December 13, 2008

Suburban Crime Roundup: Bound, Shackled, Jail-Suited Defendents in Court for Tracy Torture Case; Update on Lafayette Reservoir Killing

Tracy Torture Case: You’ve probably all read about the horrific case of a 16-year-old boy who turned up at a Tracy fitness center, shivering, bloodied, and clad in just shorts. According to authorities, he had been kept prisoner in a two-story contemporary Tudor home on a suburban lane for at least 15 months. During that time, the boy was at times denied food, beaten, chained to furniture, forced to do household chores, and forced to sleep in the fireplace. Four adults had been implicated in his alleged abuse. They are: 43-year-old Caren Ramirez who had initially been called his aunt in news reports but was not a blood relative but had nonetheless been deemed his legal guardian; the husband and wife who rented the Tracy house with their four young children, and where the boy and his guardian were living; and a neighbor, a 29-year-old volunteer youth sports coach who worked in Pleasanton for the California Association of Realtors.

I hope to be talking to child abuse experts in the next week about how all of us, neighbors or members of our kids’ school community, can keep watch on the kids around us, and take action if we’re worried that a kid is being abused or neglected. It has really intrigued me to read news reports that quoted neighbors. Some of these neighbors seemed to think there was something a bit odd about the boy when they saw him outside the house, or they were leery of letting their own kids play at the house he was living in. These neighbors sensed something was off, but had not apparently not witnessed any act against the boy that would rise to the level of a crime. So, they just let it go, and maybe they feel terrible now? Should they have acted on their instincts? Would anyone in authority have listened or acted? I can see how it would be a tough call for these neighbors.

Finally, I don’t want to seem to be making light of this case at all, but I noticed a certain trend in all the Contra Costa Times reports on the arraignment of these defendants, who have been charged with a lengthy list of crimes, including torture, aggravated mayhem, kidnapping, and corporal injury to a child. The trend is the way that the reporters covering these court appearances seem eager to describe the defendants’ attire. I'm not chiding them. In fact, I know first hand that this is the reporters’ way of providing “color” to a court arraignment story. Actually, in a former life, I, as a daily newspaper reporter, covered arraignments of high-profile defendants, and I always made sure, because I somehow thought it was expected of me, to take careful notes about what the defendants were wearing and what, if any words, they uttered. A sampling from this case:

Michael Luther Schumacher, 34, and Kelly Layne Lau, 30, appeared in front of San Joauqin Supior Court Judge Franklin Stephenson in Stockton dressed in red prison suits and schackled at the waist, ankles and wrists.

His feet bound and hands shackled to his waist, Anthony Waiters, 29, was arraigned in a San Joaquin County court on charges of aggravated mayhem, four counts of inflicting corporal injury on a child, child endangerment and false imprisonment by violence.

Caren Ramirez, 43, was arraigned on nine felony counts — including torture, aggravated mayhem, kidnapping and corporal injury to a child — and also advised of her rights by Judge Cinda S. Fox during the roughly 10 minute proceeding. Ramirez, wearing a red prison suit, turned her head away from media cameras as she walked into the courtroom, her hands shackled at the waist and her ankles bound together, wearing only socks on her feet.

Twenty-year-old Lafayette Reservoir Murder Case Update: The widower of Armida Wiltsey testified during the penalty phase of the trial for Darryl Kemp, who was convicted of murdering the Lafayette wife and mom in 1978. Jurors must decide whether to recommend death for Kemp or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Evidence presented at the trial shows that Kemp, now 72, attacked Wiltsey while she was jogging the popular trail that rings the reservoir. According to this Contra Costa Times report, Wiltsey’s widower, Boyd Wiltsey wept as he described his life since the killing. "I realized then that I lost the most valuable thing in my life, and I was concerned for my 10-year-old son and how we were going to make it," testified Wiltsey, who moved to Oregon after his wife’s death. “I was just devastated ... and that stayed with me day and night for years." According to the Times, that 10-year-old son grew up to be a happily married father of three, but he never wants to talk about his father’s death.

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