Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"That could be me"

Brenda and Johnny Sherard

"That could be me"
by Robert A. Waters

Four thugs looking for trouble. Goon-talking, gangsta-worshipping, superficial bravado. “We rob somebody, man!” And off they go on a date with murder.

Johnny Sherard, 66, and his wife Brenda, 53, pull into the driveway of their Montgomery, Alabama home after a quick meal at Captain D’s. “I guess we were talking,” Johnny says, “and just not paying any attention, because we didn’t see them. We started to get out of the car and there they were.”

Just that quick, the couple is surrounded. Herbert L. Turner, 18, jerks a gun out of his pants and demands Johnny’s wallet. Quanderrious Johnson, 18, and Jhavarske Lewis, also 18, stand in the background.

Explaining that there’s no cash in the billfold, the beleaguered victim gives it up.

Fifteen-year-old Zeris Walker rushes up to Brenda. Cursing her, he demands money.

Brenda, who has a few dollars in her pocket, refuses to part with it.

Walker sucker-punches the defenseless woman. She staggers but doesn’t crumble. Again he hits her, and yet again. Finally, she falls.

Just that quick, they’re gone like a bad dream.

No glory. No swagga. No staxxx of cash.

Just an innocent woman sobbing in the dirt.

Brenda Sherard is rushed to the hospital where she suffers a massive heart attack and dies.

A few days ago, the four pleaded guilty to murder.

Walker was sentenced to thirty years in prison. A bad-ass wannabe, he had numerous juvie arrests and convictions. Many were for violent offenses, such as assault, theft with force, and robbery.

Turner, who held the gun, was given 25 years. The other two got 20 each.

Johnny and Brenda Sherard loved bowling. They had numerous trophies in their basement. In fact, they’d met at a bowling tournament many years before. Brenda worked for an assisted living home. Johnny stated that sometimes she would cry herself to sleep when one of her patients died.

Now that she’s gone, the house filled with memories of her feels empty.

Deputy District Attorney John Kachelman summed up the feelings of many after the guilty plea. “These people just pulled up unaware in their driveway,” he said. “They had just run out to get fast food like hundreds of us do every day. [The crime] is not some kind of gang violence, which is what we see a lot of. It’s not a drug deal gone bad. I think everyone can see themselves in this and they think, ‘That could be me.’”

Well said.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"A Lifetime of Waiting"

The Abduction of Michaela Garecht
by Robert A. Waters

Nearly twenty-two years ago, Michaela Joy Garecht was snatched by a stranger outside a store in Hayward, California. She was nine years old. Even though there was an eyewitness, leads were few and the case stalled. When kidnap victim Jaycee Lee Dugard was discovered alive a few months ago, it pumped up an investigation that had never died. Michaela’s mother, Sharon Murch, operates a website dedicated to her beloved daughter and endures what she calls “a lifetime of waiting.”

On her website, Murch describes how her daughter was taken: “It was a sunny Saturday morning, the first day of Thanksgiving vacation, when Michaela and her best friend, Trina, asked if they could go to the neighborhood market to get some candy and sodas. The market was only two blocks away...”

The girls rode their scooters to the store. After leaving their rides parked next to a side door, the girls went inside and bought soft drinks, candy, and beef jerky. Then they left the store and began to walk home, having forgotten that they’d ridden their scooters.

“Halfway across the parking lot,” Lurch writes, “they remembered, and turned back to get them. One of the scooters was not by the door where they’d left it. Michaela spotted it first, about three parking spaces down from the door, next to a car. She went to get it. As she bent over to pick it up, a man jumped out of the car next to the scooter, grabbed her from behind, and threw her screaming into his car as Trina watched in horror...”

Wide-eyed, Trina saw the old car roar to life and heard Michaela’s fading screams as it careened out of sight. Just that fast, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Michaela Joy Garecht was gone.

Despite the largest search ever mounted in Hayward, she has never been found.

Trina described Michaela’s kidnapper to investigators. He had acute acne, she said, and possibly boils on his face. He seemed to be in his early twenties, with a slight build. He had dirty-blond hair and may have worn a pony-tail. “He had fox eyes,” the child remembered. “He looked right at me, but he didn’t even see me.”

The kidnapper’s car was an old four-door gold or tan sedan. It had damage to the front bumper.

Michaela’s was one of a series of abductions of young girls in California. In 1980, seven-year-old Amber Swartz was kidnapped from Pinole. In 1989, Ilene Mishelhoff, 13, was abducted while walking home from school. Jaycee Lee Dugard, 11, was snatched in June, 1991, from a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe. Four-year-old Amanda “Nikki” Campbell disappeared from Fairfield, California in December, 1991. Each of these stranger abductions struck fear into the hearts of Californians.

Curtis Dean Anderson, a serial killer and brutal pedophile, later confessed to raping and murdering Amber Swartz. After 18 years, Jaycee Lee Dugard was discovered living in a maze of tents and dilapidated buildings in Phillip and Nancy Garrido’s back yard. She’d borne two of his children and had been emotionally tortured, but was still alive. Phillip Garrido had once served ten years in prison for kidnapping and rape, but had been released several months before Michaela went missing.

The other California cases have not been solved.

In fact, the Dugard abduction was so similar to Michaela’s that some investigators are convinced that Garrido committed both. At the time, Garrido had long hair and a pock-marked face. He drove a car similar to that of Michaela’s abductor. Several blonde-haired girls were seen by a neighbor in Garrido’s back yard. Still, no evidence had been found to connect the convicted pedophile to the crime.

The case has been profiled on “America’s Most Wanted,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” and other television shows. Yet she has never been found.

“[My heart] is battered and bruised,” Murch once wrote, “and it has, since the time I lost my daughter, journeyed through the darkness, but it [has] come out again on the other side.”

Sharon Murch continues to wait for her child to return. Here’s hoping it’s soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Lady Named "Sunshine"

“...bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days...” Psalms 55: 23.

The Dianne Freeman-Green Murder
by Robert A. Waters

She lived in a cramped apartment and walked to the Hardee’s Restaurant where she worked. When she was gunned down in a robbery in 2007, she was just another anonymous victim. A nobody. But as the Newport News, Virginia community learned about her, Dianne Freeman-Green, 47, became larger than life. Her alleged killers were recently arrested and are scheduled go to trial later this year.

According to Federal documents, three men planned and executed the robbery. Anthony Wainwright, 25, Henry L. Stapleton, 23, and Michael Johnson, Jr., 22, have been charged with first-degree murder and may face the death penalty.

At about five-thirty on the morning of September 28, 2007, Wainwright and Stapleton, wearing black clothes and black do-rags as masks, entered the Hardee’s on Denbigh Boulevard. Inside were three employees and no customers. Wainwright pointed a gun at Freeman-Green, a clerk, and demanded money. She readily complied, handing him $ 150 from the till.

But as the robbery unfolded, Wainwright’s mask fell off.

It was dumb chance that Freeman-Green recognized Wainwright. She attended the same church attended as the robber’s family and had met him there.

Wainwright decided that since Freeman-Green could identify him, she had to die. He forced her to kneel down with her back to him, and placed the barrel of the 9mm handgun to her head. But before he could pull the trigger, Freeman-Green said, “God will forgive you.”

Then the shot rang out, and the victim dropped to the floor.

The two robbers, according to their alleged confessions, ran to a waiting getaway car driven by Johnson and drove back to the motel where they were staying. There they split the money and smoked pot, confident that they wouldn’t be caught.

Fifty dollars apiece for a life.

Cops were mystified by the actions of the robbers. Why would they kill one clerk and not the others? It took nearly two years, but police and Federal agents eventually tracked them down.

Dianne Freeman-Green was a remarkable woman. She lived alone and walked more than a mile to work every morning. She was unmarried and had no children.

Because of her friendly personality, Freeman-Green was known as “Sunshine.” She’d worked at the same Hardee’s for 16 years. It was said that if a customer couldn’t afford to pay, the friendly clerk would sometimes pick up the tab.

A neighbor said she was “just a sweetie, always laughing and joking.” She was “conscientious, loving, and wonderful.”

Freeman-Green’s passion was her Christian faith. She attended the Holy Tabernacle Church of Deliverance where she sang in the choir. She tithed a percentage of what little money she made, and worked with several Christian ministries. At work, Freeman-Green read her Bible on her breaks. She had turned down several requests to become manager of the restaurant because it would interfere with her attendance at church.

Anthony Wainwright’s family also attended the church.

According to Kermit Jones, pastor of the church, Freeman-Green “always had something bright, something uplifting to say. If she was having a bad day, you really wouldn’t know it because she was always putting herself above others.”

After learning about the positive life led by the slain clerk, citizens in Newport News took action. An article by Tamara Dietrich in the Newport News Daily Press described what was done to try to help move the investigation forward. “Two giant billboards went up along local interstates,” the article read. “[Companies] donated space, pleading for information to catch her killer. The city ran a special segment on her slaying on city cable television, and posted it on YouTube and GodTube Web sites. A $ 30,000 reward was raised.”

An anonymous life. A senseless murder. A woman who, in death, became larger than life.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

UK model warned by police for defending home

On January 9, British model, musician, and television presenter Myleene Klass was home with her young daughter when she noticed several teenagers peering into her window. It was just after midnight, and the brazen youths had trespassed through a garden to get to her house.

Frightened, Klass grabbed a knife and banged on the window. The intruders quickly ran away.

Hertfordshire police were called and issued a warning--not to the trespassers, but to Klass.

“I was left shocked and surprised,” she said, “to be told that a private individual in the privacy of their own home runs the risk of committing a criminal offence if, out of fear for their own safety and their loved ones, they grab something with which they could defend themselves if an intruder enters their home.”

Klass’ spokesman, Jonathan Shalit, said, “Myleene was aghast when she was told that the law did not allow her to defend herself at home. All she did was scream loudly and wave the knife to frighten them off.”

Young thugs are a problem in the United Kingdom. They seem to murder and rob with impunity, so the danger Klass faced was real. After Joseph Phillips, 15, told friends he wondered what it would be like to kill someone, he broke into the home of eighty-three-year-old Kathleen Hutchings. As she was sleeping, Phillips used her walking stick to beat her nearly to death. She was found by her daughter-in-law and rushed to a hospital. Her eye-socket was broken, her left wrist was broken, she was blinded in one eye, and the once-spry woman is now unable to care for herself. The UK newspaper Mail.Online reported that Phillips “must serve a minimum of two years in custody of an indefinite sentence.” There’s little doubt that he’ll be out within a few years.

Speaking of her own encounter with thugs, Klass said, “It was, of course, very frightening, but I don’t think I did anything any other mother--or father--wouldn’t do. I was protecting my daughter and I was protecting my house, and I have absolutely no regrets about what I did. I totally respect British law, but surely everyone has the right to self defence in their own home if they are in danger.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Random Murder in New Hampshire

It’s the kind of crime that begs for the death penalty. Four misfits target a home with plans to kill anyone they find there. They don’t know the victims--in fact, they have no idea who they’ll encounter. Two innocent people, Kimberly Cates, a nurse, and her eleven-year-old daughter were attacked with machetes and a “skinning” knife. Kimberly died, but Jaimie played dead and survived. What frightens most people is the senselessness and randomness of the assault. [WARNING: These descriptions are graphic.]

At 4:15 a.m., October 4, 2009, a call came in to the Mont Vernon, New Hampshire Police Department. No one spoke, so dispatchers sent an officer to the home on 4 Trow Road to investigate. As Sergeant Kevin Furlong made his way up to the house, he looked through a window and saw a blood-drenched child lying on the floor.

“They killed my mommy,” she cried out.

On entering the home, cops found a scene straight from a horror film. Only this was real.

A few minutes earlier, four men had broken into the home.

Kimberly Cates, 42, and her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie, were asleep in the master bedroom. (Kimberly’s husband, David, was out of town on business.)

The bedroom door opened, awaking Kimberly. “Jaimie, is that you?” she asked.

The words were barely out of her mouth when Kimberly was attacked with a machete. As blow after blow rained down on her, Jaimie awoke and attempted to flee. But a second assailant slashed at her with a fillet knife which had a long, thin blade used for skinning fish. The child was stabbed in the face and chest. Then the attacker rammed the blade into an area near her heart, attempting to kill her. Picking up the severely wounded child, he flung her against a plate glass window.

Kimberly, hacked to pieces, was dead. As the attackers were leaving, they kicked Jaimie. She lay limp, so they moved on, thinking that she, too, was dead.

After robbing the house of jewelry, they fled.

Once the assailants were gone, Jaimie, in an act of desperate courage, was able to call for help.

It didn’t take cops long to arrest four men. They'd spent nearly two days bragging about the murders to friends until someone finally called police. Investigators arrested Steven Spader, 18; Christopher Gribble, 20; Quinn Glover, 18; and William Marks, 18.

In a series of confessions, the suspects stated that they had spent weeks planning the attack. Driving around the area, they targeted the Cates home because it was isolated. They had no idea who lived there. It didn’t matter--their mission was to kill.

Jaimie was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where she underwent ten hours of surgery. She survived, barely.

Spader and Gribble were each charged with first-degree murder. Glover and Marks were charged with armed robbery, burglary, and conspiracy. A fifth man was later charged with obstruction of justice for attempting to provide an alibi for the suspects.

If they’re found guilty, the killers won’t face the death penalty. In New Hampshire, home invasion murder doesn’t qualify for the ultimate sentence. A recent attempt by the legislature to remedy that flaw in the state’s criminal justice laws failed when it was voted down.