Teens on Trial: Kate as Observer

By kate on December 20th, 1997

These newspaper articles were not the first I heard of the story. It was told to me by a friend of the accused “teen-agers”, as the story of Jessica’s death.

I don’t know anyone in the story personally, with the exception of one brief meeting. I’m not involved… except the story involves me, because I am struggling with where to place myself, how to understand.

The “Victim”

This man killed Jessica. We hear about death everyday, but I heard about this death as the death of a friend, a young girl, who bled to death from a stomach wound in a Texaco parking lot. I saw the parking lot. I have heard a song written for Jessica. My friend mourns the loss of her. This death is real, more real than murder victims on the news, or the startling early deaths of celebrities. This death is real, and it is the only permanent injury that came out of this event.

And the killer is not even being tried. I realize he’d probably get off on a plea of self-defense. But why isn’t he being forced to PROVE it? Why isn’t a jury watching his character on trial just as this jury watched a 16-year-old “unnamed” girl’s character be defamed with rumors of gang association? From the newspaper stories alone, I know that the man is the sort of scum that meets underage girls at coffee shops and agrees to pay them for sex, despite being married. He obviously pulled a gun on people who only had a knife. And he’s a Shriner clown, a fact that somehow is important enough to be mentioned in all three articles. What kind of person is a Shriner, anyway?? It’s creepy.

The “Perpetrators”

And yet, what’s on the other side of the story? Two girls who decide to rip off a dirty old man, and agree (even if they didn’t mean it) to have sex with him. A boy who came with them with a knife and stole stuff from him. I don’t understand this. I mean, I understand the events as they happened. But… I don’t have friends that do these things. I don’t mean simply breaking the law, or even stealing. I mean, being intentionally hurtful and mean to people. Like robbery.

(The difference between theft and burglary and robbery: Theft is stealing. Burglary is stealing from a building (after breaking in). Robbery is stealing with the victim present and a threat of violence.)

So I don’t know anyone who robs, and so I’ve never talked to anyone about why they would rob. Or accepted it as something if not normal, plausible.

Complicating matters is that, according to her friends, Jessica was the instigator. It was her idea, and her that persuaded the others to come along. This is what I was told. But in the trial, and in the trials to come, will her friends speak so poorly of the dead? Will they instead claim responsibility?

The “Unbiased” Media

Having the perspective I did (already knowing the story), I was shocked at the bias of the three newspaper stories. Maybe it’s not as blatant to everyone, but it glared out at me. There are, of course, obvious reasons for it: the man was the “victim” in the trial, not the accused; and society’s unreasonable fear of non-conforming teenagers (pot! gangs! eek!). But you would think that a journalist would be trained to recognize these biases and keep them out of what they call “news”. The bias belongs on the editorial page (where there was no mention of the case).

The reporters try to cover themselves by repeating over and over, “…Hansen testified,” “…Hansen said,” so, technically, it wasn’t the reporters who told the story from Hansen’s perspective, but Hansen himself. Nothing from the girl’s perspective was even mentioned, aside from some small quotes.

Jessica’s death lies buried in the second- or third-to-last paragraph in the stories and is completely unadorned with emotion or comment. As if it was an inconsequential detail; a by-product. As if a death like that was to be expected.

And the other thing that bugs me about these articles is the giving of names and addresses. Is this peculiar to San Antonio (the setting of the whole thing) or do most papers do this? They gave the full name, age, and address of two suspects who are under age, and supposedly innocent until proven guilty. And yet the paper is so very virtuous about not releasing the name of the girl. What is this? The newspaper obviously considers these kids throwaways.

The Observer

So how do I process all this? Where do I put it? If I had only read the newspaper articles (which I might just have skimmed otherwise), I probably would have ended up with a similar bias. They deserved it.

But, really. Even without the realness of this particular death, when I think longer about it, that seems ridiculous. Yes, these kids robbed a man. They threatened him with a knifepoint and took some valuables. Does that call for the loss of one of your best friends, permanently and forever? Do you deserve to watch her die, bleeding, in your arms?

Does this crime really call for forty years in prison? We hear the length of prison terms tossed around on the news all the time. But when I think about a friend, or an acquaintance, spending the NEXT FORTY YEARS of their life in prison, that seems ridiculous, unreal. She committed the robbery when she was 16. When she got out of jail, she would be fifty-six! What a waste of life.

Forty years is the maximum. Her sentence was fifteen years, which sounds reasonable only in contrast to forty years. However, she will be eligible for parole in three years. Is that just? I don’t know. There is no question she participated in a robbery, though passively.

What angers me is the lack of consequence for the “victim”. It’s hard to call him that when he started it all by propositioning two underage girls. No criticism was heard about that. And HE KILLED A GIRL. Am I the only one that really noticed this (other than her friends)? Why isn’t he required to defend his action? Does his volunteer work as a fucking Shriner clown neutralize his predilection for statutory rape and pedophilia?

This is scary. When you think of it happening to someone you know. This is serious. I can’t imagine going through a trial like this. It makes me sad, and frightened, for them.

So, I can’t help but come down on the side of the kids. I have trouble understanding what it is like to be them, even though I have had friends who committed crimes. Mostly, I mourn for Jessica. I suppose her death could be considered her fault or that of her friends. But I’m really not a fan of circumstantial blame. Hansen pulled the trigger.

I write about this because it has been occupying my mind, the struggle to understand, to place this. I don’t know how to end. It’s really only beginning; a jail sentence for the girl; and a new sense of doom to the boys who are awaiting trial.

Click here for a legal case summary.

Filed under: justice, teens on trial
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2 Responses to “Teens on Trial: Kate as Observer”

  1. Gershom Bazerman Says:

    I think I have to side with the “victim” here. The whole operation was a shakedown. Whatever the media bias was, it’s clear that his only crime was wanting to sleep with some young girls. I see nothing morally wrong with prostitution, and certainly no reason why it should matter that they were one year underage. He just wanted sex. That’s no crime. Meanwhile, the girls tried to extort cash. And when he didn’t comply, they threatened him. For his life. Are you arguing that because he had a gun and they had a knife that it was somehow unfair? Cause it’s not about a “fair fight”. It’s about self defense. Clearly. They had a knife. If he hadn’t had the gun, it’s obvious that he’d have been injured. The guy did nothing wrong. And if you’re going to bring up his wife, well, the desire for an affair, whatever your personal moral judgement, is nothing compared to out and out robbery.

    It’s sad that the girl died, it’s godawful sad. I’d hate to have known her. Or, god forbid, been her parent. But she did. And I’m not saying it’s her fault. But it’s not the guys fault either.

    Well, that’s my take, for whatever it’s worth.

  2. Rob Kennedy Says:

    I just wanted to to say thank you for being unbiased in your article . What we did was wrong, there is no doubt about that. I take full responsibility for my actions and deserved to be punished. I received eight years, and served six, then made parole to serve the remaining two. I never touched the man nor could he pick me out of a line-up. If I could change that day I would. I wish I could change the past but I can not. I watched a friend get killed that day. She was killed, there is no other word for what happened, for Jessica was unarmed with her hands up saying,” your not going to shoot anyone right, your not going to shoot anyone right.” Well those were her last words. I wish I could take that day back with all my heart. I will carry it with me forever.

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