So, there we were, quietly counting down the days until Merle Temple reported to the federal prison in Edgefield, S.C., to begin his eight-year sentence for wire fraud and conspiracy.
A federal judge had turned down his request for another delay in going to prison, a delay Temple sought to give him more time to tend to his wife who already faced tremendous health problems and recently suffered a debilitating stroke.
You should have thought of that sooner, the judge seemed to respond to Temple - like before you cheated on your wife with Linda Schrenko, and helped the former state school superintendent steal more than $600,000 in federal education funds.
With the jail entrance looming and the exit eight years away, Temple pulled another card out of his sleeve: He asked the president to pardon him.
The general response out here in the real world is: You gotta be kidding.
Temple has talked about using his time in prison to write his life story. If his letter to President Bush is any indication, that eventual autobiography will be filed under "Comedy."
The letter is very long, with a tone that alternates between begging for sympathy and voicing "yeah, but the other defendants were worse" indignation.
Temple blames the length of his sentence on unfair treatment by the court, perjury by Schrenko, and "a basic sense of injustice." He blames his role in the crimes on mental illness, and though his letter says he "accepts responsibility" for his actions, he is vague about what those actions were - except to describe them as "a tragedy that emerged from a political fight with people I viewed as the 'bad guys.'"
It's a defense right out of Curley Howard, of the Three Stooges: "I'm a victim of coicomstance!"
Temple asks that his sentence be reduced by five years, with credit for time served; that would give him just less than three more years behind bars. He offers six reasons for reducing the sentence, including credit for his "life of service," the court's "failure" to give him credit for pleading guilty and paying restitution, and the fact that his sentence is the same as the big-fish co-defendants.
Here's what Temple left out of his novella to the president: While he writes that he "played a role" in funneling the federal money to Schrenko's failed gubernatorial campaign, he neglects to mention the huge size of that role. He accuses Schrenko of "lying" on the witness stand after her guilty plea, but leaves out the fact that she went on the witness stand only after he violated the judge's order not to contact her.
And, of course, amid all the pleas for sympathy for his wife - who really is the most-wounded party in this sad, sick tale - he neglects to tell the president that he was cheating on her with the woman whose campaign he hoped to prop up with stolen education money.
At the start, Temple likely would have gotten a shorter sentence. He was in line to be an important witness in the case.
That was before he telephoned Schrenko during the trial in violation of a court order, leaving the indelible impression in comments she taped for prosecutors that he intended to be friendly to her in court.
He can talk about cooperation all he wants. When one defendant violates a court order to chat with another, the court reasonably will conclude the defendant is trying to manipulate the trial. Temple could have gotten about three years in jail, the length of time he now seeks; instead, he's facing eight years.
That term already is light. Temple never told the president that he could have received as much as 35 years; probation officials at sentencing recommended 13. The judge, leniently, gave him only eight.
If he thinks he's getting a better deal now, he isn't playing with a full deck.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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