A World of Possibilities

Peter Boyles does some fast talking regarding his on-air speculation about the Emily Johnson murder.

The Let's-Lance-Boyles campaign kept rolling in subsequent days, with even Steve Kelly and April Zesbaugh of KOA's Colorado Morning News timorously stepping up to the plate: In one January 12 segment, Zesbaugh asserted that some talk-show hosts had gone "overboard" in the matter of Emily Johnson but never mentioned Boyles (could it be because Boyles is employed by Clear Channel, which also owns KOA?), while Kelly insisted, "We aren't talk radio" (maybe not technically, but at times the program comes damn close).

Still, digs like a paragraph in a January 13 Denver Post editorial that seemed to be about Boyles but also neglected to name him (that's taking a stand for ya!) and a hand-wringing, January 14 apologia to the schoolteacher by Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson that didn't identify him either (in an anti-Boyles piece on January 14, the News's Vincent Carroll said Johnson had been "too kind") withered in the face of the full-frontal assault masterminded by Andrew Hudson, Webb's longtime spokesman. In a January 12 e-mail sent to numerous media outlets, including this one, Hudson really let 'er rip, confirming without the slightest ambiguity that the barbs tossed out at the previous day's press conference were aimed at Boyles. "This murder is a tragedy, plain and simple," he wrote. "It has been made more so by the mean-spirited and outrageous comments made by Peter Boyles, who has not only tarnished the memory of Emily Johnson, but also the outrageous statements and theories about who was responsible for the murder." (Apparently, "outrageous" was Hudson's adjective of the day.)

Next, Hudson referred to a program that morning in which Boyles bet a caller $10,000 that Boyles hadn't advocated the hypothesis that Johnson was slain by bloodthirsty bigots because she and Davis were an interracial couple. Hudson then presented two quotes as evidence that Boyles had. (In one, Boyles noted, "If it were motivated as a white racial attack, which is absolutely possible, two guys see them together and make a decision to kill them or her, because of who she's with"; in the other, he said, "Going down the list of things of possibilities of why Emily Johnson was murdered -- number one, which is the most recent one to the list, a white racist attack.") "By the way," Hudson concluded, "Peter doesn't have to pay me the $10,000. He can save it for his ongoing legal fees" -- a snarky reference to a still-pending defamation suit filed against Boyles by Denver policeman Brian Gordon in relation to on-the-air comments he made about a 1997 altercation involving officers at Pierre's Supper Club.

Of course, neither quote definitively endorses the racism angle; they pivot on the words "possible" and "possibilities," respectively. Moreover, Boyles says he was merely recounting a theory espoused by a caller, not one of his own. But understanding that didn't make Boyles any more sanguine about Hudson's accusation. After he was informed about the missive by David Green, an exec at Channel 7 who'd received a copy of his own, Boyles got into a telephone squabble with Hudson in which, according to Boyles, he said it was "chickenshit" for Hudson not to confront him with his views directly. ("I always invite those guys on, every fucking day sometimes, but they won't return calls," he says.) Nonetheless, Boyles gladly cooperated with a Channel 7 package about Hudson's remarks that aired on the station's afternoon and late-night newscasts on January 12 (Hudson turned up in the report as well). After all, Channel 7 is one of Boyles's gigs (7 Speakout, weekdays at 11 a.m.), and a little extra face time never hurt anyone. Nor was he bothered that last week the folks at Shotgun Willie's, another mammary-viewing parlor where Boyles has been claiming Johnson once worked (a Shotgun Willie's spokesman wouldn't address the subject on the record), put up a sign infor-ming passersby that the joint was the "FORMER HANG OUT OF PETER BOYLES." Even though he swears he's visited the club only three times in his life (in his old drinking and drugging days, the long-sober Boyles says: "I didn't want to see naked women; I wanted to get high"), his sole complaint about the message was that "they didn't put up what time the show's on."

As this riff indicates, Boyles isn't wallowing in guilt over the way he's handled the subject. He says he didn't start focusing on the crime until spotting a Charlie Brennan-Hector Gutierrez article in the January 5 News that detailed Davis's lengthy criminal record and the relatively minor punishment he received for transgressions that included cocaine possession, forgery and second-degree assault. "I remember thinking, you have this schoolteacher, who by all accounts is tremendous, who's with a four-time convicted felon who keeps getting community corrections. What's she doing with him?"

Even Boyles recognizes this line of inquiry might smack to some of the hugely offensive blame-the-victim philosophy. "I don't want it to sound like I'm somebody from a 1930s rape trial," he says. (You know the sort: "Wearin' somethin' like that, she was just askin' for it!"). But, he notes, "It still seemed like a weird relationship. Maybe I'm the only one who thought that, but I did." He doesn't need to add that a sizable percentage of Denverites were on the same wavelength; indeed, the murder spawned a "soapbox" page on the Digital City Denver Web site (www.digitalcity.com/denver/soapbox/main.dci) that encouraged Web surfers to comment about the possibility that Johnson was leading a "double life." A guy calling himself BigDaddy voted yes: "Have you ever seen Looking for Mr. Goodbar?" he wanted to know.

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