By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
For David Hoffman--a man of many names, a deranged drifter who claimed to be heir to a fortune--the Denver County Jail proved to be the last stop on a long, violent trip. For months he had rocketed across the West, fueled by cocaine and booze and an equally ferocious jones for guns and danger. Unable to face the prospect of hard time, he committed suicide in his cell only hours before he was due in court to accept a plea bargain that would have netted him fifteen years in prison.
For Scott Baxendale, getting arrested was the best thing that ever happened to him. A once-successful businessman and talented guitar-maker, Baxendale had seen everything he ever cherished burn up in a crack pipe. He was offered a precious last chance and he took it, copping a plea that sent him to a halfway house rather than to Canon City. Six years later, he's reclaimed his family, his life and his art.
For Kevin Rutherford, his night out with Baxendale and Hoffman brought him to that eerie crossroads where The Twilight Zone meets film noir, where the patsy always takes the fall. Rutherford was unarmed and has always maintained that he didn't rob anyone; indeed, he claimed to be as unwilling a participant as the people who were robbed. He rejected a generous plea offer and went to trial, insisting on his innocence. Despite contradictory testimony by his principal accusers, nobody believed him. The judge gave him a total of ninety years--thirty for the robbery of the Hispanic men, sixty for the second break-in, to be served concurrently. Although the sentence was later reduced to eighteen years, it still amounts to what may be a life sentence for him. In 1994 he was diagnosed with a terminal liver disease. He now has a life expectancy of less than ten years.
Today Scott Baxendale lives in east Denver with two children from his first marriage. He works in a guitar shop and plays in a local band, Funkus Groovus, with Kofi Baker, son of rock legend Ginger Baker. Kevin Rutherford lives in a cell in a private prison in Minnesota and anxiously monitors the enzyme levels in his blood. Both men are haunted by memories of David Hoffman and what might have been. Occasionally they exchange angry, accusatory letters.
Baxendale doesn't support his former friend's claims of total innocence--he was prepared to testify as a prosecution witness at Rutherford's trial--but even he says that Rutherford's role in the crime spree was minimal. "People commit far more serious crimes and get lots less time than Kevin did," he says. "Eighteen years for what he did is gross punishment. I think he should be out now. Of course, he thinks he's doing my time--which is bullshit."
"I was raised to believe in the system," Rutherford says, "and that was one of the reasons I took this to trial. I figured, 'Hell, if you didn't rob anyone, there is no way you can be found guilty.' Mercy, was I ever wrong."
"He's very bitter toward me," Baxendale says. "If the situation was reversed, I suppose I might feel the same."
"There's only two people left out of this thing," Rutherford says. "It's me and Baxendale, and we're not going to see eye-to-eye."
Scott Baxendale first met the man he would come to know as David Hoffman in a homeless shelter in Arlington, Texas. The tall, hard-drinking stranger was full of wild stories and impossible dreams, dreams that got bigger and bolder and somehow more inviting the more he drank and talked.
Baxendale listened. He knew something about dreams.
Guitars--making them, repairing them, playing them--had been the stuff of Baxendale's dreams. He'd dropped out of the University of Kansas to go to work for Mossman Guitars, one of the best-known small manufacturers of acoustic instruments in the country, then moved on to Gruhn's, a celebrated vintage-guitar shop in Nashville. In 1985, at the age of 31, he bought Mossman and moved it from Kansas to Dallas.
Mossman catered to an exclusive and highly discriminating clientele. Over the next five years Baxendale and his staff produced 250 custom-built guitars for such customers as Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Greg Lake, Joe Walsh and Donovan. Baxendale also signed on as curator for the Dallas Hard Rock Cafe's collection of famous instruments--a gig that allowed him to rub shoulders with music-biz VIPs and dream about the day his own local band would hit the big time.
Toward the end of the Eighties, though, Baxendale's dreams went up in smoke. He'd always been partial to a little weed, but as his association with the music industry grew, he began to use cocaine heavily--to help stay awake, he told himself. He went from snorting it to cooking it to scoring crack on the street.
"In a two-year period," he says, "I went from making about $2,000 a week and having five employees and hanging out with big stars, really on the verge of going somewhere in the music business--I went from there to living in a homeless shelter. I spent a half-million dollars on cocaine and lost my wife, my business, everything."