08 September 2018

Some Updates

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore
I wanted to update you all on a couple of cases I wrote about back in January. It’s been a quiet year at the paper with only a few tragedies and both of them accidents – a teenager drowned after his boat capsized in a storm and a toddler drowned in a lake after getting away from his family during a picnic. They’re a different kind of heartbreak. But the summer, thankfully, has been murder-free, thankfully. It’s a considerable upgrade from where I was this time last year.

In August, Tobias Rundstrom-Wooding, one of the two men accused of raping and killing 11 year old Jacelyn O’Connor, plead guilty and got 20-to-life, likely life. “He showed no remorse,” Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride told me in an interview after the sentencing. “I asked the judge to recommend that he never be released.”

(I am writing this to Warren Zevon’s “Play it All Night Long,” on the 15th anniversary of Zevon’s death. There ain’t much to country living/sweat, piss, jizz and blood. I listened to this song a lot in the days following her death)




DNA evidence suggested Rundstrom-Wooding as the one who sexually assaulted Jacelyn, although he refused to say why or how or what exactly happened in their dirty trailer that night. His boyfriend, James Brower, the father of two of Jacelyn’s half-brothers, is anticipated to go to trial next spring.

But the DA wasn’t done with me and this case still had a lot of sadness left in it. Of course, it was never going to be happy--Christ, there’s a dead child involved—but it seemed like no matter how sad I thought it could get, there was just one more twist of the knife waiting. Sometime late last year or early this year, Jacelyn’s mother, Mandy O’Connor Martinez, who had given up custody of her daughter so that she could deal with her drug problem, died in the Bronx. There’s no obituary. No public record of her death. She didn’t live long enough to see her one of her daughter’s killers brought to some semblance of justice, and no one even cared enough to write up a few paragraphs on who she was in her short time on earth. Pretty shitty way to go, if you ask me.

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The second case, Kevin Perry, who shot his parents in their trailer in Laurens a week before Christmas, also took a plea, one month before his case was set to go to trial. 25-to-life. He also hasn’t said why he did it. His plea got a 25 words in the left hand column of the paper, less than the talks about the town/city fire protection contract, the same as the Rotary Club raffle.
 
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A year after Jacelyn’s murder, I’m still trying to find a way to write about it. Indirectly, the detective novel I’m working on (fingers crossed) was written in response to her death, creating a pair of crime-solvers so that I could feel there was some justice in the world, even if it was fictional.

So why does the real-life justice served feel so meaningless?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Rundstrom-Wooding and Perry will spend their lives in prison, and I’m confident that Brower will too.  But with the lack of a trial, they decided their fate, something their victims didn’t get to do.  No grand speeches. No fedora tilts from a clever-but-bitter detective. Just a quiet courtroom followed by a prison cell. I might hear their names again when they’re paroled, but that’s unlikely. 30 years from now I might read a few inches about their deaths. It’s more than Mandy O’Connor Martinez got.

I’ve started essays on Jacelyn that I haven’t finished. I don’t want to make her tragedy mine, but I want to make sure she’s not forgotten. I want people to see that her death impacted people, people she didn’t know. I want to make sure she’s not just a dead girl. The world has too many dead girls.

The words aren’t there yet. Maybe they won’t ever be. Maybe all I will be able to do is think of her photo every so often, a child I only knew in the aftermath of her darkest hours.

But I’ll keep writing.

1 comment:

Eve Fisher said...

"So why does the real-life justice served feel so meaningless?"
Because what we all really [subconsciously, usually] want is that somehow, the perpetrators will suffer as much as the victim(s) did; that somehow, the horror and the agony will all melt away; that somehow, justice will remake the event so that it never happened, and the victim is alive and the perpetrators are dead.