Posts Tagged ‘John Caudle’

August 25, 2010

Parricide expert weighs in on Caudle trial

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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?

August 9, 2010

Nebraska Dems say “no” to life for kids

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Noting the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to end juvenile life without parole for non-homicide offenses, the Nebraska Democratic Party recently passed a resolution that adds the elimination of JLWOP to their state legislative platform.

The Nebraska resolution states, in part, that:

WHEREAS the United States Supreme Court has again, in Graham v. Florida, reaffirmed the fundamental differences between youth and adults in their ability to exercise judgment, foresee consequences and resist peer pressure, and

WHEREAS the Court has also noted the greater capacity of youth to change, thereby making it impossible to determine at sentencing that a youth cannot be reformed…

THEREFORE be it resolved that the Democratic Party in Nebraska support legislative efforts to eliminate sentences of life without possibility of parole for crimes committed by a youth who has not yet reached the age of 18.

While Colorado eliminated Juvenile LWOP several years ago, the state still practices direct file and consecutive sentencing that can amount to virtual life sentences for kids. In Grand County, 15-year-old John Caudle is being tried as an adult and faces 80 years for allegedly slaying his abusive parents. Children like Caudle cannot forsee the consequences of their actions and have great capacity to learn from their mistakes. They should not, therefore, be subject to abusive practices like consecutive 40 year sentences that ultimately just mean another life lost at great taxpayer expense. Supreme Court members noted the limited scope of their decision by citing Colorado’s consecutive sentencing practices. An adult sentence, whether it is 40, 80, or 120 years for a juvenile does not account for an individual child’s capacity to change.

There is probably no soul sorrier for its master’s mistakes than is John Caudle’s. But the question is: Does his soul deserve redemption or condemnation? And is it the state of Colorado’s purview to make such lasting and ill-begotten judgments on its children? Every religion in the world teaches love and forgiveness and yet here we are as a state encouraging, seeking, enforcing and even disguising the basest revenge we can possibly imagine.  The Nebraska Democratic Party clearly isn’t afraid to face its demons. StopDirectFile.org hopes that in next legislative session, Colorado too can come to terms with its own, very fallible humanity.

July 28, 2010

As Caudle arraigned, questions arise

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A correction was requested by the Attorney General’s Communications Director, Mike Saccone. The correction was made at 9:45 a.m. on July 29 .

15-year-old John Caudle was arraigned today on first degree murder charges in the deaths of his mother and stepfather. Caudle, who was 14 and weighed only 97 pounds when he was arrested, has been direct filed as an adult and faces 80 years in prison. Inside the Rio Grande County courtroom, the question on many people’s lips was ‘why is Assistant Attorney General Dan Edwards prosecuting this case’?

Edwards has a background in prosecuting death penalty cases and was reportedly involved with District Attorney Carol Chambers’ prosecution of Sir Mario Owens. Owens received the death penalty for the gang-related murder of witnesses set to testify against him.

Why Edwards is involved in the Caudle case is a standing question that raises concerns for Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director at Pendulum Juvenile Justice. “John Caudle might have weighed 97 pounds soaking wet and is about the farthest thing imaginable from a big bad gangbanger. The state has plenty of resources to prosecute an abused kid. Why are they bringing in an Assistant Attorney General, whose expertise is in death penalty cases? Local prosecutors have all the resources they need. What’s this really about?”

Asked why he thought Edwards was involved, State Public Defender Doug Wilson said, “That’s a good question,” but was reluctant to offer further speculation.

The Attorney General’s Office could not offer a complete explanation for its interest in this particular case.  The Attorney General’s Communications Director, Mike Saccone, explained the general purpose of the Attorney General’s Homicide Assistance Unit. When asked if a specific request was made by the District Attorney’s Office Saccone said, “I’m not familiar with the details of this particular case in terms of who requested them, but we generally only intervene in cases when we’re requested to come help.”

At time of publication, the Attorney General’s Office was looking for documentation of a request for assistance from the District Attorneys’ Office in the 12th Judicial District.

Specific information about a request for assistance was also sought from District Attorney Dan Mahonee’s Office, but could not be provided without the permission of prosecuting attorney Dan McIntyre, who is out of town until next week.

July 16, 2010

Weighing In: Child Abuse versus Discipline

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I don’t know exactly how tall John Caudle is, but all anyone has to do is look at a picture to know that he wasn’t simply being sent to bed without dinner. The 15-year-old murder suspect who is on trial for defending himself against severely abusive parents only weighed 97 pounds when he was arrested. But according to prosecutors he killed his parents because he didn’t want to do his chores.

So let’s put the facts in context. A healthy weight for a 15-year-old male who is 5 foot, 1 inch tall is 123 pounds…at the low end.  According to MotherJones.com, Caudle is almost 6 feet tall. At that height, Caudle should have weighed at least 147 pounds. If he were healthy, he might have weighed as much as 187 pounds. The only fact that the jury in Caudle’s trial really needs to be concerned with is that Caudle was being systematically starved.

What enrages me is that had Caudle died of malnutrition or starvation, his parents might have only gotten 16 years for child abuse resulting in death. And yet, if convicted in adult court under direct file provisions, Caudle could get as much as 80 years for defending himself.

All of this leads into a wider problem: According to ChildWelfare.gov, “Colorado [has an] estimated…50 percent to 60 percent of child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect [that] are not recorded” that way. What that means is that Colorado’s prosecutors simply aren’t enforcing child abuse laws.  Maybe if Colorado’s prosecutors were less focused on convicting kids for defending themselves and more focused on tracking down and prosecuting abusive parents, we could eliminate parricide in Colorado.

I guess prosecutors would rather spend millions of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate a kid for life than actually work to protect him and end the cycle of violence.  Apparently, it’s just more politically expedient to nail a kid whose friends can’t or don’t vote than it is to adhere to your own ethical standards.

February 8, 2010

Right vs. Wrong: Alamosa prosecutor knows the difference

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Alamosa Prosecutor Dan McIntyre wants us to believe that if John Caudle killed his mother and step father it was over a dispute about chores. That would tie things up nicely.  Never mind that the child he wants to try as an adult spent 14 years enduring severe neglect and abuse.

According to a recent interview with family friend Cecile Dinsmore in The Valley Courier, Caudle’s mother Joanne Rinebarger was an abusive drug addict who “killed every bit of joy in [John's] life, and took everything that he loved away from him as punishment.”

…But never mind all that because what is really on trial in the case of the State of Colorado vs. John Caudle is really justice vs. politics; right vs. wrong. McIntyre is seeking two consecutive 40 year sentences. Unless he expects Caudle to live to be 95 in prison, that’s a slow death sentence. McIntyre needs us to believe that he’s trying a “monster” because that is the only thing that justifies the monstrous vengeance he’s seeking.

More than anything, McInTyre needs us to believe that monstrous vengeance is justified. If we don’t believe that vengeance is necessary then he can’t justify it to himself. Like most prosecutors, McIntyre knows that kids are different from adults. He knows there are numerous studies (see references) that show  kids are prone to risky, emotionally driven behavior. McIntyre knows that adolescents, while maturing, are not mature enough to make adult decisions in the heat of the moment.

Finally, McIntyre knows that using the practice of direct file to mete out cruel and unusual punishment to John Caudle is unconscionable. If John Caudle killed his mother and his step father then he ought to be incarcerated, but he shouldn’t be warehoused in cold storage for the rest of his life. As a child, Caudle deserves a chance at redemption.

Trying Caudle as an adult using direct file is wrong. McIntyre knows the difference between right and wrong; he just doesn’t care.

In the end, everything that Dan McIntyre knows makes him more of a monster than John Caudle will ever be.