- News - Marine Killed in Downtown Atlanta

Letters from Home:

JHD writes to tell me that a Marine from my home was killed this week. He was too young for me to know him, though I know people who go to his church. His name was Jack Snook. He was killed, not in Baghdad, but in Atlanta.

A photograph of the alleged killer, Charles Anthony Key, is here. The details are as follows: Snook was riding in the passenger seat while his wife and he were driving around the best part of downtown Atlanta, the part where all the five-star hotels are that cater to the world's richest businessmen and conferences. It was a Sunday night, which is normally a pretty quiet time to be down there.

Somehow, an argument developed between Snook at another motorist. Snook got out of the car, and got shot in the face. No one seems to know exactly what was said. Having grown up in Forsyth County myself, I have my suspicions as to what might have been said, but they are only that. Still, Georgia license tags do list the county name on them, and Forsyth County is -- for historic reasons dating to 1912 -- particularly hated in Atlanta.

This is so much so that my father, a man who frequently saved lives or entered burning buildings as a volunteer firefighter, used to deface his license tag before driving into the city. If Snook were more combative -- as is suggested by the fact that he got out of his car to confront Key -- it's not hard to guess what kind of language would have been exchanged.

The law of the State of Georgia, until the US Supreme Court overturned a unanimous ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court, had a law that anticipated such language. Now they do not, and so we are left with prosecutions for murder instead of for "fighting words." The Federales were wrong to overturn the Georgia court in this case. The legislature and the state courts understood the culture of honor, and the dangerous history, that sometimes drives these young men to strike like bucks at one another. "Old men" like me, who grew up in the culture, understand it and support the legislature's attempts to empower people to stop this kind of thing before it gets out of control. The Supreme Court did not, and this is the price of its meddling.

We were better off when we empowered the police and the citizenry to arrest, and therefore separate, two such youths at the first sign of heated rhetoric. Now, people believe that because it is permitted by the law -- protected, indeed, by the Supreme Court! -- that it is acceptable. It is a tragedy. JHD thinks the killer will walk, and frankly so do I. The racial aspect to the case is one reason why; the jury in downtown Atlanta will be sympathetic in that sense. But also, even if I were a juror, I would find it hard to fault someone for shooting a large, powerful man who got out of his car, came up to your car, and started yelling fighting words at you. It was cowardly to shoot an unarmed man in these circumstances, when the shooter could have driven away instead, but it isn't murder. I could only vote to convict on a lesser offense, manslaughter perhaps.

The obituary for Snook says that he "played a vital role in the liberation of Baghdad." That suggests he was in I MEF, or Task Force Tripoli. I'll ask around the folks back home, and see if I can discover more. He leaves a seven year old daughter. A fund has been set up for her, if anyone is interested: call Region's Bank at 770/887-1031.

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