Last edited: December 20, 2004

A Boy’s Life

The Supreme Court Effectively Threw Out the Kansas Sodomy Law, but State Attorney General Phill Kline Won’t Let Matthew Limon Out of Jail.

The Pitch, January 22, 2004
1701 Main, Kansas City, MO 64108
Fax: 816-756-0502

By Nadia Pflaum

Before Matthew Limon joined the ranks of prisoners at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility in Kansas, he probably would not have marched for gay rights. He probably never would have signed a petition on gay-rights issues or subscribed to a gay magazine. And after he gets out of jail, he still might not do any of those things.

But since Limon was sentenced to seventeen years for a crime that would have cost a heterosexual just fifteen months, newspapers and magazines and countless online discussions have seized upon his story. His cell has been deluged with postcards and letters addressed to Inmate 70713. Limon could have accepted offers for organized help—a sit-in or a protest at the University of Kansas, perhaps.

Instead, he’s spent the past three and a half years playing the piano with the prison church choir. And waiting.

Limon will turn 22 in February, but he has the mental capacity of a sixth-grader. Four years ago, in February 2000, Limon and another teenager were residents at the Lakemary Center for people with developmental disabilities in Paola, Kansas. Limon had just turned eighteen, and the other boy, identified in court filings only as M.A.R., was almost fifteen when Limon performed oral sex on him. M.A.R. told authorities that the act was consensual, a statement that has never been disputed.

Still, Kansas considers it statutory rape whenever a person older than eighteen has sex with anyone under the age of sixteen.

But Kansas’ “Romeo and Juliet” law covers a nebulous world in between. The general belief among Kansas judges and prosecutors is that the penalty for statutory rape should be less severe when the case involves two teenagers and one is no more than four years older than the other. The Romeo and Juliet law, passed by the Kansas Legislature and signed by Governor Bill Graves in 1999, defines “unlawful voluntary sexual relations” as intercourse, sodomy or “lewd fondling or touching” but lessens the sentence if these acts occur between an adult who is younger than nineteen and a child between the ages of fourteen and sixteen.

The statute’s last line stipulates that it applies when “the child and the offender are the only parties involved and are members of the opposite sex. “

Because the law creates different sentencing guidelines for opposite-sex and same-sex relations, Limon’s actions with M.A.R. earned him an adult-sized charge of criminal sodomy. A heterosexual teenager prosecuted under the Romeo and Juliet law would receive a maximum sentence of fifteen months and would not be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, as Limon now does.

In one of Limon’s first appearances in Miami County court, on June 27, 2000, his court-appointed lawyer, Anthony Lupo, testified that he’d counseled Limon to waive his right to a jury trial. After all, it was useless to fight the charge when he would surely be found guilty. The plan was to appeal his sentence.

Limon spent the next two years appealing his case through the Kansas courts—and losing. On February 1, 2002, a panel of three judges, including Judge G. Joseph Pierron Jr. of the Kansas Court of Appeals, upheld Limon’s conviction and sentence based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.

In the Bowers case, a gay man, Michael Hardwick, was arrested after a police officer entered his home to serve him a warrant for public drinking and found him and another man having oral sex in a bedroom. Though they were consenting adults having sex in the privacy of Hardwick’s home, both men were arrested under Georgia’s sodomy law. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Hardwick lost his appeal 5-4. Though Georgia had laws against both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy, the Supreme Court addressed only homosexuals, ruling that Americans do not have “a fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy.”

But seventeen years later, on June 26 of last year, the Supreme Court overturned its Bowers decision. In Lawrence v. Texas, the court found Texas’ homosexual sodomy law unconstitutional, effectively striking down all sodomy laws, same-sex or otherwise, still on the books in thirteen states. Four of those states—Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas—had laws banning only homosexual sodomy.

“A State can, of course, assign certain consequences to a violation of its criminal law,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a concurring opinion. “But the State cannot single out one identifiable class of citizens for punishment that does not apply to everyone else, with moral disapproval as the only asserted state interest for the law.”

Limon had been convicted based on a sodomy law that the U.S. Supreme Court had now rendered impotent.

The local office of the American Civil Liberties Union, along with its national office in New York City, had petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to look at Limon’s case in 2000. The day after its Lawrence decision, the court ordered the Kansas Court of Appeals to hear Limon’s case again in light of the Supreme Court’s new ruling.

On December 2, 2003, oral arguments at the Kansas Court of Appeals began, with the ACLU’s Tamara Lange representing Limon. Two of the three judges hearing the arguments, Pierron and Henry Green, had been on the panel that had upheld Limon’s conviction and sentence in his first appeal. But this time, Kansas v. Limon was a different drama.

Matthew Limon was born on February 9, 1982, in Satanta, an agricultural town of around 1,200 people in southwest Kansas. His father, Mike Limon, worked in the former Old Santa Fe stockyards and feedlot. His mother, Debby Limon, stayed home with Matthew and his older sister. (Mike and Debby Limon declined to speak with the Pitch.)

Generations earlier, the Limon family had come to Satanta from Mexico to work for the Santa Fe Railroad.

“There was A.P. Limon and E.P. Limon, those were the old-timers, and Gilbert Limon, that was Mike’s dad,” recalls Hank Kisker, who is in his seventies. He and his wife lived down the street from Mike and Debby Limon. Sharon Kisker says the Limons were among the best-regarded families in town.

“In Satanta, we have some old Mexican families. They’ve been here seems like forever,” Sharon Kisker says. “Those people are very respected in our community, and Mike’s family was one of them. They’re good people, Mike and Deb, the type to mind their own business.”

Sharon describes them as “very devout Christian people, more active than the average churchgoer.” Mike played music and sang in church, and Deb sometimes sang with him. “It’s a small-town Baptist church, so they were active in anything that needed to be done. They’d be the first to help with a funeral, and I think they even taught a Sunday-school class,” she says.

“Mike is a cowboy, but don’t give people the wrong impression,” Sharon warns. “He has a lot of class. He is not just knowledgeable about horses and cattle and livestock. He spent time with my grandkids, teaching them how to ride, and if they had a problem, anything particular to horses he could help with. It wasn’t something we paid him to do. He did it out of kindness.”

One of Mike Limon’s six sisters, Blanche Hayden, lives next door to the Kiskers. When Mike was twelve, Hayden says, their father bought Mike a horse and a guitar.

But Matthew inherited only one of Mike’s avocations. “Matt just isn’t a cowboy,” Hayden says. “Fathers wish that their sons have the same interests as them, and some just don’t.”

Music, however, became an important part of Matthew’s life. His aunt and neighbors say he never took a piano lesson but picked up music by ear and played beautifully, mostly church hymns and sometimes songs he wrote himself. But he could never get the hang of reading music.

“It seemed when he was real small, they determined maybe he had a hearing problem,” Sharon recalls. “As time went on, it was evident that he had learning problems. They put him in a special Christian school, sometime before sixth grade, and drove him to Liberal, 35 miles every day and back so he could have the help he needed.”

Eventually, his parents decided to send him to a residential facility. (Lakemary evaluations would later show that Matthew had an IQ between 50 and 84.) One of Mike Limon’s former coworkers at the stockyards (who asked not to be named for this story) thinks that the move might have had something to do with the death of one of Matthew’s friends, a girl, in a car accident before he turned eighteen.

“They’d gone to church school together,” the coworker says. “[The girl’s death] upset him. I considered him a normal teenager other than that. He didn’t have a lot of friends, I knew he had developmental problems, and he did not do the sports thing. His parents were concerned, worried about him ending up in psychiatric counseling for depression and stuff.

“I was regretful myself that they [put Matthew in a group home], but they did what they thought was best at the time,” the coworker adds. “In my opinion, the family was overbusy in church sometimes, and his depression and the family’s financial and emotional reasons made them think he’d be better off in a group home. You think they go to group homes for counseling, for stability, to help a person be more stable as an adult. Maybe he had homosexual tendencies, and his parents aren’t proud of that. His first group homes were all-boys’ homes, where the boys are troubled anyway. I would think that things like that would happen.”

In 1999, Matthew moved to the Lakemary Center in Paola. The center is private and nonprofit, but two-thirds of its 64 residents are in the custody of Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services, and their fees are paid by the state. Matthew was among its private clients.

“Mike said at one time that he wished he could get him out of that home,” the coworker says. “He said he thought the other boys were aggressive, troublemakers. Matt’s a follower, not a leader.”

Because many of his records are sealed, and because he has refrained from talking to the press, it’s hard to tell how much of his court proceedings Matthew Limon has understood. When Limon appeared in Miami County Court for sentencing on August 10, 2000, Judge Richard Smith asked him whether he had anything to say. The following is his complete and unedited statement, from court transcripts:

“I—I wrote some stuff during the time I was here for seven months of just—Basically, I just wrote when I came to jail I was very scared. I didn’t know what to do or say. During the time I was here, I did some reading and a lot of thinking of—about God and what I did. I read in a book [indiscernible] about homosexuality and it—and just—and it said like people will not inherit the kingdom of God, wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lust of their own hearts to desire their own bodies between themselves who change the truth of God into a lie and worshiped and served the creature more than their creator who is blessed forever, amen. For this cause, God gave up them unto vile affections for even their woman did change the natural use unto the—that which is against nature. And likewise, also the men leaving one toward another with men—with men working that which is unusually—un—un—and receiving—What is it? In themselves that [indiscernible] which was met. Knowing—who knowing it—the judgment of God that which—I mean, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the sin, but have pleasure in them that do them.

“All of this got me thinkin’ even—it—it even got me to tears. I finally—I finally realize all along I’ve been basically livin’ a lie. I kept asking myself over and over, ‘Why, Matt? Why did you do this?’ I prayed to God many times and asked him to change my life, asked him—I’ve asked him to change my ways. I told God about my thoughts and problems. I’ve asked him to come into my heart, you know. I can’t live like this. And—and two Christian men, I—I told ‘em about my problem. They gave me some—you know, they gave me some advice about God and one—one of ‘em led me to the Lord and—and—I know I deserve the worst punishment that I can. The past few months, I’ve been sittin’ in jail just thinking about—I’ve thought about suicide many times. I—I just—First I gave up all hope that I couldn’t change, and I’m willing to change. I want to change. The greatest gift that God ever gave me was the gift of music on a piano—and the greatest thing that I have are my parents and my family. That’s my—all my family, that’s what keeps me goin’. If I didn’t have ‘em, I—I just don’t know what I would do.

“But, Your Honor, I just ask for—please, please give me some treatment. I’m—you know, I was wrong and I admit I want to change. I can’t live like this forever and this is it. This is my final thing that—I—I can’t do this no more, you know. I just—and I also asked a few people about prison and most of the people said I wouldn’t survive or wouldn’t make it. Reasons of that was because they said I was too soft and I was weak. And some other—some other people said if—if I just mind my own business and just kept my mouth shut that I’d probably be okay. And I—I deserve—I know I deserve punish—some major punishment, but I’m also asking for just one more chance to change my life and—and have one more—one more chance. I want to change my life, to get right with God and, basically, get my relationship with God right. I just want to change. I—That’s all I can say.”

Judge Smith sentenced Limon to 206 months in a correctional facility, with credit for the 182 days he’d already spent in Miami County Jail. He ended up at Ellsworth, where he has remained for more than three years. (Limon has not yet been offered sex-offender treatment.)

While he’s been in prison, his case and his family have done a lot of traveling.

The Limons moved from Satanta to Larned, 63 miles from Ellsworth, where Mike Limon was offered another job working with livestock and the family could be closer to Matthew. Blanche Hayden guesses that the family visits him once every two weeks. Limon’s parents donated his piano to the prison so that he can play it there.

The case went from Lupo to a lawyer named Daniel Estes. Shortly after filing a brief arguing that Limon should have been convicted under Romeo and Juliet, Estes left the appellate defender’s office for private practice. Appellate Defender Paige Nichols then appealed Limon’s case before the panel of judges in his first oral hearing and lost. Then the national ACLU took over and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the case. After the Lawrence v. Texas decision, the ACLU asked Nichols, who was then in private practice, to help Lange defend Limon. She agreed.

Lange says Limon understands his case, though that takes extra effort on her part. “Matt is attentive and wants to know what’s going on, and I’m careful to explain it in the simplest way possible,” Lange says. “He’s very articulate, so it’s not always easy to tell [what he’s having difficulty with].”

One thing that’s hard for Limon’s legal team to understand is why Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has taken such an interest in keeping Limon in jail.

“It wouldn’t be possible for me to tell Matt that there’s nothing personal about the state continuing to try and fight this case,” Lange says. “The state is trying to keep Matt in jail, though it is clearly wrong to spend seventeen years in prison instead of one year because of sexual orientation.”

“[Limon’s] statement that he was sentenced to seventeen years in prison for ‘who he is’ is correct,” Kline writes in the brief laying out the state’s defense in the current appeal. Kline says Limon received the harsher sentence not simply because of his sexual orientation but because “he is a repeat offender who commits sex offenses against children.”

Kline is referring to Limon’s two prior convictions in juvenile court, both for having sex with people under the age of sixteen. Both crimes occurred on the same day seven years ago, when Limon was fourteen. The court records are sealed because they involve juveniles, so it’s impossible to know the details of what occurred and with whom.

“This isn’t a comparison of a seventeen-year sentence with a one-year sentence,” Kline tells the Pitch, sitting in his Topeka office on a snowy December day. “Mr. Limon would have received five years if [the Lakemary incident] was his first conviction. This was his third conviction. I don’t know his sexual orientation. The act he was engaged in, in this instance, was homosexual. But because of his predatory nature toward children, he is considered to be a sex predator in Kansas under Kansas law.”

Lange calls Kline’s argument “a smoke screen.”

“Even if this case involved a heterosexual teen with the exact same prior offenses, same criminal record, that heterosexual teen would get thirteen to fifteen months in this case,” Lange says. If Limon had no prior convictions, Lange says, he would still have to serve five years as opposed to probation, which a heterosexual teen would receive as a sentence. “The same gross disparity exists. His sentence is because Romeo and Juliet was made inapplicable to gay teenagers.”

The Romeo and Juliet law was buried in Senate Bill 149, a sixty-page omnibus bill introduced to the Kansas Senate at 11:30 p.m. on May 13, 1999, the last day of the session. The Legislature adjourned fifteen minutes later, recalls Senator Karin Brownlee, a Johnson County Republican.

Brownlee voted against the bill because it was impossible to tell what was in it. “So many other bills were bundled together that I felt it was irresponsible to pass it in that manner, in the waning hours of session,” Brownlee says.

Republican Senator David Adkins, a lawyer, was on the Kansas House Judiciary Committee and participated in discussions about Senate Bill 149. Adkins says the bill was created to restructure Kansas’ sentencing guidelines. Prisons were filling up, he says, and in order to create bed space, the committee shortened sentences for nondrug offenses. But to keep up the appearance that the Legislature was tough on crime, those provisions were wrapped around a few sentence-lengthening measures.

In the process, the Romeo and Juliet provision was created. There had been no previous legal accommodation, Adkins explains, for parents of an eighteen-year-old who gets his fifteen-year-old girlfriend pregnant. “Her parents go ballistic and want to prosecute under statutory-rape charges,” Adkins says. “There was the feeling that if the parties really, truly admitted everything was consensual, special circumstances should be considered.”

Adkins now says it’s “strange” that the law applies only to members of the opposite sex. “It was a way of saying, ‘Let’s not raise the issue—let’s not go there,’ attempting to solve the consensual issue and not get to the larger sodomy issue,” he says of the Legislature’s efforts.

As a state senator in 1999, Kline voted against Senate Bill 149. He claims he did so not only because the bill reduced the lengths of sentences but also because he disagreed with the idea of sentencing a heterosexual differently from a homosexual on a sodomy charge.

Explaining the Legislature’s rationale for leaving same-sex offenders out of the Romeo and Juliet law, Kline says, “The reality is that most children are oriented toward heterosexuality, and sexual development is a fragile development. In fact, it’s one of the areas that’s most often abused. And so to nurture and protect, we have laws, age-of-consent laws and so forth, which say children do not have the emotional capacity to consent to sexual relations.

“Additionally, we segregate children by gender in activities to protect their developing sexuality and to provide role models,” Kline continues. “And where an abuse occurs ... the potential harm to the child is greater when a role model, or someone of the same gender, commits that abuse. Additionally, it most likely affects their sexual development more greatly than if it were heterosexual.”

Kline says there’s a difference between unfair and unconstitutional.

“The ACLU is essentially misleading the debate here, and here’s why,” Kline says. “They’re saying it’s about fairness, and it’s not about fairness. Not to say that fairness is unimportant, but fairness debates occur in the Legislature. And I would agree that you can put a legitimate argument out there that his sentence is unfair.... Everybody who’s been sentenced for a crime claims things are unfair.”

“That’s absurd,” says Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “If he’s making arguments about the Constitution that he doesn’t believe are right, he doesn’t belong in that job as attorney general. That’s an outrageous thing to say. He’s made a whole series of claims about why it’s legitimate for the state to do this, and he shouldn’t make those claims if he doesn’t think they’re true, absolutely.”

Kline says laws should be changed by legislation, not by the courts. “[The courts] draw a line that rests in perpetuity,” he says. “The Legislature can work with these issues and respond to [changing] societal concerns.”

“That whole argument is a red herring,” Lange counters. “The Legislature cannot undo Matthew’s conviction. It all comes back to basic civics lessons that everyone learned in grade school history class. It is the role of legislature to determine public policy, and the role of the courts is to interpret both federal and state constitutions and limit the role of legislature when it oversteps its bounds and treads on constitutional rights.”

Adkins, who ran unsuccessfully against Kline for attorney general in 2002, says he recognizes Kline’s argument as one he’s heard before. He heard it from the far right in November in Massachusetts, where that state’s Supreme Court decided to allow gay marriage. And he heard it in Alabama, where controversy erupted over a statue of the Ten Commandments in that state’s Supreme Court building. The argument that these things should be left up to state legislatures is, he says, “the new code language emerging everywhere.”

“We’re seeing an emerging populist rhetoric in which elitist, robed judges are said to be out of touch with the needs of society,” Adkins adds. “It’s a lot like the old states’ rights arguments from Civil War times, and it’s dark and ugly. We all know politicians can do stupid things that result in stuff like the internment of the Japanese in World War II and separate schools for black children, and the courts are able to step in and provide the check.”

In a section of his brief titled “It Is Left to the Legislature—and Not This Court—to Legislate Morality,” Kline describes the future as he sees it if Limon goes free: “[This] will begin a toppling of dominoes which is likely to end with the Kansas marriage law on the scrap heap. Pull a thread on the social fabric that will begin an unseaming (and unseemly) process that will end with the State being unable to protect minor children from falling prey to sexual predators while in state institutions, among other deleterious aftershocks.”

In a footnote, Kline adds, “Any court that handed Mr. Limon a win ... would at the same time (perhaps unwittingly) bring about a court-ordered redefinition of marriage that prohibited all distinctions based on ‘sexual orientation.’ Sexual desires rather than communal and historic sensitives would then define the marital relationship, allowing such combinations as three party marriages, incestuous marriages, child brides, and other less-than-desirable couplings.”

Kline says he’s only doing his job, just as his predecessor, Attorney General Carla Stovall, did before him. “[The ACLU is] in a court of law asking the court to strike down a statute. And I am defending it, just like General Stovall did successfully,” he says.

But Kline has made the Limon case a “political cause célèbre,” Adkins says. “He’s saying Armageddon will ensue, and if the ACLU gets its way we’ll have dogs and cats sleeping together and lightning shooting from the sky, interrupting civil society as we know it.”

Kline has put forth three reasons why the state of Kansas has a governing interest in excluding homosexuals from the Romeo and Juliet law. They’re the same reasons the U.S. Supreme Court shot down when it overturned the Bowers decision with Lawrence v. Texas.

One is that the state has an interest in preventing the spread of diseases such as AIDS. Another is that it is rational for the state to favor relationships that may culminate in marriage. The third is that the state has an interest in valuing relationships that lead to procreation.

At Limon’s December 2 hearing, these arguments didn’t seem to impress Judge Pierron.

The hearing took place on the third floor of the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka, a modern, circular room with a raised panel of podiums for the judges. A handful of observers filled a row of the room’s cushioned chairs.

Chantel Guidry, a 32-year-old member of Anarchist Black Cross (a Lawrence-based organization that focuses on prisoners’ rights and prison abolition), was there with three other members of ABC and four KU students, members of the university’s Queers and Allies organization. Many more KU students from Queers and Allies and other groups would have liked to make the trek to Topeka, Guidry said, but the hearing date was too close to finals.

“We came here in support of Matthew, and we want to help do whatever is best for him and his case,” she told the Pitch.

On behalf of the state, Deputy Attorney General Jared Maag argued that what the court found in Lawrence v. Texas didn’t alter Kansas’ decision because it didn’t apply to minors, only consenting adults.

“Then why are we here?” Pierron asked. “Here we are, by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, so I’d prefer to hear more analysis on why or why not this ruling was constitutional.”

Maag recapped the state’s three arguments, but that only fueled more stern statements.

“I realize that homosexuals don’t have favor within the law. But we don’t take chunks of people and say, ‘If you commit this crime, you get a higher penalty.’ That’s not constitutional,” Pierron said.

“This has to do with how far a police state can go in regulating sex with children,” Maag replied. “The state is given wide latitude in dealing with issues of child safety. It is not irrational to promote traditional sexual relationships to children.”

But Pierron called two of the state’s arguments—its rational interest in promoting heterosexuality and in relationships leading to procreation—“utterly ridiculous.”

“We are not here to encourage procreation or marriage between sexual predators and children,” Pierron said. “That’s not applicable. There is no rational basis for that. On disease pathogens, you may have an argument, though science goes in the other direction, but the state does not contend that Mr. Limon had any diseases to pass on. If a female with every venereal disease known to man had committed the same act as Limon, she would get a lesser penalty, but he gets a harsher sentence.... Your first and second claims make no sense, and the third, under closer scrutiny, doesn’t, either.”

“Judge Pierron wrote the opinion upholding the state’s position in the first appeal. It was quite fascinating to see how two years’ time altered the judge’s approach,” Kline told the Pitch.

The judges’ decision could come any day now.

The ACLU’s Matt Coles says that if the three-judge panel affirms Limon’s conviction, there is the option of taking the case to the Kansas Supreme Court. “My fond hope is that this case ends here,” he says. If Limon goes free, though, the state can appeal that decision to the Kansas Supreme Court. “But I think they should pause and think very seriously about that and about whether that is truly just,” Coles says.

Maag says that either way, “It’s definitely not the end of it. Only after the U.S. Supreme Court rules—then no one can appeal.”

Kline predicts that the three judges will keep Limon’s conviction but reduce his sentence and remove the clause in the Romeo and Juliet law that distinguishes between sentences for homosexuals and heterosexuals.

“I would be pleased with that result,” he says. “General Stovall, who was in this office ahead of me, took this all the way up. It’s amazing how people have put this cause on me as if I’m out there making this happen, and it’s simply, honestly, because I’m pro-life. But that’s another issue.”

Limon passes his time playing piano for the prison’s church choir and writing music.

It’s been more than three years since he spoke those faltering words at his sentencing hearing. Though he’s avoided speaking to the press, the ACLU’s New York City office agreed to relay questions from the Pitch to Limon in prison on the condition that they were unrelated to his legal case. The ACLU asked Limon the Pitch’s questions by telephone and e-mailed transcripts of his responses to the paper.

Limon misses his family. “Just being able to talk and sharing feelings and, of course, when they come up to visit the hardest part is when they leave,” he said. “We have some pretty good conversations and heart-to-hearts. I miss being able to help them around the house and being there for them.”

If none of this had ever happened, Limon said, “I’d probably be more smarter, be going to school or graduated.”

At Ellsworth, Limon said, he has had “more musical ideas.” But he referred also to other lessons. “Others have helped me realize the stuff I was doing was wrong and nothing but getting me into deeper doo-doo, and it helped me see the light,” he said. “I had a cellmate for two years and we became the bestest friends. He got me into working out and lifting weights. He told me who is OK and who to stay away from, and that’s pretty much kept me out of trouble. There’s been a couple other people; they have pretty much done the same thing, they’ve helped me work out. And there have been a couple of times that I’ve been pretty down, and they’ve lifted me up and gave me encouragement. They’re no longer here and the other guy [the cellmate] is in Lansing [Correctional Facility] now.”

He misses driving. “The first car I drove was an ‘89 Buick LeSabre,” he said. “The second one was an ‘88 Dodge Lancer. [Right now] I’d be driving that Buick but I wouldn’t mind having a brand new Lincoln Towncar with tinted windows.” On the radio would be “R&B, kind of the old school stuff, hip-hop, and mixing it in with some classical stuff,” he said. “Keith Sweat, Silk, the Isley Brothers, that’s pretty much recently what I’ve been listening to.”

Limon has thought about what he wants to do after he’s released from prison. “I wouldn’t mind studying music and storm chasing,” he said. “When I was little, the third time we had a good thunderstorm come in, my mother couldn’t keep me in the house, I sat on the porch and watched it all. I’d been doing that since I can remember, real young ... I want to find a job, maybe with my uncle, do something with my music, and go to school. My uncle has a sheep farm, a couple of them, and I might help him out with it someday.”

Hayden says that if her nephew is released as a result of the appeal, he would be able to lead a normal life eventually. “I think they don’t give him enough credit,” she says. “They say he’s not smart, but I think he is. He has an excellent talent. He’s unreal at the piano. I think he could live on his own once he got adjusted. I really think he could.”

The people who knew him in his hometown stand by the good memories they have of Limon.

“We’re raising grandchildren, they’re younger than Matt, and Blanche’s kids would be over here with Matt and they’d all play,” Sharon Kisker says. “I never worried about Matt [being around my children]. I knew he was different, slower. And maybe I didn’t know Matt as well when he became an older boy, but I certainly knew his folks. Last time I saw Matt, his dad was working with the horses at my house and Matt was with him, and he had his hair in cornrows. And Mike was certainly not that kind of person, but he would never let on that it bothered him. It must have been right before Matt went to prison. In my mind, he did get an unfair sentence, but you know, what am I?”

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