A Guilty Verdict & What I Told the Police

It was more than ten years ago, when I was still the member of a karate dojo in Clairemont, San Diego. Bilji was a member too, but he had been arrested.

“Was there anything else you heard?”

The homicide detective asked me that question, not long after the arrest. He had called me on the phone to ask about a meeting we had at the dojo. I talked with him for a while and I thought we were done. But there was one more thing.

“Did you hear someone say that Bilji said he felt like he could kill that guy?”

Bilji was a big man. About six feet tall and built like a football player. His skin was dark. He had a bookish manner, a deep soft voice and wire-rimmed glasses.

He was married to an American woman and they had a little boy. As time passed it became clear the boy had some  problems. I can’t remember what it was but he was maybe autistic. Mentally challenged somehow.

Bilji and his wife broke up. Bilge kept training at karate. He also took Japanese sword classes, called Bato Do. Bilji’s wife started seeing a man who lived in Del Cerro. The man turned up dead. Bilji was arrested for murder.

Like I said, our sensei called us into the dojo to talk about what had happened. The meeting ended up being a bad idea. As we talked about it there was one guy. He was a black Englishman. I can’t remember his name. He was sitting near the back of the room and he said something.

“What did he say?” I asked someone who sat closer to me.

“He said Bilji once told him he felt like he could kill that guy.”

I said to the people in the group that we should stop talking about this because we all might have to talk to the police.

“Hey. I don’t say nothin’ to the man!” said Larry, a guy from Detroit who got the tense room to calm down with laughter.

But after about three months the man had me on the phone. Oh sure, I said, our karate instructor asked us to come to the dojo and he told us Bilji was arrested. He told us he went to see him in jail and Bilji tried to make a joke about it, avoiding the topic.

“Was there anything else you heard?”

I think it was true that I didn’t hear the incriminating statement he asked about. But someone told it to me and it was not contradicted by the guy who said it. Should I have just told the detective what he wanted to hear without him dragging it out of me? It was the truth and I knew it would come up.

Maybe it’s natural to not trust the police and not to want to tell them everything you know, even when you believe in the rule of law and you don’t think murderers should be allowed to get away with it.

Bilji was convicted. He stabbed the man his wife was dating to death in his house. Word had it that he did it with his Bato Do sword. I don’t know what has happened to Bilji in the past ten years. Maybe he appealed the conviction and got off somehow. But my guess is that he’s still in some California prison with a long way — maybe life — to go.

I remember the stuff Bilji used to tell me. He was a member of an Indian family but spent most of his childhood in Nigeria, where he learned to be streetwise.

He told me he meditated, which I did too. So now I try to picture him on the floor of a prison cell, sitting Japanese-style with legs folded beneath him, his eyes closed and his hands resting on his thighs. You empty your mind of thoughts to find some spiritual peace. For Bilji, it could give him a moment to stop thinking about his son, his past life and the things he has done.

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