From the pages of Thrasher to the unforgiving concrete below the Burnside Bridge, Neil Heddings is revered as one of Portland's original skaters. He was part of the guerrilla crew that built the Burnside Skatepark, where he developed the blistering speed and board-flipping style that landed him in the wild world of professional skating.
"I like to get drunk and get naked," he joked to Thrasher in 2002.
Now Heddings, 30, is back in the headlines, but this time it's anything but a laughing matter. Authorities in California have charged him and his fiancée, Christine Rams, 26, with the murder of his 2-year-old son, Marcus.
The boy died Nov. 22, 2002, at the couple's house in rural San Jacinto, Calif., 88 miles north of San Diego.
Heddings says he's innocent, and that prosecutors fingered him because of his punk-rock lifestyle and profuse tattoos—which include beer logos, stylized women and a goat's head, surrounded by a massive black pentagram bisected by a skateboard truck.
Such body art may condemn Heddings in the eyes of middle-class America, but look a little closer and you'll notice that his right calf reads "Marcus 3-15-00"—the name and birth date of the son he is accused of murdering.
Heddings started rolling around his hometown of Newberg, Ore., at age 9 and entered his first skateboarding contest at 15. In 1990, he and a handful of Rose City skaters changed the face of skateboarding forever. Fed up with the city's unfulfilled promises to build a park, they descended on a vacant lot under the Burnside Bridge, armed with shovels and bags of concrete, and built it themselves.
Another pioneer, Steve "Pigpen" Spear, became fast friends with Heddings, each learning from the other's style.
"I had the speed and he had the tech," says Pigpen, referring to Heddings' multifaceted maneuvers. "He made me get techy, and I made him skate fast."
Heddings moved to San Diego in the mid-'90s. As his career took off, he toured the world, promoting sponsors such as Vans Shoes and Pig Wheels.
Friends describe him as an exemplary father to Marcus, nicknamed Marty. "Marty loved him," says Ezra Spencer, who worked alongside Heddings at a San Diego skatepark. "He was his best buddy in the whole world."
In 2002, Heddings won sole custody of Marty from the boy's mother, Susie Moyer, who has admitted a history of methamphetamine abuse to police.
That November, however, Heddings dropped Marty off with Moyer in San Diego so he and his fiancée could spend a few days promoting Rollmodel, his fledgling skateboard company.
According to police reports, they returned Nov. 18 to find Marty sick and vomiting.
Early on Nov. 23, San Jacinto police officers responded to a 9-1-1 call from the three-bedroom home where the couple lived with Marty and their other children. They discovered a distraught Heddings clinging to the motionless body of his son.
According to the San Diego Weekly Reader, Heddings told police Marty had slipped in the tub while Rams bathed him the previous evening. The couple said Marty seemed fine when they put him to bed.
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Hansen told WW that autopsy results showed "at least 10" head contusions, sustained within 48 hours of death.
In March 2003, police arrested Heddings and Rams and charged them with murder. They are currently in jail awaiting trial, scheduled to begin March 4.
Heddings thinks the small-town authorities stereotyped him and his fiancée due to their unconventional appearance. "When they first came into my house, they didn't look at the toys we had for the kids," he told the L.A. Times. "They looked at me and they looked at [Rams] and they said, 'Take their kids.' Guilty."
Heddings does have a previous conviction for assault in 1997. But according to a friend, Louie Peden, the incident involved a gang of "territorial fucks" who spray-painted "Burnside Sucks" on the walls of Heddings' house, culminating in a brawl.
Perhaps more damning is a police tape recorded as the couple sat together in a patrol car.
"Don't turn on me," says Rams to Heddings.
"You don't turn on me, I won't turn on you," he replies.
It's a chilling exchange, though in the eyes of skateboarders jaded by a lifetime of police harassment, it's hardly proof of murder.
In fact, Heddings has become a martyr in West Coast skateboarding circles. Portland skaters inundated the Savier Warehouse, the Department of Skateboarding and, of course, Burnside to raise money for his defense. Local firm MM Skateboards produces a deck with a "Free Neil" graphic drawn by the accused himself.
"I know he would never do anything like that," says Pigpen. "I have a feeling Neil is protecting someone."
"The truth's gonna come out," says Peden. "They got nothing."