The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

Hill apologizes. He doesn't mean to name-drop, he says, but it really is just an accident, the way the falling dominoes brought him into contact with so many famous and unusual people. "I suppose it's the circles one runs in," says Hill, whose business card reads "Representing Artists & Other Criminals."

And sometimes people many folks would consider crackpots. This gets him in more trouble than he bargains for, such as when he represented Kevin Terry, a 24-year-old member of the self-styled Colorado 1st Light Infantry of the U.S. Militia. In May 1997, Terry, along with Ron Cole, 27, the author of a book critical of the government's action against the David Koresh's Branch Davidians in Waco, and Wallace Stanley Kennett, 33, a Branch Davidian who had left the Waco compound before the siege, were arrested in an Aurora home that was stockpiled with illegal firearms and explosives.

While militia members cooled their jets in jail, Hill learned that their landlord had posted an eviction notice, which meant they would lose anything of value left in the house. He called the landlord's lawyer and said he was going to the house to remove, with his clients' permission, as much as he could get out in his truck. The landlord told him to go ahead.

Lee Hill
Lee Hill
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.

Hill arrived at the house with then-law intern Julia Yoo. They found that a sliding glass door was open, as was a doorway leading from there into the house. The pair searched for those items that were the most valuable.

Hill had just stepped out of the house when he came eyeball-to-barrel with a shotgun held by a member of the Aurora SWAT team. Another officer kneeled off to the side, behind a Plexiglas shield with his handgun drawn, and ordered him to his knees. From there he was told get down on his belly and crawl to the concrete driveway, where he was held down with a knee on his back and a gun to his head while he was handcuffed.

"My law clerk is also inside and she is also unarmed," he told the police, to let them know he was a lawyer and to keep Yoo from getting shot by a surprised cop.

As he spoke, more of the SWAT team hustled past. Julia came out of the house, not frightened but angry as hell. But she, too, had to drop to her knees and crawl to the driveway, where she also was handcuffed at gunpoint.

The pair was escorted into the house for questioning, where they remained handcuffed for 45 minutes. Finally the officers released them, saying they'd received a call from a patrol officer who thought the house was being burgled. Then the cops said that they had been concerned for the pair's safety because the militiamen might have booby-trapped the house.

Then why'd they take us into the kitchen, Hill wondered. He had experience watching the FBI work with local law enforcement, and he could tell that the Aurora cops had been plenty pumped up -- maybe federal agents had a role in the tension level. They seemed to be chasing ghosts.

Hill considered suing the Aurora Police Department, but he and Yoo were just beginning to see each other socially. He didn't want her conservative Korean parents' first impression to come from a newspaper article describing how their daughter had been held at gunpoint with him.

Instead, Hill went about the business of getting Terry off with just probation.

In 1979, out of work, with his marriage falling apart, Hill decided that what he really wanted to do was join the Central Intelligence Agency. He wanted to be a spy.

In part that was because he still dreamed of traveling to foreign places, and this was a way to get paid doing it. But more important, he wanted to know what was really going on in the world. He'd spent a lot of time listening to Ginsberg, who was absolutely paranoid about the agency and its impact on world affairs. Hill wanted to see "the machine" from the inside, to find a balance to the poet's hysteria.

Burroughs was encouraging. In fact, the old man confided that shortly after World War II he'd tried to get on with the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. He, too, had thought that being a spook would be great fun and a great life experience.

Still, it was difficult for a twenty-year-old to just walk up and join the agency. Hill figured that doing a stint as a Naval Intelligence officer would ensure his eventual acceptance, so he'd signed up. After finishing boot camp, he'd invited only one person to his commissioning: his grandfather. But despite a letter from Hill's commanding officer, his grandfather's parole officer wouldn't grant him permission to travel out of state.

Hill was assigned to the Blacklion fighter squadron, with whom he spent eight "miserable" months patrolling areas such as the Indian Ocean aboard the aircraft carrier USS America. Much of the time he worked inside a top-secret vault, tracking Soviet submarines and aircraft. (A Navy public-relations photograph from that time shows young Hill in an aviator's jacket, posing over a map while writing on a notepad, over the caption: "GATHERING INFORMATION: Ensign Lee Hill uses a map to prepare a squadron briefing." However, what he's actually written on the notepad is just barely discernable: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..." -- the opening line of Ginsberg's poem "Howl.")

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help