Inmate-artist paints courtroom ceiling

Inmate-artist paints courtroom ceiling

Inmate-artist paints courtroom ceiling

Shorty fought the law — and the law won. Ernest Carpenter’s prison nickname stems from his diminutive height (5’3"). But the inmate-artist left a lofty mark on Lovelock, Nev.

Several years ago, while visiting Winnemucca, Judge Richard Wagner, now retired, admired one of Shorty’s murals at the Humboldt County courthouse. “So I bought some aluminum scaffolding, and we put him to work on our ceiling in Lovelock,” he said.

Carpenter resided at the Lovelock Correctional Center. Soon the prison gates would swing open he’d walk out a free man. But the odds said he’d be back.

“Shorty was a good artist but a bad burglar,” said Wagner.

Correctional officer Linda Whyte got a new job assignment. She guarded Shorty while he laid flat on his back to airbrush clouds against a blue sky. We had him up there pretty high,” she said.

The inmate also hand-painted a mural behind the judge's bench. The Seal of the State of Nevada showcases northern Nevada’s agriculture and mining industries. Overhead, an eagle spreads its wings in flight. Shorty signed his work 'E. Carpenter, 2005' in the lower right-hand corner.

“Shorty liked the meals better, so he was content,” said Wagner. “He was a likable guy, but he was always trying to con people. He'd try to push it now and then, but I told him not to try to con me because we had a business relationship.”

Eventually, Shorty finished the job and returned to his cell at LCC. He paroled later that year with plans to set up an automobile airbrushing service.

But when the judge picked up the October 31, 2006, issue of the Reno Gazette-Journal, he read disturbing news on the front page. The good artist had done some bad burgling.

At 6’ 5, retired cop Jeffrey Johannessen enjoyed hunting animals instead of criminals. He kept a 12 gauge shotgun in his closet for that purpose.

That changed one fall day when he spotted a little guy with a paint scraper. Shorty scraped away at Johannessen’s dining room window, determined to gain entry. Inside, Johannesen watched and waited with his rifle.

“Having an armed populace is good,” Johannesen told the newspaper reporter later.

When Shorty crawled in the window, he met with a surprise.

“Get on the ground!” the former deputy shouted.

Shorty took too long. Johannessen hit Shorty on the head with the butt of his shotgun until the little guy’s dentures flew out.

“If he would have just gotten on the floor like I told him I wouldn't have had to strike him,” Johannessen told the reporter.

In January 2007, Shorty pleaded guilty to one count of burglary. He knew the routine. But, this time, the State filed paperwork seeking to have his sentence enhanced under the habitual criminal statute.

Courtroom documents listed seven prior convictions, all nonviolent, between 1976 and 2002. They included burglary, possession of stolen property, attempted burglary, attempted grand larceny, and ex-felon in possession of a firearm.

In March 2007, Judge Patrick Flanagan's Second Judicial Court in Reno convicted Shorty of one count of burglary. The judge gave him life without parole as a habitual criminal.

In his appeal, Shorty argued that his lawyer failed to present mitigating evidence about his delusional thought processes and his drug addiction. It didn't do any good. Today the inmate-artist sits in the cell where he’ll live the rest of his life. He doesn't see much of the sky or the clouds. But his artistry stuns the guilty, the innocent and everyone in between.