Convicted criminal Steven L. Schmidt wants me - and you the reader - to know that his parents are not to blame for the behavior that led to his incarceration in the former Folsom Prison in Represa.
Schmidt penned me a letter on Aug. 1 after receiving word that I wrote a July 23 column about him. In that column, I noted how Idaho writer Dewey Treat is researching for a book on Schmidt, whom he terms the "Charlie Manson of Ceres." My column touched on Schmidt's criminal background and concluded with an invitation for anyone who knew him to possibly get in touch with Treat to shed light on why Schmidt's life took the course it did.
The last sentence of my column raised some ire with family members. That sentence read: "If anything, it's hopeful that someone can shed light on the situation, whether it was bad parenting or drugs or what - that made his life go so terribly wrong."
The suggestion of bad parenting was only mentioned as a possibility as it is common knowledge that many criminals start out with crummy parents. Great efforts have been made by three members of the Schmidt family - Steven included - to state that was not the case with Lawrence and Josephine Schmidt who birthed Steven on Sept. 16, 1949.
The niece of Lawrence Schmidt emailed me after reading my column to state: "Lawrence R. Schmidt, Steve's father, was an honest man, a hardworking carpenter, and beyond reproach with regard to his devotion to his family. Regarding the comment that he was ‘never around much' is far from the truth. He built the home on Sixth Street for his family and they lived there, as a family, from 1949 until they died. He was always present. He was a quiet, kind, and generous person. Your comment that ‘Schmidt's evil side apparently was fostered at an early age' implies that his parents encouraged his later behavior, and is an irresponsible and thoughtless remark and could not be further from the truth. In reality, Lawrence Schmidt was a fisherman and outdoorsman who always encouraged his son to join him. Like all parents who have child with challenging behavior, he did his best to raise a difficult son."
Steven Schmidt, too, rose to state that "my father and mother were the salt of this earth. No one could ask for better more loving parents than I was blessed with and no man could ask for a better more loving sister than I had. The reasons behind me becoming the man I am had nothing to do with my family. I went bad on my own hook with no help from anyone."
Richard A. Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, wrote a 2010 piece in the New York Times which suggests this: "But while I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook - sadly, there are all too many of them, from malignant to merely apathetic - the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children."
Alright, we've established that Lawrence and Josephine were stellar parents. But that doesn't explain why, in the words of a local police sergeant, Schmidt was perhaps the worst dude ever produced in Ceres. Schmidt himself doesn't say in his letter. Perhaps that is a question I need to pose to him.
The last crime committed by Schmidt was on Feb. 26, 1998 as he was trying to break into a duplex at 2714 Whitmore Avenue with accomplice Kenneth Michael Duckett. Officers Howard Stevenson and Trenton Johnson responded to a call placed by the resident inside who reported intruders trying to break into his residence. Duckett, 28, was killed when he charged officers with a knife and reached for a waistband gun and was shot.
As his accomplice was being killed, Schmidt tried jumping over the fence into the backyard of a Casa Verde residence and was arrested by Officer Greg Yotsuya and Sgt. Pat Sullivan. Schmidt was armed with two hand guns, a machete and several knives. Based on how heavily armed both men were, police felt Schmidt and Duckett were on a mission to kill the occupant.
Schmidt was 48 years old when his days of crime came to an end. He was sentenced the following year under the Three Strikes law and is today in Folsom State Prison.
Schmidt starts out his letter to me in a ridiculing tone: "Well Jeff, this is a big day for you. It's not often that you get a letter from an infamous, criminal nightmare, psychopathic killer. Good thing they confiscated by BB gun and bow and arrow."
He was in doubt referencing the section of my column that read: "Steve was said to have tortured a litter of kittens and setting them on fire. For sport Steve would shoot out neighbors' windows with a B-B gun."
Schmidt goes on in his letter to portray himself as a bright man: "I am more of a sociopath than a psychopath and as is the case with many such men, I have a high IQ. 151 as of the last time I was tested in 1996. You might also be surprised to learn that I am a published author. I've sold and have in print 47 short stories and to date, I've written 7 novels."
I googled some of the works but didn't find anything written by him.
My column made reference to information passed along to me by Treat. Some of his facts were wrong. Schmidt's sister, Sally Jo Schmidt, did not die of a drug overdose in her early 30s; she died Aug. 8, 2010 from cancer or emphysema depending on your source.
Schmidt also states in his letter to me that: "I've lived a life that most people will not believe but as a matter of record I've been shot five times in the last 45 years and I've stood trial for murder five times, three of them were death penalty cases and for the record, yes, I have killed but I've never murdered. The fact that out of these five trials I've only been convicted of involuntary manslaughter should tell you something."
Schmidt was 23 when he was arraigned on May 20, 1973 for the stabbing murder of Thomas L. Guzman, 24, at the Hughson family ranch at 5918 Redwood Road in December of 1972. Blood stains in the home led police to believe the alleged drug dealer - known as "The Rocket Man" - met with foul play. The murder was not confirmed until a road grader unearthed his body on April 7, 1973. Schmidt was arrested five days later. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter on Aug. 3, 1973.
Schmidt has been arrested for a myriad of charges but escaped a lot of them, including drug sales, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, witness intimidation, assaulting peace officers, possession of illegal weapons, armed robbery and murder. But enough charges stuck.
Schmidt was nailed with the March 6, 1979 kidnapping case that included assault with a deadly weapon, use of a firearm during the commission of a crime, attempted robbery and auto theft when he accosted Opal McGathy and Deborah Schooley at the Silver Saddle Bar (now the store at the southwest corner of Richland and Evans). The two women were abducted at gunpoint but later broke free. Schmidt was arrested at the corner of Glenwood and Beachwood. For that crime he spent six years of a 12-year prison sentence behind bars.
He was paroled April 7, 1986. Three months later he was caught committing burglary, robbery and attempted murder. Back to prison he went. When he gets out again Schmidt has a revolving door in and out of prison for burglaries and robberies in the Bay Area.
The final crime in Ceres was his last strike which deserved him a 55 years to life sentence in state prison.
I've received letters from prisoners over the years who plead their case why they're innocent and want a hearing in the press. I also know that there are a lot of people who are guilty of committing crimes but cannot be convicted because of a lack of evidence. I don't know if Steven Schmidt did all he was reported to have done but what I do know tells me that he never learned from his mistakes. That could be the biggest tragedy of all in his case.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.