordan to stop sitting behind him, he said. “And, I always do what I say, that’s me, no matter what,” Booth said.
He’d been sitting there for a reason, Booth said, and if anybody knows why I did it, he does.
Do you know what you’re going to say, when you get to speak at sentencing? I asked. Yeah, wanna know what I’m gonna say? he said.
“I can wait,” I answered.
Time was running out. Several times I said I had to leave, but I kept having just one more question.
“Hey, here’s my quote for the day,” Booth said. “Everyone out there that hates Big Six, to all of them fuck you.”
There’s more to the case than came in court, he said.
Like he has evidence he was in Rochester at about 2:18 that morning, Booth said.
“I was in Rochester when all this stuff went down,” he said. “They pinged me on my cell phone … which would be 40 something miles from Wings Way,” he said.
I had a bad jury, Booth said.
“Like I said, I’ll have a new trial in the next five years,” Booth said. “If anyone thinks they’ve seen the last of me, they’re sadly mistaken.
“I’ve never lost an appeal and I always come back. And in a case like this, you can’t help but to win.”