Hill's criminal record not what he says it is

The Pensacola News Journal/November 20, 1997
By John W. Allman

Pensacola -- Steve Hill depicts his youth as a troubled time of drug addiction and crime.

He tells of frequent problems in school, extended jail stays, random criminal acts and a never-ending flow of drugs.

In his autobiography, "Stone Cold Heart," Hill writes of running wild in the streets of Huntsville, Ala., in the early 1970s, doing all kinds of drugs and getting arrested frequently.

Hill claims that he was:

  • Expelled from high school.

  • Arrested at least 13 times between high school graduation in 1972 and December 1975.

  • Sentenced to short jail terms or probation by a number of judges.

But much of what Hill describes cannot be verified.

And his stories differ from what others recall.

Hill blames the passage of time for that: Since the events happened more than 20 years ago, he says, people have forgotten some facts and specific details.

But even the police, court and school records differ from his accounts.

Hill wrote in "Stone Cold Heart":

I was constantly being led down the school corridors to the principal's office. Expelled from school again!

Hill graduated from Grissom High School in 1972. His senior class, had 547 students.

Few of Hill's teachers are still there. Edna Keel, who taught economics and psychology, said she remembers him only because of his hair, which was longer than most other students.

"He always kept it neat," she said.

In the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for schools to have an assistant principal assigned to handle discipline. At Grissom High, that was Ray Reynolds.

"I never had any serious problems with Steve," said Reynolds, 60, who now teaches American history at Sparkman High School in Huntsville. "He was the usual high school kid in the '70s."

Reynolds used a paddle to enforce the rules. He remembers paddling Hill, but only for minor offenses such as being late for school.

Hill said in a recent interview that Reynolds paddled him because he had drugs.

Reynolds said he never disciplined Hill for drugs.

Hill admitted in an interview with the News Journal that he was never expelled from Grissom. But he claims he passed out in the school cafeteria after taking Quaaludes, a depressant, and school officials had to call his mother to pick him up.

After the News Journal interview, Hill had his mother, Ann, call the newspaper to verify that she picked him up at school.

Hill wrote in "Stone Cold Heart":

The cycle of drugs-crime-jail, drugs-crime-jail repeated over and over only to be stopped by death itself.

In the early 1970s, the population of Huntsville was almost 140,000.

The drug culture of the late 1960s was just surfacing in the northern Alabama city, nestled just below the Tennessee state line.

It caught many people, especially local law enforcement officials, by surprise.

The Huntsville Police Department created a drug unit in 1969 to battle what it said were the three most common drugs: marijuana, LSD and Dilaudid.

The city did not have a significant problem with what police considered the hard drugs: heroin and cocaine, Huntsville police officials said.

Hill, however, has described the city of his youth as a haven for hard-drug use. His favorite, he said, was morphine.

In his sermons, he has called himself a junkie, but now says the truth is that he tried heroin only a few times.

"I don't ever want to depict myself as what you would call a mainline heroin addict," Hill said.

Hill's depictions of his criminal past also raise questions.

He uses vague terms when he mentions his arrests. Though he claims police took him to jail in Colorado, Arizona and California, as well as in Alabama, he can offer no proof that any arrest outside Alabama ever happened.

His explanation is that many were for crimes that were never solved.

Hill's attorney, Walter Chandler, suggests that some were not actual arrests but were instances in which Hill was picked up for questioning.

One story Hill has told on stage numerous times is that he and some friends were arrested "for breaking into a drug store" in Madison, Ala.

That arrest is not on his record.

National law enforcement reports, Huntsville police records and Madison County Court records together show four arrests: two on drug charges, in 1974 and 1975; two on charges of attempting to break into an automobile, in 1973 and 1975.

Hill's record shows he was convicted of only one charge: possession and sale of Dilaudid, a pain-reliever.

Hill wrote in "Stone Cold Heart":

Without any direction, I began to hitchhike around the country. Wherever I could find shelter became my home in caves, under bridges, in the desert, and in street missions.

After high school graduation, Hill said, he took to the road for three years, criss-crossing the country from the East to West Coast and back again.

Yet from Sept. 21, 1973 to March 4, 1975, Hill was employed full time in Huntsville at John Blue Farm Equipment Co., making castings for farm equipment in the foundry. The foundry has since closed, but the business is still open.

Company employment records show no indication that he missed work. He left he was not fired in 1975, the file shows.

Hill said recently he did work at John Blue but spent a majority of the time hitchhiking through Arizona, California and Colorado. He said he worked odd jobs in Colorado and also at a convenience store.

Hill cannot explain how he was capable of traveling so much while working a full-time job.

"I don't remember all the details. In Stone Cold Heart,' I don't say dates. It was a total blur," Hill said. "I knew I worked for John Blue."

Hill wrote in "Stone Cold Heart":

No longer did I even try to lie and connive my way to get the judge to let me off from punishment for my crimes. This was partly because I usually didn't remember what I had done under the influence of narcotics to end up in jail. Yet somehow, the judges seemed not to want to waste the taxpayers' money on me and usually just gave me a short jail sentence or probation.

Judge John David Snodgrass remembers Steve Hill.

Snodgrass, 59, was a circuit court judge in Madison County in 1976 when Hill appeared before him on two counts of possession and sale of LSD and two counts of possession and sale of Dilaudid.

The judge dismissed three counts and convicted Hill on one.

Enter Jim Summers.

Summers had moved to Huntsville in 1968 and established Outreach Ministries of Alabama Inc. The nonprofit organization was designed to help kids on drugs learn to live a spiritual life.

Summers had met Hill once before at a Friday night Outreach service but the two did not become friends until Hill was in jail, waiting to go to court.

Summers said he felt a calling to help Hill; he began lobbying Snodgrass to release Hill to his ministry.

Snodgrass reluctantly agreed. The county was looking for alternative ways to provide for offenders.

"It seemed like a good test proposition for Summers to see if that was going to be a workable situation," Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass sentenced Hill to two years in the state penitentiary but changed it to two years of probation with the condition that Hill complete a Christian-based treatment program called Teen Challenge.

Hill spent 3 months with Summers in Huntsville, then was sent to Cape Girardeau, Mo., for eight months of Bible study in Teen Challenge.

When he completed that program, Hill entered a one-year program at Twin Oaks Academy in Lindale, Texas, headed by David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge.

The school is now closed and Wilkerson has since founded Times Square Church/World Challenge Inc. in Manhattan.

When he finished at Twin Oaks, Hill was hired by Summers' ministry to work with prisoners in Huntsville. He did that for four years, and said he often worked with Snodgrass to find ways to help drug offenders.

Snodgrass, however, said he has seen Hill only once since the day he sentenced him. That was a few years ago when Hill visited Huntsville while taking a break from his missionary work in South America.

Hill cannot explain why the judge's account differs from his.

"Whether he remembers it or not is up to him," Hill said.

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