Photo Finish

Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder.

On Memorial Day, we should remember.

Rally Round the Flag, Boys

On May 10, Bob Rowan -- better known as the "Dildo Bandito" on TV, radio and in the newspapers -- finally stopped waving the flag long enough to plead no contest to second-degree criminal tampering in Boulder County Court. Although his liberation of 21 ceramic penises from a Boulder Public Library battered-women's art show last November had gained him kudos around the country and an award from a local Republican women's group, his abject surrender went unnoticed outside of the town where he's lived almost two decades.

"I want it to go away," Rowan said in explaining his plea. "It's been hard for me and my wife."

Not so hard, though, that he couldn't spend much of the past six months pushing his act as one of pure patriotism.

As Rowan pilfered the penises from the library's exhibit hall, where they were part of "Hanging 'em Out to Dry," a piece created by Susanne Walker, he replaced them with a note announcing that "El Dildo Bandito was here" and an American flag; the library's failure to hang a grandiose Old Glory had been the focus of much discussion in preceding weeks. And when Rowan called a local radio station later that day to confess that he was El Dildo Bandito, he described his act as a patriotic duty.

After some debate -- this happened in Boulder, after all, and everyone from the artist to the American Civil Liberties Union had to be consulted -- Rowan was charged with second-degree criminal tampering. But he was also offered a deal: a deferred judgment that would wipe his record clean if he stayed out of trouble for a prescribed period of time ("The Peter Principle," February 28). Rowan refused to take it. "I just don't believe that the plea deal was right," he said. "I feel like the city is trying to sweep this thing under the rug. I'd still end up with a criminal record for a year."

Instead, he took his story and his fight to the Web ( In January, he announced that he was setting up a charity, the American Patriots Foundation, that would sell El Bandido memorabilia (the "Dildo" was dropped to make the name more palatable to the general public, and somewhere along the way, a "d" replaced a "t") and donate the proceeds to our men in the military. In the meantime, Rowan himself was striving for folk-hero status, celebrated on Web sites (one of them his own) and in song (ditto). "I'd never realized how much patriotism there is across the country," he explained.

But in the past few months, Rowan's cause lost momentum -- and the willing ear of the national media. And so earlier this month, he finally agreed to a one-month deferred sentence, during which time he must stay away from both the artist and the library.

While his Web site still proudly flies the flag, the Dildo Bandito himself has gone limp.

Last Friday, a far sadder saga reached its conclusion -- until the case is appealed, at least. Denver District Judge Michael Mullins sentenced James Hall to life in prison for the killing of John Bray, the bicyclist he shot to death right outside the Westword office two years ago ("Fire Away," May 11, 2000).

In what was billed as the city's first example of fatal "road rage," Hall, who was driving a pickup, had taken off after the 32-year-old Bray when the bicyclist, who was pedaling home from a temporary job, swerved ahead of him. Cutting Bray off in the 900 block of Broadway, Hall forced him to the side of the road, got out of the truck, pulled a gun from behind the front seat and shot Bray in the chest. As Bray went down, Hall drove off.

In March, a jury quickly found Hall guilty of first-degree murder, dismissing his attorney's claims that Hall, a veteran of three tours in Vietnam, had been suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder. Good move: If Hall's flashbacks were as bad as the attorney portrayed, he should never have been behind the wheel of a pickup -- a dangerous-enough vehicle in the never-ending flow of light-beating, lane-switching, horn-honking traffic on Broadway.

And he should never have had access to the .25-caliber semiautomatic he took out of that truck and used to shoot an unarmed bicyclist in the chest.

Those who witnessed the crime will have their own flashbacks for years to come.

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