Sunday, January 13, 2013

Monday Matters: Murder Victim’s Mother Becomes Advocate, Wants Resolution

Monday Matters: Murder Victim’s Mother Becomes Advocate, Wants Resolution

Andria Nichole Brewer is seen about six months before she was killed in May 1999.
From left, Dexter Thompson, Melanie Thompson, Kristin DeMauro, Rebecca DeMauro.
From left, 10-year-old Andria Brewer, Rebecca DeMauro holding Kristin DeMauro, and Melanie Thompson.

By Jeff Arnold
Times Record •
Almost 14 years after 12-year-old Andria Nichole Brewer was raped and strangled, her killer remains on Arkansas’ death row and her family waits for justice.

Melanie Thompson, 24, was 10 years old when her older sister by 20 months was killed by their uncle, Karl Douglas Roberts, on May 15, 1999. The date was the 4th birthday of their half sister, Kristin DeMauro, who will turn 18 and graduate from high school this year.

Thompson, who’s married now and the mother of 2-year-old son Dexter, said she and Brewer were so close that people often thought they were twins.

Now 14 years later, Thompson said what stands out most vividly about the sister she looked up to is her eyes, which Thompson described as “vibrant and full of energy and fun” regardless of the circumstances, even when the sisters got in trouble.

Rebecca DeMauro, 42, Brewer’s mother, said “Andi” loved kids, loved Christmas, loved to laugh and loved to have a good time.

“I don’t want to make her this perfect angel, but she was a good kid. She was kind of a prankster. She loved to ride her four-wheeler. She was just a nice person. She would have been an asset to society,” DeMauro said.

Andi was abducted and killed May 15, 1999, but it wasn’t until two days later, after Roberts offered to help search for his missing niece, that he confessed to her rape and murder and led authorities to her body on a remote logging road near Cove in Polk County.

Roberts’ signed confession offered a chilling and disturbing account of his crime; it was presented at his trial, which started a year to the day after his confession, on May 17, 2000.

Appeals Process

After convicting Roberts of capital murder, the Polk County jury sentenced him to death. Since then, DeMauro said instead of justice for Andi, both Roberts and the justice system have revictimized her family.

After insisting for almost four years that he wanted to be executed, on Jan. 6, 2004, after he’d been served his last meal and met with his family for the last time, Roberts allowed his defense team to file a motion to stay his execution.

While Roberts met with his family, DeMauro and several members of her family were confined to an office where they were to witness the execution on close-circuit television, and remaining members of her family were sequestered in a tent outside in freezing weather.

A federal judge granted a stay, but the matter languished in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas when the judge fell ill, and it wasn’t assigned to a new judge until after he died in 2007.

The new judge ruled Roberts must return to state court to exhaust appeals before a federal appeal could move forward.

Roberts’ defense team then filed a petition in Polk County Circuit Court claiming he had ineffective counsel, couldn’t receive a fair trial in Polk County and that he was incompetent to stand trial.

In January 2009, Circuit Court Judge J.W. Looney rejected the petition and determined Roberts’ claim of ineffective counsel wasn’t filed in a timely manner.

But an order was entered until 2010, which was necessary for Looney’s decision to be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

DeMauro said after Roberts was convicted, then-Polk County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Williamson’s office had limited contact with her, and she learned about the delayed order only when reading about it in the Times Record.

Now with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office in charge of handling the appeal in the Supreme Court, DeMauro said Laura Shue, the deputy attorney general handling the case, is pretty good about giving her regular updates.

Still, the appeals process leaves DeMauro always wondering what will go wrong next and acknowledges it’s impacted her personal life.

“I feel like it’s my job as her mother to see to her last business on this earth,” DeMauro said. “That’s my job as a mom; I don’t think my job as her mother is over and it never will be. I have to make sure everything happens.”

Advocate For Victims

Not long after becoming an advocate for her daughter, DeMauro also became an advocate for children/victims’ rights.

Several years ago, DeMauro said, she held some resentment toward family and friends who suggested maybe it was time for her to move on or let Andi rest in peace, but that resentment is gone.

Through her advocacy work, DeMauro came to understand most people simply don’t know how to deal with victims, and her family and friends came to understand why what she does for Andi and others is so important to her.

However, DeMauro said her passion for advocacy did contribute to the end of her 16-year marriage to Kristin’s father in 2010.

DeMauro is now living in northwest Arkansas and is a consultant for Fox Valley Technical College, where she trains law enforcement on aspects of the Amber Alert, doing a “family perspective presentation.”

“I can’t keep it inside. So it’s sort of a cathartic measure when I go to speak. I put a face to what these police officers are learning about,” DeMauro said. “Basically I start out showing a video of Andi’s life … by then end of the video, I see these officers wiping tears, and then I tell them what went right, what went wrong and what we can do to improve.”

She is also studying criminal justice at Arkansas Tech University with plans of becoming a professor and training police officers.

Thompson said she never resented the energy DeMauro dedicated to justice for Andi or her advocacy work.

She also credits the decisions and strength of her mother made with getting her through the trauma of losing her sister and setting an example for her.

“Her still fighting, still advocating makes me want to be that type of mother,” Thompson said.

Uncertain Justice

Although the advocacy helps DeMauro deal with Andi’s loss, the “what if” aspect and frustration with the appeals process remain.

As she watches Thompson and Kristin grow, achieve and reach milestones in life, she can’t help but wonder if Andi would be a mother, and if she would be in medical school or a teacher like she wanted to be. Even in her grandson, Dexter, DeMauro sees Andi at his age, a “wild child” Andi surely would have egged on.

DeMauro said justice for Andi remains uncertain and ever-present.

When asked if she could accept a life sentence if Roberts successfully avoids the death penalty, DeMauro said she’s accepted that it is out of her hands.

“If that’s what a jury of what 12 people say … then that’s what supposed to happen. I can’t live my life wishing for the death of another human,” DeMauro said. “But I feel the first sentence should stand.”

Regardless of the outcome, DeMauro said it’s time for things to end.

“There needs to be a resolution … one way or another,” DeMauro said. “I want this to be closed.”

Jersey Bridgeman

Jersey Bridgeman

The Bentonville girl who was found killed Nov. 20 died of asphyxiation, according to an affidavit of probable cause released by authorities Wednesday.
A rape charge was added the same day to several other charges against the man accused of killing 6-year-old Jersey Bridgeman.

A swab test on Jersey’s body showed traces of sperm, according to the affidavit. Zachary Holly, Jersey’s accused killer, consented to cheek swabs for DNA comparison. He also gave authorities clothes he had worn since going to bed the night of Jersey’s death, the report states.

Investigators also collected DNA samples from other persons of interest in the case, although police would not elaborate in the probable cause affidavit.
Holly will be held in jail without bond, Benton County Circuit Judge Robin Greene said Wednesday in a bond hearing.

Holly, 28, was arrested Monday on suspicion of killing Jersey Bridgeman. He also faces charges of capital murder, kidnapping and residential burglary.
Several family and friends filled the courtroom during the hearing. Holly’s arraignment was set for Jan. 7.

Holly’s only spoken words during the hearing were, “Yes, ma’am,” when the judge ordered him to have no contact with the Bridgeman family.
Greene revealed she denied a request from Jersey’s father to attend the girl’s funeral, which was held Tuesday.

David Bridgeman is in prison after police said he chained Jersey to a dresser last year at their Rogers home.
Holly lives in the trailer next door to Jersey’s home in Bentonville. He also lives between Jersey’s home and a vacant house where her body was found Nov. 20.
Jersey lived at 608 S.E. A St. with her mother, who called the police early in the morning to report her daughter was missing. Officers found Jersey’s body fewer than 15 minutes later, in a nearby vacant house at 704 S.E. A St.

The probable cause affidavit states Holly and his wife babysat Jersey the night of her death while DesaRae Bridgeman and Bridgeman’s boyfriend were working. Holly later carried Jersey back to her house shortly after Desarae Bridgeman returned around 11 p.m.. He told police he had nothing to do with Jersey’s death, according to the report.

Holly’s wife has been booked four times into local jails since 2007, according to records from the Washington County Detention Center and the Benton County Jail. She was booked into Benton County in July on suspicion of driving with a suspended license and contempt of court. The wife was booked into Washington County twice in 2010, once on suspicion of failure to pay costs, and the other time on suspicion of failure to have proper insurance.

She was also booked into Washington County jail in 2007 on suspicion of writing hot checks, according to records.

Holly went to the nearby E-Z Mart at about 3:30 a.m. for Pepto Bismol stomach medicine and is seen on surveillance video, the probable cause affidavit states. He told police he went to bed after getting the stomach medicine and woke up at 6:30 p.m. to get his four-year-old stepson ready for school.

DesaRae Bridgeman called police at about 6:45 a.m. to report her daughter missing. Jersey and her younger sister shared a bed, but Jersey was nowhere to be seen, the report states. Police estimated her death to have been between midnight and 6:45 a.m.
While on the phone with police, Bridgeman became so upset that she had to hand the phone off to Holly’s wife.

While searching for Jersey, an officer noticed the back door to 704 SE A St. was open. Jersey’s body was found minutes later inside the vacant house.