By Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director, The Pendulum Foundation
John Caudle was fourteen-years-old when he killed his mother and step-father in their secluded home near Monte Vista, Colorado. The crime made national news. Parricide generally does.
There are two ways of handling a parricide case. If the child’s lucky, prosecutors and press will investigate before “creating a narrative.” They’ll key on one truth – kids who kill their parents generally have a very good reason, so let’s determine that reason before playing Mr. Hardcore and gunning for the kid’s life. Or, they’ll declare this kid is Satan’s spawn and we’re going to take him out.
In John Caudle’s case there was a bit of both. Looking at this skinny kid in over-sized glasses, the community didn’t see the devil in a tattered t-shirt. Plus stories of abuse immediately began circulating.
A family friend told us, “There are some really weird stories which make me think his mom was mentally unstable. Joanne used to do some weird sadistic sorts of things that were more emotionally abusive and really cruel…Apparently, John kept quiet about a lot of the abuse because his mother would threaten him. The stories I have heard from credible sources even involve John being tasered by his mom for punishment. And this is when he was 7 or 8 years old. John did not qualify for the school breakfast and lunch program because his step father made too much money. Yet, his teachers noticed that he always seemed to have a lunch that looked scraped together. And from the police report, when they went to the crime scene they noted very little food in the house. Apparently, his mother and step-father would eat dinner and then when they finished John was allowed to make his own dinner. Consequently, he lived on hot dogs and spaghetti. I guess life is actually better in prison in some ways. At least he gets regular meals.”
In many cases of child abuse, these kids are invisible to anyone with the authority to intervene. “I didn’t know anything was wrong,” they say after a tragedy. “The parents seemed like nice people.” “He was a good student – a little different maybe. But we had no idea.” Such was not the case with John. Social Services followed Joanne and John through various states and investigations, including Colorado. Here, a teacher reported John after he came to school with a black eye. John was never removed from his house, though classes were ordered.
Despite the abuse, despite community sympathy, despite available legal alternatives to a harsh adult sentence, District Attorney David Mahonee believes it’s his duty to make sure a severely abused kid who got no help from the system and felt trapped in a endless nightmare, should be locked away for the rest of his natural life. Because make no mistake: when John Caudle is convicted — and he will be in a state where DA’s have a 90% conviction rate – he will be immediately sent into the adult prison system. No stopover in juvenile hall until John’s 18 or 21. No sir, not here in Colorado. Put him in with the biggest and baddest. He killed his parents, he was convicted, he deserves no mercy. And he won’t receive any.
John Caudle is still months away from trial. Because of Colorado law, he is kept isolated. John exists in a legal limbo: the state says he’s an adult and he must be treated as an adult. The state also says he’s a kid and has to be kept separated from adults. However, since there are few accommodations for children in your local jail the solution is to keep him walled off from most human contact. While John’s attorneys are consumed by his case, pre-trial preparation does NOT necessarily include a lot of one-on-one time with your client, especially when the jail is 45 minutes away. During the school year former teachers volunteered to keep John abreast of his studies, but their visits averaged about 4 hours a week, and for the rest of the valley it’s still summer. No classes. Most of John’s time is spent watching television, sometimes reading, occasionally writing letters. No friends. Little communication. Lots of time to think .No one to help him sort through his past, or his deed. Recently two other juveniles who were direct filed into the adult system and kept isolated as John is being isolated, committed suicide.
Isn’t it ironic that a kid who went through hell with his parents is going through hell at the hands of the state?