|Journal of the
Dead is a book that
raises a lot of questions. Here are Jason's responses to some of the
ones people most often ask...
you believe it was murder or mercy?
This is by far the most
common question people who read the book ask
me. I left my own opinion out of the book because I think
it's far more important—and interesting—for readers to draw their own
conclusions. Publishing my opinion here would be just as
counterproductive to that effect. Perhaps that's a dodge, but I will
that, while writing the book, I vacillated quite a bit. And like many
others I am still not 100 percent certain what really happened in
would you have done if you
were in Raffi Kodikian’s situation?
No one ever wants to
believe that they would do the same thing as Raffi
if confronted with a similar scenario—I’m no different. I can’t imagine
doing what he did to a stranger, much less my best friend. But maybe
that is the point. If you believe Raffi, he was confronted with a
horrific and unimaginable scenario: his friend was suffering and
begging for death, and at the same time he believed that his own death
was imminent. In unimaginable scenarios the unimaginable
happens, and placing the reader in both Raffi's and David's shoes was a
major goal as
I wrote the book.
did you come across the
I read a 200-word
Associated Press article about the killing the day
after it occurred. Right away I knew that I was
looking at something incredibly unusual, bizarre, and hard to believe.
I called Sheriff Click, who read me some of the excerpts from the
journal. He was very dubious about Raffi’s story and had many
questions. Within a week I was on a plane to New Mexico.
Gus Van Sant’s movie “Gerry”
about Raffi Kodkian?
No. Van Sant read a
brief article about the case, then used its bare
premise—two friends lost in the desert, one kills the other—as a
jumping off point to create a fictitious work. Other than that, his
film bears no resemblance to what really happened, nor does it attempt
to address the true story.
you ever meet Raffi Kodikian?
Regrettably no. I was
present in the courtroom throughout his
sentencing hearing, and I did exchange some letters with him in the
hopes that he would provide interviews for the book, but ultimately he
declined. In the absence of interviews with him, I did what journalists
do—I extended the circle, relying on interviews with people who did
know him, court documents, and contextual research.
you ever been to
The first time I hiked down to the site of the
killing with Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths and National
Park Ranger Mark Maciha, the latter of whom appears in the book. The
second time I visited the canyon with a good friend. We had
driven there all the way from the East Coast in an attempt to recreate
the route that Raffi and David followed on their own trip. Towards this
endeavor, we spent the night camped out at the same spot as Raffi and
David did on their second night. The following morning, I used their
journal as a guide to recreate their climb up the canyon’s west rim.
Unlike them, I carried plenty of water and was never dehydrated, but it
was still a rigorous and exhausting hike. Once at the top, I was
surprised to see signs of civilization in the distance, which the
friends never mentioned in the journal.
what happened to Raffi?
make it my
business to keep track of Raffi’s story, but
last I heard he had moved to California and was getting on with his