Hunting Snipes
By: Bill E. Branscum
Copyright: September 2004

While I had always believed that "snipe hunting" was a tradition unique to rural Appalachia, it appears to have been the more recent pastime of choice in Michigan City, Indiana. It's been almost three years since Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Priscilla Jo Beckman, and her husband, Prosecuting Attorney Robert Beckman, set out from the LaPorte County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with their whistles and gunny sacks, fully intending to bag Snipes, but, like everyone who has ever thus played the fool, they wound up with egg on their faces, and empty bags.

It's normally an amusing hillbilly diversion. Gullible young children stumble around in moonlit hollers, blowing their snipe whistles, or mimicking the older boys' rendition of the "snipe call," knowing, with absolute conviction, that a big fat snipe is going to come running to be scooped up in their sack- just like the big boys said they would. It's tradition, a rite of passage, part of growing up, and it's always a harmless prank - much like sitting up with the little guys waiting for Santa Clause.

The Beckmans' version of the game was a little different. Their widely publicized Snipes hunt wasn't harmless, it was born of evil intent, it hurt people, and it had nothing to do with the foolish innocence of youth.

The Beckman's were old enough to know better.

On March 14, 2004, the Law Firm of Robert G. Bernhoft, 207 E Buffalo Street, Suite 600, Milwaukee, WI 53202, contacted me and explained that they represented the movie celebrity, Wesley Snipes, with regard to the paternity case that has been the source of significant tabloid press. They advised me that the case had gotten to the point that Wesley Snipes could be arrested for refusing to submit to a paternity test.

Frankly, I couldn't rationalize that. The fact that Wesley Snipes chose to incur enormous expense, and subject himself to the possibility of arrest, along with the further adverse publicity that would invariably be attendant thereto, by refusing to take a simple paternity test, made no sense at all to me, and I said so.

Although I acknowledge that every accused person, and/or criminal defendant, is entitled to the best possible defense, that is not the business that I choose to be in. Further, having dealt with three preschoolers as a single parent, I am not a person to be sympathetic towards those who evade parental responsibilities.

I suggested that Atty. Bernhoft look elsewhere.

Atty. Bernhoft observed that all I knew was what I had seen in the tabloids, reminded me that I have never been a celebrity, or a member of any class challenged by ethnicity, and assured me that there was more to this than I saw; he persuaded me to accept the case.

What I found, I didn't like.

I talked to her family, her former boyfriend, and I ultimately interviewed her. As it turns out, Lanise Pettis wasn't lying.

Lanise Pettis (Born in 1971) wasn't lying about Wesley Snipes being her cousin, and the father of Israel Pettis. Although the prosecutors didn't see fit to bring it up for obvious reasons, she didn't lie when she told me about her belief that they actually have nine children together, one of whom is the actor Brandon Hammond (Born 1984), and another -- the super model, Tyra Banks (Born 1973).

When Ms. Pettis explains that Wesley Snipes secretly married her many years ago when she was little more than a child, she believes it, and when she talks about the government agents who arrived in black helicopters, and demanded that they never mention the marriage, she isn't lying about that either.

Likewise with the others -- Wesley Snipes does not define the limits of her celeb relationships. She told us about Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Prince . . . and she even talks about partying with President Clinton. He's her cousin too!

Lanise Pettis isn't lying, she has no evil motive, this isn't about money or stealing 15 minutes of fame at someone else's expense - she is just profoundly delusional.

I found myself wondering, "How sloppy, how inept - how remarkably gullible would the LaPorte Prosecutors Office have to be to go forward with a case based on this?"

It gets worse.

According to her former boyfriend, Indiana authorities knew all about it, and have known since the beginning. Keith Cowans provided a sworn statement, and in his statement he said that he told them everything, and even gave the Beckmans a sworn statement revealing everything that he told us.

I have the discovery documents and there is no copy of his statement, or reference to it.

Priscilla Jo Beckman, and her husband, Robert Beckman, are attorneys, Officers of the Court, representatives of the LaPorte County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office - the public officials to whom one is supposed to appeal for truth and justice. They didn't deliver.

Instead, they fed Wesley Snipes and Lanise Pettis to the tabloids, alleging that he visited his cousin Lanise, (who is actually a very likeable young woman) who was portrayed as being a crack addicted prostitute, to counsel her about throwing her life away. As their story goes, Wesley Snipes paused on the way out the door for some unprotected sex with his cousin, and fathered their child.

I do not need to be black, or a celebrity, to understand why he declined to simply submit to a paternity test and walk away - leaving the world to merely amend the prior paragraph to read, "but didn't father her child." Some empty vindication that would be.

Even assuming, arguendo, that since Wesley Snipes is a celebrity, he should expect this sort of asinine abuse - how about Lanise Pettis? Are we to believe that a Prosecutor, and his Deputy Prosecutor, went forward with this circus without considering the consequences that they were exposing Lanise Pettis to?

Didn't they realize that her family, and the three children she actually does have, will be reading about this mess, and see Lanise dragged thru the dirt for nothing? A little limelight must have been awfully important to the Beckmans; when they bought it, they had to know that it would come at a terrible price.

Fortunately for Lanise Pettis, Wesley Snipes is a more compassionate person than they were.

You'll notice that Wesley Snipes is not suing Lanise Pettis. Whereas attorneys always tell you to sue everybody (I happen to know how the Complaint was first drafted), Wesley Snipes is a "hands on" kind of guy, and he makes his own decisions.

On that issue, and others, he made his position clear; suffice it to say that he's particular who he whacks with a sword. In light of all the grief and expense that this has cost him, that strikes me as a remarkable thing.

Unfortunately, that's all the class and moral integrity that I saw here. It saddens me to report that Officers of the Court, and members of the Bar who should have known better, have behaved in this fashion, and I am sickened by the nagging suspicion that neither Brad Pitt, nor Leonardo DiCaprio, would have been treated this way.

  • Memorandum of Law in Support of TRO

  • Arrest Warrant; Wesley Snipes

  • We did some good work here, and we got this put together as effectively as we did because I had some first rate support from William “Bill” Wagner, an Illinois Private Investigator who retired from the Chicago Police Department; Dennis Hyten, an Indiana Private Investigator who retired from the FBI; and Gary Somerville, an Illinois process server with some really good contacts on Chicago’s West Side.

    Late Breaking Developments:

    On September 14, 2005, Orchid GeneScreen completed a Genetic Test Report, a copy of which is available below, notifying Ms. Tracy Tillman, LaPorte County Child Support, Michigan City, Indiana, that there was a 99.98% probability that Billy Lee Johnson is the father of Lanise Pettis' child, thereby establishing that Wesley Snipes is not.

    Ho hum.

    As previously reported above, and documented in the statements provided, this has always been common knowledge. Lanise Pettis Grandmother (Anna Roberts, with whom she has lived since she was a child) knew who the father was, Billy Lee Johnson openly acknowledged that he was the father, and everyone, including her former boyfriend, knew that the only reason Wesley Snipes name has been mentioned is because Lanise Pettis is completely delusional.

    In fact, Keith Cowans, the former boyfriend, testified that he provided Laporte Indiana authorities with a sworn statement explaining all of this years ago - a statement that seems to have mysteriously disappeared.

    In spite of the sinister implications associated with this case, the news media is reporting far and wide that Wesley Snipes has been vindicated. "Vindicated?" Pardon me, but is nobody from the Fourth Estate paying attention? If Wesley Snipes is somehow vindicated, or exonerated, by this recent development, color me dense, but I reckon I missed it.

    Wesley Snipes and his attorney,
    Robert G. Bernhoft

    The problem I have with this "vindication" nonsense is this.

    I can imagine waking up tomorrow morning to see every newspaper and rag tabloid in the Country proclaiming that someone I had never heard of was my drug addicted prostitute cousin, and accusing me of; meeting with her in some Chicago crackhouse, taking advantage of my own cousin's pitiful circumstances to have unprotected sex with her, getting her pregnant, and then denying paternity in a shameless effort to evade my responsibility to our child. . . . it's frightfully Kafkaesque, but I can imagine it.

    From there, it's a short step to imagine trying to explain the inexplicable to my family and friends - and you'd see my point if you could imagine trying to explain something like that to my wife!

    Perhaps I'm petty and small minded, but news reports that I wasn't actually the father, several years and a fortune in legal fees later, wouldn't exactly leave me dancing in the streets, overcome with glee. Especially, under the circumstances as they exist in this case.

    If, during the course of this ordeal, I discovered that Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Priscilla Jo Beckman, and her husband, Prosecuting Attorney Robert Beckman, knew all along that the allegations were the fruit of a delusional mind, and had a sworn statement explaining the history of this particular fantasy, I wuld feel outraged. If I knew that they deliberately chose to hand me up to an unmerciful press so they could bask in the limelight of my crucifixion, and get their names in the papers at my expense, . . . no indeedy, "Hey, looks like your not the father after all," wouldn't leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

    I may be as delusional as Ms. Pettis, but in the world I try to share with my children, the word "vindication" implies truth and justice. Simply acknowledging the undeniable in a self-serving bid at damage control is not the same thing.

    To anyone inclined to give Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Priscilla Jo Beckman, and her husband, Prosecuting Attorney Robert Beckman the benefit of the doubt - if you just cannot stand to believe that the Beckmans initiated the case against Wesley Snipes, and obtained a warrant for his arrest knowing about the eight other children, Lanise Pettis' prior involuntary commitment, the secret marriage followed by the intervention of government agents who arrived in black helicopters, the involvement of Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington, and even President Clinton . . . and all the other information that you have seen on this web site - I can understand that.

    I have a lot of faith in our system of justice, I truly believe that it is the finest, fairest system in the world and I don't want to believe it either - but tell me, if we are going to give the Beckmans the far reaching benefit of completely inconceivable doubt, how do we explain the undeniable fact that they have been in possession of all this information for nearly a year, as evidenced by the filing date on my Declaration, yet they are only just now getting around to dropping the charges, and vacating the outstanding warrant for his arrest? How is it that they have yet to acknowledge that he has been unjustly vitimized, or express an iota of concern over the terrible consequences of their "mistake?"

    No, the fact is, this waddles and quacks like a particularly ugly duck; it is every bit the sordid little mess that it appears to be.

    For whatever reason, Indiana authorities took their best shot, and now that that nonsense is over, Wesley Snipes is seeking his "day in Court." Although it has been widely reported that Wesley Snipes is suing Lanise Pettis, as I reported last year, such is not the case. There would be no justice in further tormenting a delusional woman who never meant him in any harm and it is tragedy all its own that Lanise Pettis has been portrayed as a crack addicted prostitute - she is not named in the suit he has filed against the Beckmans.

    In my personal opinion, Wesley Snipes will be "vindicated" when they rename Michigan City, "Snipesville," and give him an opportunity to fire some of the "help." Perhaps he could use his cinematic contacts and connections to find them nice, fluffy jobs to which they would be better suited.

I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

© Copyright 2002 - Bill E. Branscum. All Rights Reserved.