Ghosts of Vietnam
The killer was a middle-aged Vietnam veteran. The victim was a young Vietnamese refugee who came to America as a baby. The irony was tragic.
There were only two men in the mountain house on the night of Dec. 28, 2000, when Andy Bushard’s young life ended, so the only person who knows exactly what happened is the man who killed him, Sam Parris.
Forensic evidence is negligible. Bushard was killed by a single .25-caliber shot to the left temple fired at close range. He died instantly. That’s all the evidence says.
Parris’ story is that before the killing the two men had an argument. Parris, who had been Bushard’s landlord and roommate for just five weeks, tried to evict his tenant, and Bushard refused to leave. But how the situation escalated from there to murder only Sam Parris knows, and because he was far from sober that night, his memory is blurred. He insists he acted in self-defense, however, that Bushard pulled a knife on him and threatened his life.
That wasn’t good enough for a jury, which had little trouble making a decision. After a surprisingly short trial, less than six hours of testimony in which the defense called no witnesses, the jury convicted Parris last October of first-degree murder. The judge in the case, Thomas W. Kelly, subsequently sentenced him to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison, one for the crime and the other for using a gun in its commission. Parris, who had no record of violent crime, is 58 years old. Unless his appeal is successful, he will die in prison.
That’s the bare outline of the case. But of course there is far more to the story than the bare outline.
There is the mystery of what happened in the dark of a December night in Cohasset. There is the puzzling tale of an elderly Paradise man who told the police about the killing but wasn’t believed. And there’s the gripping story of how for months Andy Bushard’s parents tried to get the police to take their son’s disappearance seriously but couldn’t do so.
Then there is the story of Sam Parris, who at one time was the owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Chico, and how he lived a fast and furious lifestyle, boozing and snorting and partying, that eventually cost him the restaurant—and much more.
And there is the intriguing—and ironic—fact that these two men, so unalike, shared something immense that had changed both their lives forever: the war in Vietnam. Parris had gone to Southeast Asia as a soldier when he was about Bushard’s age, leaving a young son at home. Bushard was born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese woman who, in the chaos of the war, abandoned him on the doorstep of a Catholic orphanage near Saigon.
Twenty-five years later, these men, one a middle-aged, alcoholic Vietnam veteran, the other a Vietnamese refugee adopted and reared by an American couple, ended up alone together in a house in the mountains, and by the time the day was over one of them was dead and the other was frantically trying to figure out what to do and how everything had gone so horribly, horribly wrong.
When Andy Bushard went missing, his parents, Paul and Carol Bushard, were the only people who thought he might be in serious trouble.
The Bushards are both tall, around 6 feet. With his short-cropped gray hair and neat beard, Paul Bushard has a solid, steady presence. Like her husband, Carol Bushard is slender and fit, but she seems more fragile than he. Both have been deeply hurt by the death of their son, but she’s been especially affected, Paul says.
The Bushards adopted Andy in April 1975, when he was a little more than 1 year old. They had a daughter, Jannette, who was five months older than Andy, and they would go on to have another child naturally and adopt two more kids, both from Korea. They wanted a big family, they say, and they believed in adoption.
Andy arrived in this country amid much hoopla surrounding “Operation Airlift,” an effort to get South Vietnamese orphans out of the country before it fell to the North Vietnamese. Newspaper articles and TV coverage greeted his arrival. “Orphan Andy’s flight is over,” reads the headline over a half-page story that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. An accompanying photo shows Paul and Carol tenderly holding their new son.
That same year they moved to Chico, where Paul worked for the Social Security Administration and Carol was a schoolteacher. (Now semi-retired, he drives a school bus and she teaches middle school in Gridley.) Andy attended local schools, including Chico Junior and Pleasant Valley high schools. Like many Vietnamese, he was short, about 5 feet 4 inches, but he was husky and loved sports, especially soccer, Carol says.
One person who knew Andy Bushard well was Dan Nguyen-Tan, the Chico city councilmember, who’s also of Vietnamese heritage. “I attended PVHS with Andy,” he says. “Andy was a fun, lovable person who was well-liked by his peers. Although short in stature, he was also a scrappy fellow, especially on the soccer field. He was a friend who would back you up when you needed someone there for you.”
The couple last saw Andy, who was 26 years old and had been living on his own for some time, on Dec. 26, 2000, at their house on Keefer Road during a Christmas family get-together.
Then, on Jan. 7, they got a call from a deputy at the Butte County Sheriff’s Department asking if they knew where Andy was. No, we haven’t heard from him since Dec. 26, Carol replied. The deputy didn’t say why she was looking for Andy.
The next day they had a phone message, this time from Sheriff’s Deputy William Olive, asking about Andy’s whereabouts. When Carol reached Olive two days later, he seemed to agree that Andy was missing but said he thought it was because there were a couple of warrants out for the young man’s arrest on minor charges.
Andy was no angel, the Bushards acknowledge. He’d been evicted from his last place, done some minor thievery and once bought two rare parrots that he knew were stolen. He’d been given community service for that misdeed but had failed to complete it. He’d also probably used marijuana, they say, though he didn’t drink alcohol. But lately he’d seemed to be doing better, taking paralegal classes at Butte College and volunteering at Northern California Legal Services. They didn’t believe he’d just disappear.
But he wasn’t returning their calls. Twice they left messages at his new place in Cohasset, where he’d rented a room since November, reminding him they had a party planned for the Sunday following his 27th birthday on Jan. 10 and asking him to phone. They heard nothing.
In succeeding days they got more ominous indications that something was wrong. Andy hadn’t shown up for his team’s soccer game. He hadn’t gone back to work at Legal Services.
The Bushards were becoming frantic. Paul began keeping a timeline of events. They began calling Andy’s friends and leaving messages for those they couldn’t reach. Finally, one of the friends called back to report that someone had seen Andy’s two German shorthair dogs, Teel and Hillary, running loose in Butte Creek Canyon.
That, says Paul Bushard, set everything in “high-intensity emotion.” Andy, he says, was inseparable from his dogs. “That news really told us that we had an issue and had to move quickly.” The date was Jan. 27. Andy Bushard had been missing for a month.
What the Bushards didn’t know was that three weeks earlier someone had told the police that Andy had been killed.
On Jan. 7, Herbert Cope Sr., who is somewhere around 70 years old and lives in Paradise, was driving his pickup truck down the hill from Cohasset when he stopped at the Walgreen’s store at East Avenue. He wanted to report a murder.
He borrowed someone’s cell phone and called the Chico Police Department.
A Chico officer showed up, as did a Butte County sheriff’s deputy, William Olive. Earlier that day, Cope told them, he’d gotten a call from his half-sister’s grandson, whose name was Sam Parris and who lived in Cohasset. Come over to my place, Parris had said. Bring your truck. I’ve got some stuff for you to haul away.
When Cope arrived at Parris’ house, which is set back in the woods near the Cohasset store, he could see the younger man had been drinking and was upset. Parris nervously began loading some goods on Cope’s truck, mostly personal items such as clothing. At first he told Cope it was stuff left behind by a tenant who’d failed to pay rent and left, but then Parris burst forth with a terrible admission. He was ‘in trouble,” he said. The tenant had threatened him with a knife. ‘I had to kill him,” Parris said. ‘I shot him in the side of the head.”
(Later Parris would tell investigators, '…[I]t was just building up on me, each day. I had to talk to somebody, you know.")
As Herbert Cope drove to Chico with Andy Bushard’s things and his two dogs and parrot in his truck, he apparently decided that he did not want to be the accomplice to a possible murder.
But the cops didn’t believe his story. As Olive notes in his suspicious-circumstances report on the Walgreen’s interview, ‘Chico PD told me that they have had contact with Cope in the past, and he suffers from delusions.” A short while later Cope’s teen-aged grandson, who’d been called, showed up on the scene. Yep, my grandfather suffers from delusions and makes false reports, he said.
Olive and another deputy then went up to Parris’ house, but nobody was home. They returned the next day and this time looked inside, but the place was clean. Again, no one was home.
Olive and another deputy went back to Parris’ residence nearly three weeks later, on Jan. 26. This time Parris was there. Bushard, he told the deputies, had moved out on about Dec. 24. No, he didn’t know where he was.
On Jan. 28, Paul Bushard again called Deputy Olive. The family was worried, he said. It was only then that Olive finally told Bushard about the report he’d made three weeks earlier, on Jan. 7, and how an old man who lived in Paradise and was distantly related to Sam Parris had reported Andy missing, was in possession of Andy’s things and had taken his dogs to Paradise. But the old man couldn’t be believed, Olive said.
Apparently seeking not to frighten the Bushards, Deputy Olive didn’t mention that Cope had said Andy had been killed. He was still reluctant to think the case was about anything more than a guy—Andy—who’d seen fit to leave town or lie low for a while.
The Bushards kept looking. They tracked down the dogs, but too late to save one of them, Teel, who’d been hit by a car driven by a newspaper delivery woman and put down one day before Paul found her.
But where was Andy? On Feb. 15, a full seven weeks since they’d last seen him, Paul called Deputy Olive again, asking for the name of the old man who’d reported Andy missing. This time Olive finally told them what Cope had actually said, that Sam Parris had killed Andy. Olive said he’d gone to Cohasset to check out the story and found nothing amiss—no signs of a struggle or any violence.
Paul immediately called Herb Cope, but by this time Cope had become elusive and would say only that Andy’s dogs and personal belongings had been brought to him by ‘the fellas,” as Paul notes in his timeline of events. What immediately struck Paul, though, was that Cope did not sound like a man with dementia. In fact, he sounded perfectly sane.
Two days later, on Feb. 17, Paul and Carol took matters into their own hands. They drove up to Cohasset to talk face-to-face with Sam Parris. He was home and ‘very willing to talk about Andy,” Paul later noted. The story Parris told them was that he’d left town about Dec. 27, and when he’d returned sometime around Jan. 8, Andy was gone, as were his belongings, his dogs, his parrot and his Jeep. He said he had no idea where Andy was.
He said something else, and this really struck the Bushards: Asked if he knew someone named Herbert Cope, he said no, he’d never heard of the guy. That’s when Carol Bushard realized, with utter certitude, that he was lying: ‘I knew in my heart Andy was dead, and Sam Parris had killed him.”
On Feb. 18, Paul Bushard discovered there was another man in the area named Herb Cope, and this one was listed in the phone book. His address was on Honey Run Road, in the area where Andy’s dogs had run loose. Paul called him. This Herb Cope, it turned out, was Herb Sr.'s son, and yes, he told Paul, they were distantly related to Sam Parris. He confirmed that Herb Sr. had gone to Sam’s house on Jan. 7 and been told that Sam had killed Andy and disposed of his body in a ravine. And yes, the dogs had been staying with him, Herb Jr., when they got loose.
At this point the Bushards, convinced that Sam Parris had killed their son, were furious that the Sheriff’s Department was doing nothing about it. They began badgering the department, calling often and insisting that a missing-persons investigation be opened. Their pushing finally paid off, when Detective Dale Wyrauch took on the case.
But, like Deputy Olive, Wyrauch was unconvinced of foul play. His “gut feeling,” he told Paul on March 1, was that Andy had disappeared to escape his legal problems and eventually would reappear.
The next day Wyrauch called the Bushards to say he needed a recent photo of Andy to help in the search. He also mentioned something that stunned the Bushards: Way back on Jan. 17, six weeks earlier, Andy’s Jeep had been found parked in the Koret parking lot at the Chico airport and towed to a storage lot. Why, the Bushards wondered, hadn’t they been told of this? Paul later wrote in his notes: “Again Paul and Carol are experiencing frustration at the lackadaisical manner in which the investigation is proceeding.”
On March 8, Wyrauch called the Bushards to say he’d been working on a major murder case in Oroville and had nothing new to report. There are a lot of missing persons in Butte County, he said; Andy is not the only one.
The Bushards kept pushing, calling the Sheriff’s Department nearly every day. Finally, Wyrauch agreed to a face-to-face meeting with them at Carol’s school, McKinley Elementary, in Gridley. “We just wanted him to meet us, to see were weren’t flaky people,” Paul says.
The meeting took place in the principal’s office on March 15. After both parties expressed their beliefs and feelings about the case, the Bushards offered Wyrauch a deal: They would stop pushing the case and bugging him if he would do just one thing. What’s that? Wyrauch asked. Go talk with Herbert Cope Sr., the Bushards replied. Ask him what happened. And then, if you think he’s not credible, you can drop the case.
It was a risky gambit. For five days the Bushards waited in nervous anticipation. Finally, on March 20, nearly three months since they’d last seen Andy, Wyrauch called. You were right, he said. Cope is believable. The case is now being treated as a possible homicide.
To their credit, Wyrauch and the Sheriff’s Department then swung into action. They quickly set up a sting operation, tapping Cope’s phone as he twice made phone calls to Parris seeking to get him to say something incriminating. Parris was wary of saying anything overt about the killing, but he said enough—that someone had been killed, that there was no gun to be found, that he had to be careful or he was going to be in big trouble—to confirm, in Wyrauch’s mind, that he had indeed killed Andy Bushard.
On Tuesday, April 3, Wyrauch and Detective Gary Kieler went to Cohasset to interview Sam Parris once again. This time, confronted with the preponderance of evidence linking him to the killing, and also, as he’s since told me, “tired of lying,” Parris broke down and confessed.
Sam Parris had reached rock bottom. His life had always been a wild series of ups and downs, but this time he’d gone all the way down: He’d killed a young man with much to live for.
He knows that now. Interviewed recently at the Butte County Jail, in whose dismal confines he’s lived for the two years since he confessed, he said he’s had plenty of time to look back on his life and understand his mistakes, beginning and ending, he says, with his drinking and his killing of Andy Bushard. In rambling, pent-up manner he talked about his life and what happened on that fateful December night.
He was born in Chico but grew up in the Ventura area, where his father worked in the oil fields. He wasn’t tall, about 5 feet 8 inches, but he was strong and stocky and played halfback on his high-school football team. Afterwards he did a year at Ventura Junior College, got married and had a son, Brian. But the marriage didn’t last, though his ex is still a good friend, he said, and in 1969 he was drafted, despite being 25 years old and a father.
For seven months he saw serious combat duty in Vietnam. An Army artillery gunner, he watched his friends get blown apart and stared death in the face many times. He was lucky to get out alive, he said, but when he got home he was anything but a hero, and he shed his uniform as fast as he could.
Stateside, he went to work at managing the restaurant at a base officers’ club—and started drinking a lot. “That’s where my alcoholism really took off,” he said. In ‘Nam he’d used opium and morphine to escape the war, but back home booze was his drug of choice.
Looking back on it, he realizes he probably had post-traumatic stress, but like his dad, who was also a drinker, he stuffed his feelings, self-medicating with alcohol.
He had family and history in Chico, so he moved here and started a small restaurant, El Ranchito, on Second Street downtown. When the opportunity came along in 1974 to move it to a little truckers’ cafà at the corner of Second and Walnut, Ruby’s, he did so, adding that name to his and creating Ruby’s Ranchito.
(I should note here that I knew Sam Parris at this time. I ate often at Ruby’s, and my ex-wife worked for him as a waitress when we were dating. He and I weren’t close, but we were on a first-names basis.)
Parris worked hard, putting in 16-hour days, and the place took off. Within a few years he’d expanded the kitchen and added a “garden room” on the north side. Not only was Ruby’s a successful lunch and dinner spot, it was also one of the most popular breakfast joints in town, famous for its huevos rancheros and cook Lily Corral’s sauces.
But Parris was drinking a lot. Every afternoon, following the lunch rush, he’d head off to LaSalles and start boozing and partying.
In those days the adult party scene also included copious amounts of cocaine, which enabled him to drink even more, he said.
Eventually he stopped paying close attention to the restaurant, turning it over to a manager. By the early 1980s the profits had dried up, and he lost the place.
He worked seasonally for several years in Homer, Alaska, managing a bar there and making good money, he said. Then, in 1986, he made another mistake. As his son Brian explained it, he tried to get back some money he was owed, but the method he used was extortionate, and he was busted. For that crime he spent more than two years in state prison.
Afterward he went back to work in Alaska, but his mother—who with his father had moved to Cohasset around 1982—took ill with cancer, and he came home to care for her. When she died, he stayed around to care for his ailing father until he passed away in 1998. It was hard for him, he said, putting his own life on hold so he could “wipe their butts and give them baths.” But it also brought him closer to them than ever before, he added.
He and his brother Jerry inherited the house, but Sam got to live in it, partly because he’d earned it by caring for two old, sick people all those years.
He was pretty happy there, he said. It was peaceful, and he liked being in the mountains. He knew his neighbors and the folks who ran the store, and he was comfortable. He didn’t have much money, but he could always pick up odd jobs as a handyman and keep a little money coming in by renting out three of his bedrooms.
And so it went until November 2000, when Andy Bushard answered an ad for one of the rooms.
Parris didn’t ask for references. If he had, he’d have learned Bushard had been booted from his last place for not paying his rent.
Bushard no sooner had moved in than trouble began, Parris said. He hadn’t told Sam about his dogs. Or his parrot, which made awful squawking noises. Andy agreed to build a kennel for the dogs but never did so.
When Parris would threaten him with eviction, he’d quote tenants’ legal rights chapter and verse, stuff he’d picked up, apparently, in his paralegal studies and from previous run-ins with landlords.
Listening to this one day, Parris’ brother Jerry told him, “He’s trouble. You should get rid of him.”
“I should have listened to my brother,” Parris told me.
Andy Bushard is not here to give his side of the story, of course, so the only version that exists is Sam Parris', as he gave it in our interview and, earlier, to Detectives Wyrauch and Kieler. And his memory of events, blurred by time and his frequent drunkenness, is anything but clear.
Whatever the facts, however, it’s obvious that the two men did not get along and that Bushard, in Parris’ mind, was a difficult and uncooperative tenant.
At times they tried to be friendly. On Christmas Eve, Parris says, his son Brian was visiting, and to celebrate Parris fixed Ramos fizzes for everyone, including Bushard. “It’s not true he didn’t drink,” he said of Bushard, “no matter what his parents believe.”
The next morning they argued over an $80 rent check of Bushard’s that had bounced. Finally, Sam threw the check in the wood heater as a gift and wished Andy “Merry Christmas,” but he then insisted that from now on rent had to be paid on time and in full.
That day he drove with Brian to Sebastapol to help some friends with a moving job. He remembers thinking how scary all the traffic was in the Bay Area and how happy he was to have his house on a hill, where it was so quiet and peaceful.
He got back to Cohasset on Dec. 27. There was a pile of expensive new Gore-tex outdoor gear on the dining room table. How can this kid afford such stuff, Sam thought angrily, when he can’t pay rent and because of that I can’t afford to buy my son nice Christmas presents?
Bushard was in the kitchen, drying marijuana in the microwave, Parris said. Pot had been an issue between them. From the amount of time Bushard spent on the phone and the way he had of talking, “like in code,” Parris suspected Bushard was selling the drug out of his house. That explained the pricey gear. Besides, Parris had a standing rule against drugs in the house.
Then, on Dec. 28, Bushard accidentally ran over a small pear tree in the yard, upsetting Parris further. That afternoon he confronted Bushard about dealing drugs, telling him to leave, that he was evicted.
Bushard denied the charge and refused to leave, saying Parris had to give him 30 days to find another place and adding defiantly that he could stretch it out to 60 or even 90 if he chose.
Bushard then left but came back later that night. By then Parris had been drinking heavily. Parris immediately approached Bushard, saying he was getting eviction papers and threatening to have him arrested for dealing marijuana.
Later, Parris was sitting in his living area, which was in a step-down area next to the dining room, watching television, when, “the next thing I know, [Bushard’s] standing over me with a knife. He says, ‘If you call the police, I’ll kill you. I’ll cut your throat,’ or something.” Bushard was so furious he was spitting. The knife, he said, had a serrated blade.
But it’s all a blur, he told Wyrauch and Kiefer. “It’s just like a blur.”
He ran from the room, his heart pounding, and went outside. Then he remembered a pistol stored in an old bus on the property. He ran to the bus, about 50 yards away, and in the dark searched through the stuff stored there until he found the gun and a bullet clip.
In a videotaped re-enactment of the killing played at his trial, he is then shown heading back to the house, “doin’ my Army thing, like low, like goin', like low crawlin', crouchin’ down.”
As he approached the house, he was “crouched down real low. … My heart’s pumpin’ pretty fast … looking … didn’t see him … couldn’t see him at all.” He was scared, he says, scared for his life. “I’ve got a gun!” he yelled, telling Bushard to leave.
He entered the house and, hearing Bushard in the dining room, stepped into the room, holding the gun at his side. Bushard, he has insisted, saw him coming in a mirror and lunged at him with the knife. On the videotape he says he dove away and, as he did so, fired the gun. Bushard fell immediately. Parris ended up on the floor, by a woodbox, he says.
Everything was a blur, he says, but he remembers feelings of panic and his heart beating “a thousand miles an hour” when he realized Bushard was dead. Grabbing Bushard’s body by the shirt collar, he dragged it up the stairs and outside onto the porch.
He wrapped the body in a tarp and for two days sat with it there in his yard, drinking and wondering what to do. He buried the gun in the yard, and finally he loaded the body in Bushard’s Jeep, drove to a remote location in Mud Creek Canyon, and dropped it in a ravine.
A few days later he drove the Jeep to the Koret plant, left it there and hitchhiked home.
Why didn’t Sam Parris call the police immediately after the shooting? Why did he cover up his crime? Why didn’t he just leave the house when Bushard threatened him with the knife?
These are questions Parris has asked himself over and over. “Where I screwed the pooch is not calling the police,” he told Wyrauch and Kieler, “but I was scared. … There could have been an easier way, maybe, to resolve this thing. Why didn’t I run down to the store? Why didn’t I run down to my neighbor’s and call the police, you know.”
The truth is he was angry—scared and angry. He wanted his house back. He wanted Andy Bushard to leave, to go away.
“I didn’t go back in there to kill him,” he told me. “If I wanted to kill him, I would have gone in firing. I’m not that kind of guy. I’ve never hurt anyone.”
The jurors simply didn’t buy Parris’ account. They watched the videotape of him showing how he “dove” to get away from Bushard and decided it just wasn’t plausible, given the forensics evidence indicating the bullet had not been fired from below Bushard, but rather had gone straight into the side of his head.
And they apparently decided Parris had not acted in self-defense. Either they didn’t believe his account of the killing, or they decided that he simply should have walked away in the first place, and that by returning to the house he precipitated all that followed.
And then there were the “Herculean measures,” in the words of the prosecuting attorney, Deputy DA Dan Nelson, Parris took to cover up the crime: hiding the body, getting rid of Bushard’s possessions, lying to investigators, burying the gun, even replacing the bloody rug in the dining room. Bushard’s knife, which Parris said he put in Herb Cope’s truck with the dead man’s possessions, has never turned up.
The cover-up may have been “Herculean,” but it was far from thorough or even careful. First, because his truck was broken down, Parris had to enlist his “Uncle Herb” to help get rid of evidence and then foolishly blabbed to him about the killing. And that evidence included two dogs and a parrot, all very traceable. “I didn’t have the heart to kill them,” Sam later told me.
Would things have been different if Parris had called the cops immediately? His attorney, Public Defender Ric Ortner, believes so. “I think something drastically different would have happened if he had called the police,” he said.
Ortner said he was hoping “at worst” that the jury would come back with a voluntary-manslaughter conviction and was “absolutely disappointed” when Parris was convicted of first-degree murder.
Parris is adamant that he received inadequate representation. “A first-degree murder trial that’s over in less than six hours?” he asked rhetorically. He says he wanted to testify on his own behalf, he wanted others to testify for him, and he wanted to prove that Andy Bushard was capable of violence, but Ortner wouldn’t go for it.
Ortner responds that it was a strategic decision. If he had called bad-character witnesses to impeach Andy Bushard, the prosecution could have done the same with Parris, bringing out, for example, his prior felony conviction.
Both Nelson and District Attorney Mike Ramsey believe Ortner took the right tack. “It was a clean trial,” Nelson said. “I would have done it the same way [as Ortner].”
The appeal won’t succeed, Ramsey insisted, noting that Ortner’s strategy was well within acceptable parameters and that judges are “extremely reluctant” to second-guess trial attorneys’ tactics.
For his part, Ortner said he gave everything he could to the case, putting his other cases on hold and devoting most of several weeks to Sam Parris’ defense.
After the conviction, Parris hired a new attorney, Raymond Simmons, to try for a new trial. He also hired a private investigator, Kevin MacPhail, of Paradise, to look into Andy Bushard’s life. According to his report, MacPhail interviewed a number of people who had had problems with Bushard and said he sometimes had a bad temper, on occasion had brandished knives and had been caught stealing.
Judge Kelly refused to grant a new trial, however, saying that none of the new information had significant bearing on the facts of the case and that Ortner’s defense strategy was reasonable.
Simmons remains unconvinced. Facing a first-degree-murder charge, Parris had nothing to lose by taking the stand. He should have been able to talk directly with the jurors, and his history of alcoholism and diminished capacity on the night of the killing should have been presented, as well as the victim’s history.
“I would have had no problem putting Sam’s character up there,” he said. The killing, he said, was a “spur of the moment” action, a crime of passion, and manslaughter was the appropriate verdict. The nonviolent extortion conviction would have had little or no impact.
In the meantime, Sam Parris sits in jail, awaiting transfer to state prison, which can come at any time. He’s sober, of course, and says that physically he feels better than he ever has. “Too bad it took this,” he said ruefully. He misses his son Brian, whom he clearly loves deeply. That feeling, he says, also makes him feel bad about the Bushards and their loss of a son.
He can’t help but be amazed at the irony of it all: “Here I am, a guy who goes to Vietnam to fight for their government, and man I’m lucky to even make it out of there alive, and 25 years later I meet up with this Vietnamese kid who’s this refugee from the war … I just can’t believe it sometimes, it’s all so strange.”
The person who finds it most difficult to see Sam Parris as a first-degree murderer is his son Brian. He knows Parris as someone who has loved him all his life. He knows his father had a crippling problem with alcohol and that he made a huge mistake and deserves punishment, but he doesn’t believe he should spend the rest of his life in prison. “My dad’s a kind man,” he told me. “He’s not a cold-blooded murderer.”
A funeral service was held for Andy Bushard on April 14, 2001, 26 years almost to the day since he’d come into Paul and Carol Bushard’s life. More than 450 people turned out to say good-bye to him.
With that, and with Parris’ confession and finding Andy’s body, they’ve felt closure in what they acknowledge is a sad and tragic incident for everyone involved, including Sam Parris. They found a good home for Andy’s surviving dog, and his parrot, Marley, is in a large cage in their living room as a reminder of him. Paul has written an article for the magazine Bird Talk about Marley and Andy. Doing so was therapeutic, he said.
Carol has since become active in victims’ groups. She felt she needed the support of others who have lost children to homicide, so she goes regularly to meetings in the Bay Area.
As they look back on their son’s presence in their lives, they can’t help marveling at how extraordinary it was at the beginning and then again at the end. Noting that his killing and trial had been extensively covered in the local media, Carol Bushard pointed out: "Andy came into our lives with a splash in the news, and he left our lives with a splash of news."