The Law and John Henry !*@#ing Browne

He’s defended the Northwest’s most reviled killers and gained the cursed admiration of Ted Bundy and the begrudging respect of prosecutors. So what’s John Henry Browne doing for his next act?

By James Ross Gardner July 18, 2012 Published in the August 2012 issue of Seattle Met

Call it an ambush. A TV news crew corrals the attorney at Sea-Tac airport before he flies to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on March 18, 2012. But it’s hard to believe John Henry Browne hasn’t looked forward to it. See him toss his shoulder-length hair. See the scarf—long, white, druidlike—draped over his neck. See the towering 65-year-old lawyer look down at KIRO reporter Stacy Sakamoto through the angular eyeglass frames favored by architects. Hear him speak warmly, like a fond great uncle, of his latest client, Robert Bales, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier accused of a rampage in Afghanistan, in which he allegedly shot, stabbed, or burned 16 innocent villagers to death, mostly women and children.

Listen days later, as the lawyer tells CNN, “I can’t tell you what my client remembers…other than telling you that he has some memory problems about everything that happened that night.”

Then watch, over the next weeks and months, as the attorney, not the suspect, becomes the story. In a New York Times profile America learns that Browne, via the Bales case, will place the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on trial. A story in the Los Angeles Times hammers the same point. In April, The Seattle Times prints its third comprehensive John Henry Browne profile in as many decades. Like the other recent stories, the article scrolls through Browne’s past clients: serial killer Ted Bundy; Wah Mee Massacre culprit Benjamin Ng; Martin Pang, charged with setting a warehouse inferno that killed four Seattle firemen; Colton Harris Moore, the so-called Barefoot Bandit who led authorities on a two-and-half-year manhunt.

The coverage tackles Browne’s personal life, too, particularly his failed marriages. Consulting public records, media outlets calculate differing ex-wife counts. The Seattle Times figures he’s been married seven times. The New York Times says the nuptials “round up towards the double digits.” Browne is fine leaving everyone guessing.

Spot him, by chance, at a sandwich shop around the corner from his Pioneer Square office, and hear the murmur of patrons under the illusion that the man draining a Diet Coke and wearing sunglasses indoors is out of earshot: johnhenrybrowne…barefootbandit…alwaysonTV…marriedliketentimes…

Talk to local prosecutors who have tangled with him in the courtroom and learn that this circus may be a strategy. “When John is the focus, other things are not the focus, such as the evidence and the victims,” says former prosecutor Tim Bradshaw, now a King County Superior Court judge.

Daniel Satterberg, the King County Prosecutor, who’s had to reckon with Browne since they faced off in a 1987 murder trial, adds: “He’s a very complicated character.... He can be thoughtful and witty, and then, when you’re in trial with him, he can be a jerk.”

And that’s an elected official’s circumspect take. Throw Browne into the maw of anonymous public opinion, as local Fox affiliate Q13 does on its website, and the teeth really show. In May, Browne sits down with the station’s C. R. Douglas. The lawyer, sheathed in a white suit, regales Douglas with revelations about Ted Bundy, namely that in 1979 the mass murderer admitted to him—and him only—that he had killed some 100 people, at least 60 victims more than previously believed. On Q13’s site a viewer sums up the sentiment found in comments sections all over the Internet: “So this SOB arrogant lawyer knew all this and still defended Bundy…. I really don’t like this puke.”


Ted Bundy 1975

Right here, on this road in a Salt Lake City suburb, a nightmare is finally given a name. The horror began a year and a half before, maybe more. Certainly more, if we’re going to be honest. Human evil is ancient. But since at least February 1974, dozens of women have vanished, seemingly right in front of people’s eyes, in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah. The abductor is a phantom—or a chameleon whose appearance shifts every time witnesses look at him. The victims are found, if they’re found, nude, bludgeoned, and strangled, or as part of a collection of severed heads.

Now, on August 16, 1975, around 3am, a Utah highway patrolman sees the apparition flit by in a tan VW bug. An unrelated call squawks on the police radio and the patrolman points his car in the relevant direction. But something flashes in his mind, something he can’t explain—something that, when he speaks about it 25 years later, he will attribute to the power of “the Lord.” Somehow he takes a wrong turn and again comes upon the bug, now parked in front of a home where two teenage girls sleep. Bathed in the patrolman’s headlights, the VW darts away, rounds a few corners, and stops at an abandoned gas station.

When the driver—long hair, black turtleneck—can’t cough up an adequate explanation for his predawn ride, the patrolman searches the car. He finds a ski mask, two pairs of handcuffs, a crowbar, and an ice pick, and he detains the man on suspicion of burglary.

Utah detectives soon connect the suspect, Theodore R. Bundy, to a recent kidnapping attempt and a missing persons investigation. Then, over the next few months, as word in law enforcement circles spreads, more connections: Hadn’t witnesses in the Washington state murders seen someone matching his description shortly before victims disappeared?

But the suspect has powerful friends in Seattle, where he had been a Republican Party operative. One friend, a man who will later become an appellate judge in the Evergreen State, tells the suspect not to worry, he knows just the lawyer to represent him—a 29-year-old former assistant attorney general and public defender. Be careful though, the friend reportedly tells the suspect, whose very name will become shorthand for violence and depravity. This lawyer, he has lost someone, a girlfriend. She was murdered when they were both just 23. So he might be sensitive.

But yeah, go ahead and contact him. Contact John Henry Browne.


Inmate John Browne 1972

On a cloudless Sunday afternoon in July the gates creaked open at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. The prisoner was six feet, six inches tall. A mustache arced across his square face; dark hair spilled halfway down his back. Hands and feet shackled, he shuffled from the van and into the reception unit. A guard eyed the paperwork and read his offense: child molestation.

Pure fiction—and only the prisoner, two fellow inmates, and the warden knew the truth.

John Browne was just a few months into his job as an assistant attorney general for the State of Washington, and this was his idea. The state hired the 25-year-old to help reform its prisons. Insisting that he experience the penitentiary the way the inmates do, Browne arrived under the guise of a convicted pedophile. His boss, Donald Horowitz, also posed as a prisoner, as did an official with the state parole board.

In an intake room the three men stripped naked. The guards sprayed them with white delousing powder. “And you have to spread yourself open,” says Browne, so that the guards can perform a full-body cavity search. Ushered to his maximum-security cell, Browne filled his nostrils with a familiar odor, an acerbic mix of Lysol, human sweat, and burnt coffee.

Browne had been incarcerated before. Five years earlier, in 1967, police nabbed the Denver University student for writing a bad check. It was a mistake, Browne says. He had recently closed the checking account in question and opened a new one, accidently writing a $12 check from the wrong account. But he doubts the arrest was really about checks anyway.

Browne was a philosophy major from New Mexico and Palo Alto, California, and a bass player in the band Crystal Palace Guard. As harbingers of the hippie movement in the Mile High City—they opened for the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead—the band was hounded by the Denver narcotics squad, particularly one Detective Love, who once approached Browne in a city park to say, “I’m not questioning your being here, I’m just questioning your total existence.”

Cris Williamson, the lead singer of Crystal Palace Guard, says that Browne cut a conspicuous figure. “He’s very tall, and he was even more imposing because he would wear a top hat. It was his signature piece,” she recalls. “And he had that big black mustache.” Not that Love didn’t have reason to be suspicious. When Jimi Hendrix performed in Denver, Browne says he and his roommate helped the guitarist find heroin in Larimer Square.

While jailed in Denver for the weekend for the bad check, Browne befriended his fellow detainees. “They were all, almost all, black or Hispanic. And many of them had been there for weeks and months and didn’t know why they were there. I realized that these people were completely getting taken advantage of by the system.”

Browne quit the band and applied to law schools. Back home in the San Francisco Bay Area he dated Deborah Beeler, the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania industrialist. A Smith College graduate, Deborah was about to start grad school at UC Berkeley. “She was an angel,” Browne says, “and so smart”—and as passionate about prisoners’ rights as Browne; she worked in a halfway house, he says, and hung out in Haight-Ashbury.

In the fall of 1969, Browne left Beeler to her studies at Berkeley and entered American University’s law school in Washington, DC. To help pay the bills he worked as a page at ABC News. “I met everybody in the White House at the time—except for Nixon.” Browne’s job was to escort studio guests into the greenroom, prep them for interviews, and make cocktails. “I was going to put acid in Spiro Agnew’s drink because I hated Spiro Agnew. He had just called us”—meaning Browne and his fellow hippies—“ ‘a bunch of effete snobs’ during the war demonstrations.” He talked himself out of dosing the vice president with LSD at the last minute. “I’d get caught.”

In February 1970, Browne received a 2am phone call from California. His father. The two had long clashed over Browne’s career goals. Harry, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and taught at Stanford, thought his son should set his sights higher than criminal law, which he believed would lead to a hard life.

But that’s not why Harry called. Deborah Beeler was dead. Police found the 23-year-old in the cottage she rented in Berkeley, lying face down in the living room in her nightgown and robe. Someone had strangled her with a lamp cord. The cops had no leads.

Browne dove into a deep depression. “It really sent me through a loop. I withdrew a lot. I think I was really clinically depressed but didn’t know it.” He had always been against the death penalty, but if the police ever caught Deborah’s killer, he wanted that person to die. This newfound anger, and pivot in his politics, nagged at Browne as he tried to stay focused on prison reform, both in law school and later during a fellowship at a firm in Chicago. 

Washington State, meanwhile, was wrestling with its own reforms.

Attorney General Slade Gorton had drafted Donald Horowitz, a prominent Seattle lawyer, to, among other things, help rewrite the rules of incarceration. “There was no real due process as to when a prisoner got sent to the hole, for example,” recalls Horowitz. “It was all up to the warden or the guards’ discretion.”

As he was building his team Horowitz came across a resume that grabbed his attention. “The name was John H. Browne, and I suspected the H was an initial for Henry.” Horowitz took it to be a tribute to John Henry, the folk hero, which along with the Chicago address led him to think Browne was African American. “We were really striving for more diversity in the attorney general’s office,” Horowitz admits. Browne’s credentials impressed him, “but I called him because I thought he was black.”

On the phone, Horowitz was blunt. What does the H stand for? “Henry,” Browne answered. “And no, I’m not black. But I’ve got the right attitude,” a reference to his years of civil rights activism in Denver and DC.

“Later I asked him, Why not go by John Henry Browne?” Horowitz explains. “From then on he went by all three names.”

While posing as a child molester in Shelton in July 1972, Browne got a taste of how dysfunctional the state’s prison rules were. Sitting in his maximum-security cell, the assistant attorney general needed to use the toilet. “It’s a stainless steel thing that’s a combination toilet and drinking fountain…and there’s a single lightbulb hanging down on a wire, and it’s all exposed to the catwalk outside the cell.” He was tall enough to reach the bulb. “So I unscrewed it so it would be dark while I was going to the bathroom.” A guard noticed and slapped Browne with an infraction, one that, were the attorney in prison for the long haul, could’ve resulted in solitary confinement for any duration prison officials deemed appropriate.

Arbitrarily administered punishments like that were among the first indignities Browne addressed when he returned to his office in Olympia. But there were more, albeit less stealthy, prison visits. “The wardens and guards hated me,” Browne recalls. Bobby Rhay, the warden at Walla Walla—a national hero after he shot a would-be escapee in 1959—took to calling the long-haired attorney a choice name: “This was before email, obviously, and on prison stationery he’d type letters literally addressing me as John Henry Fucking Browne.”

The two men grew to respect each other and collaborate on programs that emphasized rehabilitation over punishment, some of which are in use today. “But he still called me John Henry Fucking Browne.”


Ted Bundy 1979

The attorney couldn’t believe what the cop on the other end of the line was asking. It was winter, 1976, and Browne, now 29, had left his job with the attorney general and moved from Olympia to Seattle for a position with the King County public defender’s office and was steadily making a name for himself in the city when a friend, another lawyer, said a buddy needed help. Browne didn’t hesitate. He’d seen the media coverage the prior October, when detectives announced connections between Ted Bundy and a spate of local murders. “I was just really offended by the way it was handled—the lack of evidence and all the innuendo,” Browne told a Seattle Times reporter. “My interest as a criminal lawyer was really kindled.”

Bundy, out on bail for a kidnapping charge in Salt Lake City, was headed back to Seattle, where he hadn’t been charged with a crime but where detectives waited. That’s when someone from the task force called Browne. “In a case of this magnitude,” the officer said, “the attorney-client privilege should not apply.” He wanted Browne to help the investigation.

“What, are you fucking kidding me?” Browne told the cop. “You’ve got the wrong lawyer here.”

Browne stuck with his client long after it became clear he wouldn’t stand trial for the local homicides. (Authorities in Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado agreed that the best evidence against Bundy was in Colorado and so, in April 1977, they shipped him to a county jail in that state.) And when Bundy escaped via a courthouse law library window and was caught six days later, John Henry Browne was the first or second person he called. Browne took the next flight to Aspen to be at his side. 

The men were the same age and both studied law. And both, due to a combination of good looks and charisma, held sway with women. In her 1980 book about Ted Bundy, true-crime writer Ann Rule suggested that Bundy looked up to Browne, that “the men that Ted was drawn to were all men of power, either through their accomplishments, their intellect, or the easy mantle of masculinity.”

When Browne arrived in Aspen, the two law buffs talked in a jail cell. “Where would a person go to really get the death penalty these days?” Bundy asked.

“Florida or Texas.”

Months later, Bundy escaped once more, zigzagged across the country, and landed in one of the two places Browne warned against. In Florida he killed again—two sorority women and a 12-year-old girl—and was promptly apprehended.

In 1979, Browne stopped by Bundy’s Dade County jail cell for a visit. Bundy had recently squandered an opportunity to spare his own life when he rejected a plea bargain. He faced the death penalty for the Florida murders, would be found guilty, and, 10 years later, would die in an electric chair.

Browne found his client on the ground, crying. “I’d never seen him cry before,” he says. “He was crying for himself, basically. But it was more than that.”

Browne took a seat on the bed and called down to the mass murderer weeping on the cement floor, “What’s going on?”

“John, I want to be a good person. I’m just not.”

Then it all tumbled out. Bundy told Browne he’d committed at least a hundred murders, including the slaying of a man. He would later give Browne written permission to disclose this information upon his death (which Browne only began to disclose in interviews in 2012).

There was more. Bundy said that back in 1975, before he contacted Browne as a public defender, he learned as much as he could about him. From their mutual friends he discovered where Browne had gone to school, what kind of car he drove. And, he said he knew about Browne’s murdered girlfriend.

He knew about Debbie? The revelation barely sunk in at the time, but would haunt the attorney decades later.


Benjamin Ng 1983

Anne Bremner, a 25-year-old law school graduate, was an assistant to the bailiff—mostly keeping track of jurors—during the trial of Benjamin Ng. Prosecutors said that on February 19, 1983, Ng and two accomplices entered the Wah Mee Club, an illegal gambling operation in Chinatown, and robbed and shot 14 people, killing 13.

Ng’s attorney captivated Bremner. “He had an amazing way with the jury,” she recalls. “He had absolute conviction in his cause. He reminded me of a Shakespearean actor.”

It wasn’t just that John Henry Browne, by this time in private practice, was tall, handsome, and sported the black mustache of a villain in a tragedy. It was in the way he spoke. “He adds dramatic pauses,” explains John Carver, now a King County prosecutor who, in the early 1990s, prosecuted a federal bribery case against one of Browne’s clients. “Even me, on the other side, he can get me on the edge of my seat, waiting for what he says next.”

The same John Henry Browne who paraded around Denver in a top hat, who paid the bills by hobnobbing in an ABC greenroom in the nation’s capitol, and who posed as a child molester in a maximum-security prison, had melded his passion for justice with his flair for theatrics—complete with props. Though he was the wealthiest he’d been in his life, during the Ng trial he wore a $13 Timex watch. He instructed the defendant’s mother to bow to the jury. 

Charged with dozens of crimes committed during a two-year spree, Colton Harris-Moore (left) faced some 20 years in prison. With Browne’s help, his sentence was seven and a half years.

The jurors nonetheless found Ng guilty, as Browne and his team expected, but the penalty phase surprised everyone. “He had a case where the facts would suggest Benjamin Ng was probably the mastermind,” Bremner recalls, “and it was a death penalty case, and Willie Mak”—Ng’s accomplice, who had a different defense team—“got death, but Benjamin Ng got life.” Browne only needed one juror to vote to spare Ng’s life. His persuasive powers won him five.

Browne, 37, was flying high. Ng was just the latest in a series of headline grabbing wins: the acquittal of a former Seattle -Seahawk charged with two rapes; successfully arguing to the state supreme court to release not one, but two battered women serving life sentences for killing their husbands. An office in the Smith Tower. Profiles in the local papers, his name in national magazines. Divorce records from around the same time reveal he had a monthly income of $10,000 ($23,000 a month by 2012 standards). He owned four cars. Dated models. Indulged in the best recreational drugs 1980s Seattle offered.

He never touched alcohol or drugs while working on a case, but once a trial was over, he and his friends binged. One night, while celebrating a victory in his office with a few other lawyers, Browne, in a sleek Ralph Lauren suit, decided what the party needed was more cocaine. At 2am, he dialed his dealer. 

No answer. So Browne descended 16 floors, folded himself into the driver’s seat of his black Mercedes, and steered toward his dealer’s apartment. “It’s raining, it’s really shitty out,” he recalls, “and I’ve got this beautiful suit on, and I drive to this really seedy area of North Seattle and I park in an alley.”

He kept the car running and the headlights on and used the front bumper as a step over the fence
between the alley and apartment. He vaulted over and—damn—caught a pant leg on a nail, and fell headlong and face down into a pool of rainwater. What’s that smell? “Cat shit.”

He looked back at the headlights of the Mercedes through the fence. “There is something wrong with this picture,” he thought. “You’re in the national news, you just saved some guy’s life, and here you are lying in a pool of cat shit.’”


Martin Pang 1995

Browne cleaned himself up. Not right away, but little by little, he begged off the coke, the weed, the heavy drinking. He discovered New Age spirituality in Death Valley. 

He kept notching wins. And frustrating prosecutors. Tim Bradshaw, who spent a decade fighting him in the courtroom, reflects, “Ironically, I think John’s a good prosecutor. Part of his defense is prosecuting. He prosecutes the government. Is this government going to meet its burden of proof?”

Take the 1995 Martin Pang arson case. Browne’s client was accused of setting ablaze his parents’ warehouse in the International District, presumably to collect the insurance money. Four of the Seattle firemen who rushed in didn’t come out alive. Pang fled to Brazil. And Browne argued before the Brazilian Supreme Court to fight the terms of his client’s extradition. 

The defense attorney won the argument. The only way authorities in King County were able to get their hooks into Pang was to drop the capital murder charge—Brazil has no death penalty and won’t hand over prisoners to foreign executioners—and charge Pang with arson and manslaughter.

Anne Bremner, by then working in the prosecutor’s office, remembers, “I thought it was brilliant because everybody wanted to say Martin Pang should have stood trial for felony murder, but in fact, legally under the doctrine in extradition law, he couldn’t.”

Bremner, who became a regular on cable news shows, representing her own stable of high-profile clients, including Amanda Knox, had gotten to know Browne in the 12 years since they worked the Benjamin Ng trial. They dated. And in 1999, they married (his fifth marriage, her first and last). It was fun while it lasted—a year and a half. “We rode the ferry together in the mornings from Bainbridge, and he would go, ‘Boring newspaper today. You’re not in it. I’m not in it.’ He is funny. I mean, John’s really funny.”


Robert Bales 2012

Both friends and adversaries of Browne believe that the case of the staff sergeant accused of killing 16 innocent Afghan villagers is the biggest of the attorney’s career. But they’re split on whether he will prevail. 

“If anyone can win this case, it’s John Henry,” says Don Horowitz, Browne’s old boss at the attorney general’s office, now a retired judge. In March, Anne Bremner penned a column for the site Women in Crime titled “Most Everything I Know About Trying High-Profile Cases I’ve Learned From My Ex-Husband, John Henry Browne.” She wrote: “He has waited all his life for this case. He is made for this case. He will put the war on trial and he will win.” 

The case comes on the heels of one of Browne’s greatest feats yet. Colton Harris--Moore, the teenager christened the Barefoot Bandit for the bold—often shoeless—burglaries he committed through-
out the region, had finally been caught in the Bahamas after a two-and-a-half-year manhunt. He faced at least 20 years in prison. “I didn’t think anybody could consolidate 65 to 70 crimes in six different states, two different countries, and then all those counties in Washington state,” Browne says. “But we tried and we did.” Harris-Moore, who is 21 now, will likely be out of prison when he’s 25.

But Daniel Satterberg, the King County Prosecutor, points out the vast differences between the Bales case and cases like that of Harris-Moore and others. For one, Bales will be tried by the military. “I question whether his style will go over well with a military board. The flair for the dramatic can work in a civilian courtroom with the right jurors, but I don’t know if it will work in a military courtroom.”

“If he has any weakness,” adds prosecutor John Carver, “it’s that he will let the more stagey, melodramatic approach dominate,’s almost a detriment to his intellectual skills. I think that can work against his best interests.”

There’s also the question of whether he’ll stick with the case long enough to join Bales in the courtroom. Browne, who represented Harris-Moore for $1, says he’s teetering on bankruptcy. “I can’t do this one”—the Bales case—“for free.” A legal fund has been set up to cover Bales’s legal costs, but there’s no certainty that it will raise enough to keep Browne on board.

For now, the defense hams it up in the media. In addition to his many recent media interviews, Browne has put Staff Sergeant Bales’s wife in front of American TV audiences. Karilyn Bales has appeared on CBS This Morning and the Today show, among other broadcasts. 

The strategy: Humanize the suspect and blame the Army. Bales did four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered a head injury. His attorney says he suffers from PTSD and should have never been on the battlefield during that fateful night in March. “If he did it, and I’m only saying if, then we created him,” Browne says. “It’s our fault.” 


The Defense June 21, 2012

Now see the attorney away from the cameras. See him walk through Pioneer Square, a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, a Camel cigarette between his fingers. Hear him talk about a story the Los Angeles Times published in 1992, about a 17-year-old boy who spent a hellish night raped at knifepoint by a man in an apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. To escape, the boy beat the man to death with a hammer. Browne represented the kid, arrested for murder, and got the charges dropped within four months. The article is as much about the lawyer as it is about the kid, and Browne is portrayed as a hero. Despite that he focuses on a single sentence: “Browne may be overstating his case, as defense attorneys are wont to do.”

Twenty years later and Browne remembers the line verbatim. He recites it and a wince spreads across his face. He seems genuinely hurt. “I hate when people say that about defense attorneys.” 

The thing is, John Henry Browne is an incredibly and instantly likable man—something even his sharpest critics concede—and whether Browne knows it or not, it is in part because of these vulnerable moments.

A few minutes later, at a diner for lunch, he explains one of the prison reforms he helped put in place, the right for Native American inmates to perform sweat-lodge ceremonies. “It was in the paper again lately,” he says, then backs off with a shrug and looks from side to side, as if to say, Not that I’m paying attention

Earlier, in his office, he explained the memoir he's written. The book will reveal, among other things, what Ted Bundy told Browne in that Florida jail cell in 1979. He says both Simon and Schuster and St. Martin’s Press have shown interest. When the memoir comes out, Ted Bundy “will be known as the most prolific killer, mass murderer in history.”

A producer at 60 Minutes recently contacted Browne about the possibility of running a segment this fall. “They don’t want to focus on Bundy, and I don’t want to focus on Bundy.” That’s hard to believe. The most notorious murderer ever and one of America’s best defense attorneys—what producer could resist?

And what about Bundy’s knowledge of Deborah Beeler? Browne’s convinced that Bundy only knew about his murdered girlfriend through their mutual lawyer friend. “I’m sure he’s not involved with Debbie’s death. But she did fit the profile of the women he killed.” Pretty, brunette, in her early 20s. She was strangled and police found evidence that she had been clubbed on the head—Bundy’s MO to a tee, except that there were no signs that she’d been sexually violated. What’s more, in the early 1970s Bundy frequently traveled to the Bay Area, where he briefly attended Stanford and visited an ex-girlfriend.

Deborah Beeler’s murder is significant to Browne for a different reason. “That’s when I started believing in the death penalty for the first time in my life. And then I had this one incredible dream. She came to me in the dream and said, ‘Don’t honor me by believing in things I would never believe in.’”

After that, he reverted back to his previous, anti–death penalty stance and intensified his dedication to making sure the justice system works for everyone, including those considered monsters by society.

At the diner Browne nurses a Diet Coke and expertly cuts a veggie burger in half with a butter knife. He talks about the old days, about the smell of prisons, about the borderland he has floated in for the past four decades, between the law and its greatest offenders, about the life and times of John Henry Fucking Browne.

When the check comes, his lunch companion hands over a Visa card. “Can I see your ID?” the waitress asks. It’s a formality, the restaurant’s rule for every credit card payment.

Browne feigns offense. A joke, but there’s more to it than that. A hurt look rearranges his face, causing his glasses to go crooked, the same expression he had when talking about the Los Angeles Times article that accused him of overstatements 20 years ago, the same look, one presumes, he gets whenever someone calls him a puke for defending the bad guys.

“I wouldn’t bring anyone in here that you can’t trust,” he tells the waitress. “You know that.”