When asked by a Las Vegas prosecutor during his recent court hearing what he hoped
to gain by a trial Jeremy Strohmeyer said "I want justice." Even though
he didn't get the justice he wanted when the court turned down his request for a
trial, the fact that the prosecutors and a judge even agreed to hear his plea for
a trial was in itself more justice than he probably deserved for his admitted crime.
That crime was the rape-murder of Sherrice Iverson, a seven year old African-American
girl, on May 25, 1997 in the women's bathroom at the Primadonna Casino near Las Vegas.
14, 1998 Strohmeyer escaped the death penalty by pleading guilty to the murder and
received a life sentence without possibility of parole. The grotesque and ghoulish
murder of Iverson for the briefest of moments tossed a gruesome national spotlight
on the issues of race, class, gender, child neglect, and the glaring double-standard
in the treatment of poor, working class, blacks vs. middle-class whites within the
criminal justice system. That double standard was much in evidence throughout the
Iverson tragedy. Even in the face of his overwhelming guilt, overindulgent prosecutors
and judges, bent over backward to give Strohmeyer the widest possible latitude to
make these claims in interviews and in court.
- His confession
to police was coerced.
- His pal
David Cash who witnessed at least part of the sexual assault on Iverson and did nothing
to stop it actually may have committed the murder.
- That he
was an unwanted, unloved, abused, whacked out, drugged out, alcoholic who should
not really be blamed for his barbaric crime.
- Under the
gentle prodding of Barbara Walters on ABC-TV's 20/20 to again depict himself before
a national audience as a misguided, confused, troubled teen.
In his latest
ploy, Strohmeyer claimed that his attorney, Leslie Abramson was greedy, and money-grubbing
and bullied, intimated, and browbeat him into pleading guilty. Though there is not
a shred of new evidence that Strohmeyer's rights were violated, the court still took
two full days, and in the process he got national media coverage, to decide not to
grant him a trial. This is much more than countless numbers of poor, and minority
defendants convicted of crimes under highly questionable circumstances or who may
even be innocent have ever gotten. And it still may not be over. His attorneys say
that they may consider an appeal.
has gotten far more than his measure of justice what about Iverson? In the nearly
three years since her murder, other than a momentary appearance by her parents in
courtroom during his sentencing to vent their anger at him for murdering Iverson,
their pain and suffering as well as that of Iverson family members and friends has
barely registered a blip on the media and legal chart. This is hardly surprising
given the stark racial and class contrasts between the backgrounds of Iverson and
her family and Strohmeyer, Cash, and their families.
was considered an extremely bright kid from a stable, comfortable middle-class home
in Long Beach, California and had traveled widely. Iverson lived in South Central
Los Angeles. Her father, Leroy Iverson and her mother Yolanda Manuel are low income
workers. They were estranged at the time of the crime. This was another sad instance
in which the media reflexively does the deepest human interest probe of the background,
lives, feelings of middle-class whites, while minimizing, if not outright ignoring,
blacks, even when they are the victims.
of Iverson, though heinous and shocking, did not ignite the hyper-charged media frenzy
of the cases of Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted of manslaughter in
a baby's death in Massachusetts; Melissa Drexler, an 18 year-old high school student
in New Jersey who abandoned her baby at the prom, Megan Kagan, a 7 year-old raped
and strangled in New Jersey, and Polly Klass, an 11 year-old who was murdered in
California. The victims were all young, non-blacks.
in the media coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey case, the five year old white girl murdered
in Colorado, and the Iverson case was even more dramatic. There have been dozens
of articles in national magazines and newspapers that delved into the background
of Ramsey and her family and only a handful on Iverson and her family.
was allowed to fully tell his story, given kid glove treatment by the courts, and
received endless national press attention. That's the kind of justice most convicted
murderer-rapists never get. And that's certainly more justice than Sherrice Iverson
Hutchinson is a nationally syndicated columnist and the director of the National
Alliance for Positive Action.
All rights reserved.
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