The Accidental Jurist

Lee Hill pulls his truck over to the curb in an older, tree-lined Boulder neighborhood. He gets out and glances around, a Glock 9-millimeter handgun concealed beneath his black trench coat.

The home where he's stashed The Witness is a few blocks away, but he doesn't want to park in front -- just in case he's being followed. "You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you," he says, and laughs as if he's not sure how seriously he should be taking all of this. This life of his.

But for now, the forty-year-old, ponytailed lawyer believes he has reason to exercise a little caution. The Witness claims that she's been the victim of a child-sex ring whose participants included a wealthy friend of the Ramsey family. Yes, that Ramsey family.

If what The Witness has to say is true -- and she does have documentation proving at least her family's connection to the wealthy friend, and she's also sent one man to prison for rape -- then her information may shed some light on the possible circumstances of JonBenét's murder. And that could mean she's in danger. Maybe, Hill worries, he is, too.

For the past few days, the Boulder police have been in California checking the woman's story, though from what Hill can determine, they've mostly been trying to find ways to damage her credibility instead of investigating the possibility that maybe, just maybe, she's telling the truth.

Hill knows that police reservations about The Witness are understandable. In the last four years, the JonBenét case has attracted more than its share of nuts, entrepreneurs and conspiracy theorists. The Witness's story is bizarre. But perhaps, he points out, just bizarre enough to be true.

Despite what his critics describe as a penchant for finding high-profile cases, Hill contends he initially tried to avoid getting involved with The Witness. Their meeting, he explains, was just another in a chain of seemingly accidental events that have steered the course of his life and career. In this case, it was all because he sued the National Enquirer on behalf of Boulder resident Steve Miles, whom the tabloid had identified as a pedophile and suspect in JonBenét's murder. He knew Miles because, once, when Hill was nineteen years old, he'd met and befriended writer and junkie William S. Burroughs. Which, of course, had to do with the mother of an old school chum who'd written a book...

Like dominoes set up to fall in intricate patterns, the seminal people and events of his life -- from Burroughs to Allen Ginsberg to the Navy, the CIA, the American Indian Movement -- tumble and click into the next, sometimes falling in a straight line, sometimes taking off on a tangent only to return after several loops and whirls.

All of which lead to this point. Handgun strapped to his belt, he is walking up to a house where a woman is hiding. She may -- or may not -- provide a clue that could blow open a murder investigation that holds a city hostage.

Walter Leon Hill was born March 26, 1959, in Monroe, Louisiana, an only child. Both of his parents were of mixed-blood Choctaw Indian ancestry, though the tribe had long been assimilated into the mainstream. In Louisiana at that time, one was either white or black -- one drop of African blood and you were the latter, everybody else was the former.

An unusually bright child, Hill was extremely bored in school. Hoping to find a way to keep him occupied, his parents placed him in a parochial school at the beginning of the second grade. Fortunately, the principal realized that he was more than merely disruptive and sent him to be tested by noted child psychologist George Middleton, who recommended that he be allowed to skip the second grade.

Even after skipping a grade, Hill found that he was constantly waiting for his classmates to catch up. This was a kid who in third grade was checking out library books on clinical psychology.

His differences weren't easily accepted by his family. Hill's father had been the first on his side to attend college, but was still more the outdoors type, an expert woodsman who taught his son to be one as well. He'd come into the house, see Lee reading a book and ask, "Why aren't you doing anything?" The boy's reply was that he was doing something.

At the end of sixth grade, Hill was accepted into the Louisiana Governor's Program for Gifted Children, which Middleton had started ten years earlier. The program took exceptionally smart children and placed them on the campus of McNeese State University in Lake Charles for the summer. Hill spent the next three summers there, meeting other children who would become lifelong friends, including Tony Kushner, who would grow up to be a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright; Joe Barnes, who would become the protocol officer for onetime Secretary of State James Baker; and Sammy Charters, whose father Sam Sr. managed such '60s musical talents as Country Joe & the Fish and whose stepmother, Ann Charters, was an aspiring author.

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Steve Jackson

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