BY MAUREEN O'HAGAN
When controversial Portland author Jim Goad was arrested in May of last year for assaulting his girlfriend, he seemed like a poster boy for domestic violence. Now that he's accepted a plea bargain in the case, things seem much more complicated. In fact, the more you know about the tale of passion and obsession, love and manipulation, violence and retaliation, the more difficult it is to sort out which one is the bigger loser—the one with the physical injuries or the one behind bars.
One thing is for sure: The victim, Sky Ryan, was beaten up badly. At 5:45 am on May 29, Goad left Ryan on Northwest Skyline Boulevard with her left eye bleeding and swollen shut, facial fractures and a serious bite to her thumb. She says she received 26 stitches to her face and her eye bled for three days. Ryan easily might have wound up nothing more than a statistic. The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office filed charges in 1,373 other domestic violence cases last year. But Goad's background turned this case into a closely watched event. Goad is the author of The Redneck Manifesto, a 1997 book published by Simon & Schuster that presses all sorts of buttons about race and class. More important, he first gained national attention with his 'zine Answer Me!, which explores the darker side of life. The notorious "rape issue," for example, describes, among other things, how women secretly enjoy being sexually assaulted. Goad also made a spoken-word recording titled "Let's Hear It for Violence Toward Women."
The author says his aims were satirical and his endeavors intellectual. But after Goad beat Ryan, his words made him look more like the perfect perpetrator—evil and remorseless. "He just has to be held accountable for the conduct he talks about doing," said Deputy District Attorney Rod Underhill, who expected to bring some of Goad's writings into the courtroom for a trial on Jan. 19. That day never came. Earlier this month. Goad avoided trial by pleading guilty to attempted kidnapping, attempted assault and misdemeanor assault. He agreed to spend three years behind bars.
Underhill, a veteran domestic-violence prosecutor, says he would have liked to have sent Goad to prison for a longer sentence. (He had faced up to 15 years.) However, Underhill agreed to a plea bargain on "attempted" crimes, rather than the "completed" crimes with which he was originally charged. "I am convinced without any question that during the period from 5:30 to 5:45 am on May 29 he engaged in all six of the crimes he was charged with, the completed offenses," Underhill told WW.
Still, he was worried that Ryan's history wouldn't play well in front of the jury. "Most times, we don't have the luxury of trying just those 15 minutes in a court of law. It's usually the case that people's prior history, their character, both the victim's and the defendant's, are also carefully analyzed in court," Underhill said.
That's where things start to give us a motivation to look at resolving the case outside a courtroom. It would have been tough on Sky."
Indeed. Since the arrest. Goad and several of his supporters have spent considerable effort portraying Sky Ryan as manipulative, obsessive and dangerous. Messages Ryan left on Goad's answering machine—messages that Goad saved and cataloged over their year-long relationship—bolster his argument. In them, Ryan says: "I want to crush you," "stab you a million times" and "cut you up into a million pieces." It may have been hyperbole, but three weeks before he was arrest- ed, Goad took out a restraining order against Ryan. Some of this information would have come out in a trial.
"This was a relationship where two people had problems with violence," Goad told WW. "That was the problem." Ryan conceded to WW that she "smashed his window one time" and left threatening messages. Her defense sounds better suited for the playground than the courtroom. "He's way more violent than me," she told WW. "He's assaulted way more people and damaged way more property." Goad says that on May 29, Ryan provoked him by drawing blood with a punch in the face. If that's the case, wonders Goad's friend, Sean Tejeratchi, should Ryan be absolved while Goad sits behind bars? "It looks terrible, and it was terrible," he says, "but she has a history of picking fights with people. At what point are you responsible for what happens to you? There comes a point where irrationality takes over. I think Jim reached that point. I fault him for it,
but I don't think he deserved to go to prison."
Ryan knows she's no angel. But, she concludes, "Just because I'm not totally innocent doesn't mean I deserved what he did."
Underhill agrees. But he also concedes that learning of Ryan's history would have made a jury less sympathetic to her injuries.
"There are people who are clear and simple victims of crimes and people who sometimes find themselves in harm's way," Underhill explained, stressing his compassion for Ryan.
"The more you choose to put yourself in harm's way by your own volition, the possibility of being the victim of a crime increases. As the defense attorney said on the record today, this was inevitable."
The same might be said about Goad's fate. Prison shouldn't come as a surprise to a man who boasts of his "assault record in three states," who admits that he occasionally hit his ex-wife Debbie during their marriage and who is hardly contrite about "pummeling" Ryan. "I'm not sorry at all," he says of the attack. "I have absolutely no remorse."