Behind "the Twinkie Defense" - Page 2

The reporter who coined the infamous phrase in the Guardian looks back at the White trial
|
()
Defenseless

One even testified that, "If not for the aggravating fact of junk food, the homicides might not have taken place."

* * *

The Twinkie was invented in 1930 by James Dewar, who described it as "the best darn-tootin' idea I ever had." He got the idea of injecting little cakes with sugary cream-like filling and came up with the name while on a business trip, where he saw a billboard for Twinkle Toe Shoes. "I shortened it to make it a little zippier for the kids," he said.

In the wake of the Twinkie defense, a representative of the ITT-owned Continental Baking Company asserted that the notion that overdosing on the cream-filled goodies could lead to murderous behavior was "poppycock" and "crap" -- apparently two of the artificial ingredients in Twinkies, along with sodium pyrophosphate and yellow dye -- while another spokesperson for ITT couldn't believe "that a rational jury paid serious attention to that issue."

Nevertheless, some jurors did. One remarked after the trial that "It sounded like Dan White had hypoglycemia."

Doug Schmidt's closing argument became almost an apologetic parody of his own defense. He told the jury that White did not have to be "slobbering at the mouth" to be subject to diminished capacity. Nor, he said, was this simply a case of "Eat a Twinkie and go crazy."

When Superior Court Judge Walter Calcagno presented the jury with his instructions, he assured them access to the evidence, except that they would not be allowed to have possession of White's .38 special and his ammunition at the same time. After all, these deliberations can get pretty heated. The judge was acting like a concerned schoolteacher offering Twinkies to students but witholding the cream-fillng to avoid any possible mess.

Each juror originally had to swear devotion to the criminal justice system. It was that very system that had allowed for a shrewd defense attorney's transmutation of a double political execution into the mere White Sugar Murders. On the walls of the city, graffiti cautioned, "Eat a Twinkie -- Kill a Cop!"

* * *

On the 50th anniversary of the Twinkie, inventor Dewar said, "Some people say Twinkies are the quintessential junk food, but I believe in the things. I fed them to my four kids, and they feed them to my 15 grandchildren. Twinkies never hurt them." A year later, the world's largest Twinkie was unveiled in Boston. It was 10 feet long, 3 feet 6 inches high, 3 feet 8 inches wide, and weighed more than a ton.

In January 1984, Dan White was released from prison. He had served a little more than five years. The estimated shelf life of a Twinkie was seven years. That's two years longer than White spent behind bars. When he was released, that Twinkie in his cupboard was still edible. But perhaps, instead of eating it, he would have it bronzed.

In October 1985, he committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage. He taped a note to the windshield of his car, reading, "I'm sorry for all the pain and trouble I've caused."

I accepted his apology. I had gotten caught in the post-verdict riot and was beaten by a couple of cops. My gait was affected, and ultimately, as a result I now walk with a cane. At the airport, I have to put the cane on the conveyor belt along with my overnight bag and my shoes, but then I'm handed another cane to go through the metal detector. You just never know what could be hidden inside a cane.

Paul Krassner is the author of Who's to Say What's Obscene: Politics, Culture and Comedy in America Today, to be published by City Lights Books in July 2009.


Click here
to read Krassner's original coverage of the Dan White Trial from the Guardian in 1979.

>>Back to the Milk Issue

Also from this author

  • LSD as gateway drug

    When I told my mother about taking LSD, she was quite concerned