Prosecutor: Teen’s Murders Were Calculated Defense Argues Walla Walla Boy’s Actions In Death Of Sister, Friend, Show Lack Of Sophistication Required For Trial As An Adult
A 15-year-old Boy Scout wrote a suicide note and cut the whiskers off a cat to see if an old tale that it would walk in circles was true.
Later in the day, Daniel Lee Betournay told authorities he suffocated his sister April and her friend Beth Garbe, both 14, by binding their hands and ankles and taping plastic bags over their heads.
Betournay told investigators he once considered killing his entire family. He also indicated the girls were still alive when he left the family home in nearby College Place.
Laying out the most detailed description to date of the Dec. 14 deaths, Walla Walla Prosecutor Joseph Golden Tuesday set out to prove the killings were both heinous and calculated, and Betournay should be tried as an adult for first-degree murder.
Betournay’s attorneys - alluding to the cutting of the cat’s whiskers, other erratic behavior and their client’s poor academic performance - tried to show he lacked the sophistication required by law to be tried in adult court.
Testimony is scheduled to resume today before visiting Superior Court Judge Philip Raekes of the Tri-Cities, who will also consider whether Betournay is competent to stand trial.
Whatever the ruling, Tuesday’s hearing provided little clue to why Betournay would kill the two girls.
During four hours of testimony, Golden painted a portrait of both a distraught, suicidal loner and an incongruous act of terror apparently scripted down to the door knobs wrapped in electric tape.
That way, Betournay told investigators in a confession, his victims’ hands would slip if they tried to escape.
On the surface, said Julie Elmenhurst, an intake probation officer who interviewed school officials and family members, Betournay was a caring son and unobtrusive, albeit lackluster, student.
His adoptive parents, Jim and Judy Betournay, “described Daniel as a very loving and caring person. From what they saw, they never expected anything like this.”
A Boy Scout, he was a mentor to a Cub Scouts den, his parents said. They felt he had a learning disability that warranted placing him in a special education program, but school officials thought otherwise.
In his 1993 California test of basic skills, he scored as low as the secondgrade level in language skills and as high as the sixth-grade level in social studies and reading and vocabulary comprehension.
Moreover, something about him struck school officials as not quite right.
“The one word that kept coming up in talking about Daniel was `weird,”’ said Elmenhurst. He was bullied and teased, prompting his parents to move him to a different school. He had few friends.
After the murders, he told Norris Gregoire, a county probation officer, he was interested in suicide and death since the fourth grade.
“His interest in suicide was mostly a curiosity,” he said. “He called suicide a fresh start or a new beginning.”
He had attempted suicide in November with some sort of medication, Gregoire said.
On the morning of the murders, he wrote a note titled “My Confession.” He said he stole his mother’s rings and items from other family members, twice took methamphetamine, was getting failing grades and “never learned to love, not even my family.”
“I often thought about killing friends or neighbors,” he wrote. “… Don’t spend money on my funeral and go to church.”
He closed by asking to be remembered not as he is but as he was while a child. He attached photographs from his childhood to a corner of the note.
He later told sheriff deputies he planned to steal his older sister Jennie’s car and run away.
“But my little sister got home first,” he wrote in a confession read by sheriff’s Capt. Mike Humphreys, “and I felt like killing my whole family.”
Humphreys, referring to a longer, oral confession Betournay gave, said the youth watched from a darkened house as April’s bus dropped her and Garbe off.
“He was waiting for April to come home,” said Humphreys. “He had a plan.”
With a nightstick in his hand, he waited as the two came in, singing.
Garbe said she had to go to the bathroom, and April said she would go in the living room.
Betournay forced his sister to lie down and used duct tape to bind her ankles and tie her hands behind her back.
She screamed for Garbe to dial 911.
“Who is it? Who is it?” Garbe said, locking herself in the bathroom.
Betournay unlocked the bathroom door with a screwdriver. Garbe relocked the door every time Betournay popped the lock with his screwdriver until he until he finally forced his way through the door.
“Oh, it’s you,” said Garbe, apparently thinking he was joking.
As she walked down the hall, Betournay told investigators he clubbed her in the back, bound her and put her in April’s bedroom. After dragging April to her side, he began putting plastic bags over their heads. The first bag over Garbe’s head tore so he put a tougher bread bag over her, Humphreys said.
“While he was doing this to Beth (Garbe), April was pleading with him not to do it, that she loved him,” Humphreys said.
After sealing the bags with duct tape, Betournay told detectives he waited in his room five minutes before returning to hear a snoring sound from April and the sound of air getting to Beth. About 4:15, he took a pellet gun and knife and left.
Jennie and Judy Betournay came home and found the girls half an hour later. They attempted to revive them, but it was too late.
Later that night, Betournay called 911 from a pay telephone and turned himself in.