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In the mid 1980s, McNeeley met Rik Ballard Wheelwright, a Native American drummer. With Ballard, who was 18 years younger than McNeeley, she had two girls, Desiree and Julia, while in her early 40s. They lived for five months on the Fort Hall, Idaho, reservation. McNeeley was scared of the packs of reservation dogs that roamed the landscape. “The prettiest thing there was the sunset,” she recalls.
Ballard went out for cigarettes one morning, McNeeley says, and did not return. “If her dad only knew how broken-hearted Desiree was when he left and never came back,” she says. Desiree struggled not only with the loss of her father from an early age, but also her mixed race. Her mother recalls Desiree, a frown on her face, saying, “I don’t want to be brown. I want to be white like you and Julia.”
Allgier believes McNeeley betrayed herself and her race by having children with Ballard. In part, McNeeley agrees. “I just think it’s wise not to have mixed-race children.”
McNeeley’s life, she says, has been a “slow education” not only in poverty, but also, through her children, in how the judicial system can ride roughshod over the rights of those it imprisons. That education led to her advocacy and her relationship with Allgier, both of which she traces back to her daughter Julia.
In and out of juvenile detention facilities from when she was 14 to 18, Julia Wheelwright ended up in a proctor home, where troubled teens are cared for by experienced adults. But the Nephi proctor home’s basement had walls painted black and a nailed-down window. The woman told Wheelwright not to worry if her husband—an overweight man who wore a stained “wife beater” shirt—came into her room at night as he sleepwalked. Terrified, Wheelwright snuck out of the house and called her mother. McNeeley told the judge who’d sent Wheelwright to the Nephi-based couple of her plight, and he took her out of the home.
After a brief stint of being incarcerated as an adult, Wheelwright met Allgier, she says, in a halfway house. “He’s a really smart guy. He was not like how he portrays himself now.” After Anderson’s death, Wheelwright wrote a letter to Ogden’s Standard-Examiner, defending inmates’ rights to have MRI exams.
Shortly after, in August 2007, the then 25-year-old Wheelwright accepted a plea bargain for kidnapping her 5-year-old daughter from the child’s paternal grandmother, Dana Spens. Spens had gained temporary custody from Wheelwright and the child’s father, the then 36-year-old Mark Spens, both of whom were struggling with drug addiction and jail. Spens and her husband asked the judge to give Wheelwright and her boyfriend co-defendant, Donny Watters, the maximum sentence. The judge sent them to prison for 15 years each, recommending they serve the entire sentence. McNeeley, who had taken to wearing a black armband to signify her solidarity with drug-addicted inmates, was broken-hearted. She left the court in tears, telling a local reporter, “Nobody told [Wheelwright and her boyfriend’s] side of the story.” She added that inmates with drug issues cannot be rehabilitated until they receive treatment. “Some of the worst people can change.”
Dana Spens is unrepentant. She and her husband asked for the maximum because, she says, “We figured if she got a longer sentence, she could work on [her addiction issues] and [her daughter] could have a life every child deserves.”
McNeeley started writing to Allgier at Wheelwright’s request. But Wheelwright’s and Allgier’s friendship soon soured. He writes that he told her to do drug programs and classes in prison, to stay out of trouble, to work on her body, improve her mind. Instead, he writes, “She did the opposite, she got in fights, she got caught up with pills, she has had like over 50 write-ups.” He writes that, frustrated with her failure to follow his lead, he “cut her off. She started running her mouth, I caught word and my female Ryders [incarcerated supporters] delt with her, a couple of times.”
Wheelwright laughs. “The dude’s delusional,” she says. “He’s not a shot caller.” While she has had three prison fights, none of them, she says, reflected Allgier’s supposed influence.
Busy learning Latin and reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Wheelwright’s purpose in life, she says, is her daughter. Her next parole hearing is July 2013.
“It’s a concern,” says Frayne Spens, Dana’s husband, about Wheelwright’s eventual return to society.
In and out of jail and prison from 2000 onwards for burglary, forgery and escape convictions, Allgier was sent to Gunnison Prison in central Utah in 2001 for a five-year stretch. “I was forced into a sink-or-swim, dog-eat-dog world!” he wrote to City Weekly. “I came in a man, I live and leave or die a man!” To protect himself, he gave himself a physical makeover, eating, working out, “got covered in tattoos from head to toe. I wanted to have the look and reputation that I’m best to be left alone, and be able to defend my life and well-being if need be.”
In Draper’s Utah State Prison in 2004, he shared a cell with Chet Butterfield, who was in for a drug-related conviction. Released in 2005, Butterfield says prison changed Allgier, and not for the better. Allgier’s incarceration was for “minor stuff. Now look at him. He’s all tattooed up, he killed a cop and he’s facing the death penalty.”
That wasn’t the cellmate Butterfield recalls. Allgier looked “more like he should have been behind a computer, playing a game,” than a hard-core criminal. While in Allgier’s “own little world, he’s proud to be a white guy,” Butterfield says Allgier “mingled with every race and culture” in the prison, “doing a lot of push-ups, always looking for somebody to do different exercises with.” Allgier was going “to make the best time with his cellmate, and that’s a good way to do time.” That included caring for Butterfield after he had skin cancer.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Lockup, Allgier condemned several Aryan gangs as “lame,” a remark a prison guard told Lockup could get Allgier attacked. But now Allgier writes that his remarks were edited and says “some of the best white boys and Aryans I know are from Utah, in this prison,” and are from the very gangs he criticized on Lockup.
On June 25, 2007, 60-year-old veteran corrections officer Stephen Anderson transported Allgier to the University of Utah for an MRI. Anderson was well-regarded by many inmates. “Very, very few guards out there will treat you humanely,” Butterfield says. Anderson was one of the few. “He respected a man’s dignity.”
Allgier allegedly killed Anderson with his own gun. “I’m not guilty of what I’m being charged with,” he writes.
Anderson’s family is angry that four years later, Allgier has yet to be tried. “To drag a family through this is wrong,” says Anderson’s brother David.