Journal Of The Dead
Book Review‘Journal of the Dead’Profiles Famous Caverns StabbingBy Misty CryerNatives and newcomers to Carlsbad are sure to find Jason Kersten’sJournal of the Dead to be enlightening in one way or another. If you are a true crime enthusiast, you are likely to find the story surreal. As a newbie, you may appreciate the Carlsbad hospitality and history that the author observed and delved into. If you are a local, you may develop a deeper appreciation of being taught to mark the trail or observe the surroundings when you venture into the desert. If you believe in an eye for an eye, you may find yourself thinking that this fellow got away murder.While good versus evil or right versus wrong is generally black and white, this story has a gray area that is likely to make readers second guess first impressions if they can relate and imagine themselves or a loved one in thesimilar circumstances. I n a journalistic style, Kersten (who originally reported on the story for Maxim Magazine) tells the story of an incident that occurred in the late summer of 1999 in Rattlesnake Canyon at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. His presentation is based on testimony, evidence, documents, interviews, a journal, and personal exploration. The author describes the criminal case as “one in a million”, states his intention of bringing awareness of precautions to consider before exploring the desert. He presents thestory as fact and challenges the readers to “believe it or not.”The story depicted by Kersten relates to a murder, called by many a “mercy killing”. Raffi Kodikian freely admitted to stabbing his best friend David Coughlin in the heart to relieve his suffering, before burying him underneath an array of rocks. The city travelers intended to camp overnight but got lost in Rattlesnake Canyon for several days with a minimum amount of water and food. As the story is told, somewhat supported by the journal that the friends kept, the young men resorted to eating prickly pears and even drinking urine before giving up and considering taking their own lives. The journal read, “We will not let the buzzards get us alive. God forgive us.” Kersten reviewed other survival stories and actions pursued which suggested Kodikian’s actions in this case was not the norm. In the authors words, “The only thing people could agree on was that his story was extraordinary and just plain bizarre.” The writer did an excellent job in describing the terrain and exploring the history of Carlsbad. The characters of the story came to life for the locals that knew them through the quotes and descriptions of their gestures and personalities. As most cases go, bail was set in Magistrate Court with the Judge explaining minimum and maximum sentences Kodikian could face, with the maximum being death. The Sheriff’s Office and investigators dug into evidence that might reveal something more sinister than a mercy killing. The District Attorney held true to the fact that New Mexico law doesn’t allow killings, even at the victim’s request. The defense attorney was known to be opposed to the death penalty and did his best to come up with a defense to present to the court in the defendant’s best interest. In the end a plea bargain was offered, Kodikian took it and told his side of the story on the stand. A three-day sentencing hearing was held. Support was offered to him through experts and character witnesses. He was held accountable, but a softer side of justice came to light when all but two years of the sentence, was suspended. While some doubted he was telling the truth, others were brought to tears and felt bad that he had to spend any time at all. Children and teens of Carlsbad residents may recall their parents double checking their supplies before they went on outings accompanied by a story of these two friends that got lost in the desert... without a doubt, by sharing this story Kersten is sure to accomplish his goal of increasing awareness and educating venturers to be cautious and prepared.