Sunday, February 26, 2012
'I just wanted him to go to sleep'
"I just wanted him to go to sleep."
Thursday, July 5, 2007
The Canadian Press
MEDICINE HAT -- The youth criminal justice system may have treated her as a victim, but the 13-year-old girl accused in the slaying of her entire family yesterday revealed the much sterner stuff of which she is made.
In cross-examination by prosecutor Stephanie Cleary, the girl, who can be identified only as "J.R.," was by turns testy, chirpy and spirited as she admitted she "might have" asked her boyfriend to kill her family for her, but she said the request would have been made sarcastically, "like, please, would you help me ... I was, like, never, 'Ohhh, this is a good idea.' "
She even allowed that she and the boyfriend discussed in these faux-murder hypotheticals that her brother couldn't be allowed to live, but said it was always done "in a stupid, joking, not-serious way."
The small courtroom was packed with "Hatters", as the residents of this small southeastern Alberta city call themselves, to hear the jarring juxtaposition of familiar teenage cadence applied to a discussion, even an allegedly joking one, of familicide.
And though the girl stuck tenaciously, if often inaudibly, to her denial that she and Jeremy Steinke had jointly planned the slaughter, she placidly agreed that she tried to choke her terrified little brother and stopped only when he began clawing at her arm.
"He was totally panicking," she said in her breathy low voice. "I was totally panicking. I just wanted him to go to sleep."
"But you were squeezing anyway?" Ms. Cleary asked.
"Yes," said the girl.
"You were squeezing his airway?"
"Yes," the girl said.
"He was fighting you, wasn't he?" Ms. Cleary pressed.
"Yes," the girl coolly replied, not a flicker of emotion crossing her face, eyes glittering like marbles.
By her version of her brother's death, moments after trying to choke him, at Mr. Steinke's shouted urging she stabbed the eight-year-old once in the upper body before Mr. Steinke allegedly snatched the knife from her and slit the boy's throat as she was backing out of his purple-painted bedroom littered with toys and games.
Both she and Mr. Steinke, then 12 and 23 respectively, are charged with three counts of first-degree murder, but he has yet to get a court date.
If the evidence at her trial has painted Mr. Steinke as the actual killer, this pony-tailed girl little more than half his age has emerged as the stronger-minded and arguably as the one calling the shots.
It was she who raged to anyone who would listen, but particularly to Mr. Steinke, who was besotted with her and pledging undying love in flowery poem, song and note, that she hated her parents and wanted them dead.
It was she who appeared, in Web chat that is now evidence in the case, to be wielding sex as a weapon over Mr. Steinke, once telling him, "I want to bang you," and according to one of his friends who testified here, threatening to break up with him if he didn't get the job done soon. By her testimony, they first had sex a week before the slayings, and again hours afterwards.
And it was she who, in love letters written after their arrest, was urging Mr. Steinke in essence to move on and advising him that whatever he said to anyone, even a psychiatrist, "can be used against you! For @#%$'s sakes! Rawr!"
Although she wept in court the first time she described her brother's last moments, and grew red-faced doing it a second time yesterday; although her lawyer, Tim Foster, two days ago drew out of her in careful questioning akin to pulling teeth her claim to blame herself ("it was my fault...'cause if I hadn't said those things, it wouldn't have happened"), there is on the evidentiary record here not one spontaneous expression of regret.
Yet the justice system has struggled from Day 1 to see the girl as anything other than a victim.
When Medicine Hat Police first arrived at her family's blood-spattered home and made their grim discovery, they spotted family pictures and noticed there was, as one of the officers testified, "a little girl," too, of whom they had seen neither hide nor hair.
The police searched the house again, checking closets (and discovering in one the little boy's pet hamster in a cage) to no avail: They believed the girl had been kidnapped and was in danger, and considered calling an Amber Alert.
Only later that night, after they discovered in the girl's school locker a cartoon of three members of a family of four being burned alive while the fourth merrily fled to a vehicle conveniently labelled as "Jeremy's truck," did they even begin to consider her a suspect.
The girl described that drawing as her regular "venting" of her fury against parental restrictions in a different form.
Indeed, she even referred Ms. Cleary to what a psychologist told her just days after her arrest.
The prosecutor was taking the girl through the long list of things she might have done that day, and didn't - from calling 911 to asking Mr. Steinke to stop, to sending her brother out the back door to get police, to protecting him herself.
"You didn't even try to save him, did you?" she asked.
The girl grew teary. "I was really scared," she whispered. "I thought he was going to try to kill me."
Yet by her own evidence, Mr. Steinke's first words, as he staggered upstairs, covered in blood and panting, were, "I love you. I love you." When he began yelling at her to stab her brother, the girl said she understood him to mean that he had killed her parents for her, and now she had to do this.
But the little boy was supposed to die all along, Ms. Cleary said, wasn't he? "That was the plan, wasn't it?"
"There wasn't a plan," the girl said, eyes filling up.
But if Mr. Steinke had done something "you never wanted, you never asked him to do, which surprised and shocked and horrified you," why then did she accept his jailhouse marriage proposal made just days later?
"My psychologist said it was post-traumatic stress disorder," the girl replied smartly, eyes clear now, mouth turning up just a touch at the corners.
She'd been in custody only four days at that point, and already the system was beginning to teach her the very lesson she learned so well: She'd been involved with a bad man and exposed to a bad thing, poor lamb.
The evidence in the case is complete. Lawyers will make their closing arguments tomorrow, with the judge charging the jury on Monday.