Justice For Strohmeyer, Still None For Iverson  

 By Earl Ofari Hutchinson 


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 7-year-old African-American girl, on May 25, 1997 in the women's bathroom at the Primadonna Casino near Las Vegas.

On October 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. 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" he again depicted 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, intimidated, 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, during which he got national media coverage, to decide not to grant him a trial. This is much more than countless 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 they may consider an appeal. While Strohmeyer 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 the courtroom during Strohmeyer's 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 Iverson and her family and Strohmeyer, Cash, and their families.

Strohmeyer 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, and feelings of middle-class whites, while minimizing, if not outright ignoring blacks, even when they are the victims.

The killing 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. The contrast in the media coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey case, the 5-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.

Strohmeyer was allowed to fully tell his story, was 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 ever got.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally syndicated columnist and the director of the National Alliance for Positive Action.

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