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Commentary: A Day That Will Not Live In Infamy (But Should)

By Tom Dodge, KERA Commentator

Dallas, TX –

October marks twenty years since the world saw a news helicopter aerial video of a body lying face-down in the woods beside a red pickup. It was a young narcotics officer, murdered by Midlothian High School boys.

It was a tragedy but also an important story, important because the victim, George Raffield, was an undercover police officer and the assassins who planned it and carried it out were only sixteen and seventeen years old. It was also a huge story because it signaled to a complacent country during the Reagan "Just Say No" era that drugs were no longer just a big city problem, no longer just an inner-city problem, no longer just a minority problem. Drugs had come to the white middle-class, church-going, family-values-espousing, small-town suburbs.

Greg Knighten's mother was a private school teacher in Cedar Hill and his father was a Dallas police officer - good parents, moving to a tiny suburban town, trying to do everything they could to help an already troubled boy. What they didn't know, however, was that other parents had moved here for similar reasons before they did and brought their own troubled children. Greg found them in no time.

Richard Goeglein, a heavy-metal rock fan, came from Williams, Arizona, leaving his trouble back there.

Before the murder, the boys smoked marijuana and spoke with Richard's fetish, a totem he called "Terry's Heart." The thing told them George was a "narc." Actually, they had already learned this from an older woman in town who did the dope thing with them.

George was a 23-year-old Red Oak officer with a youthful appearance, one of the reasons he was chosen for the undercover job by the Midlothian police chief and his lieutenant. It was a secret operation, not even known by Midlothian school officials. The "dopers" quickly accepted him, mainly because he had a nice pickup and gave them rides to Polk Street in Dallas for drug buys.

But on the night of October 23rd they lured him to a wooded field south of town, where million dollar houses now stand. There, according to Richard, who had made a deal with the prosecutor, Greg shot him with his father's pistol.

George Raffield was a good officer and very brave. The police had planned the operation meticulously. Had it worked, George and his sweetheart would probably be married now with teen-aged children, and the dope-smoking kids who are now in prison would have been properly counseled and rehabilitated, maybe have children of their own to steer away from drugs. Instead there was a funeral.

The trial in nearby Waxahachie was covered heavily by all the news media with reporters and cameras. Laura Miller was there. She was a newspaper reporter then. Even the Wall Street Journal sent a reporter. Carlton Stowers wrote a book about it, Innocence Lost, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It was re-issued in paperback in May. I myself wrote about it in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and U.S. News and World Report. It was incidentally my first KERA commentary.

Midlothian schools now use a background checking system, surveillance cameras, and random student drug tests. I don't know if they've heard of the 1987 murder or not. But they probably need to know about it, mainly to understand how dangerous it can be when clever students fight back against all such measures.

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.