Like so many others, Ken Whitehall picked up The Spokesman-Review last Wednesday and felt his blood begin to boil.
Staring back at him in living color from the front page was the grinning face of 17-year-old Kevin Boot, one of two punks accused of coldly murdering Whitehall’s fiancee, Felicia Reese, two days after Christmas.
Police say Boot and his 16-year-old cousin, Jerry, abducted Reese in her own car. They are accused of robbing Reese of $43, putting a bullet into her brain and then dumping her like so much garbage on the side of a road.
Both of them admit they were there, but Kevin Boot says cousin Jerry pulled the trigger. Jerry says no way - it was cousin Kevin.
“To see his arrogant smirk - it hit me hard,” says Whitehall, 22, choking on the words.
But unlike so many others, Whitehall isn’t wasting any of his fury by blaming the newspaper for publishing such a disturbing photo.
Editors have been fielding calls and letters from outraged readers who contend the picture was an affront to Reese’s loved ones and the sweet memory of this wonderful 22-year-old Christian woman.
The photograph was “the most flagrant act of stupidity that I have seen in 40 years of reading papers from around the world,” wrote one reader who believes we made “this animal look like a movie star.”
Another letter writer contends Boot’s photograph glamorizes evil and asks: “Has something gone over your head?”
Whitehall has shed a river of tears, but he can still see clearly. “People are so angry about what happened to Felicia,” he says. “They don’t know where to focus their anger.”
Let me help.
Anyone who still cares about this city should take another hard look into the remorseless face of Kevin Boot. It should make you mad as hell - but mad at the softy judges and the incompetent juvenile justice system that couldn’t stick this human time bomb where the sun don’t shine.
Boot has reason to smirk. He has been mollycoddled and second-chanced by fools who stood by and watched him rack up 18 convictions for violent crimes and three probation violations, yet still be able to walk the streets.
Whether or not he pulled the trigger will be for a jury to decide. But Boot never should have been free to become involved in any executions.
Mad at the newspaper for publishing Boot’s photo? That was a wake-up call, people. You should thank us for providing a public service.
“Juveniles who do adult crime should do adult time,” says Whitehall. “If that means the death penalty, then so be it.”
Whitehall came to see me the other day to give his views on the infamous photograph and to clarify something he had said a few hours after learning that the love of his life had been violently taken from him.
The grief-stricken young man stood in front of television news cameras and used the F-word common to born-again Christians: He said he wanted to “forgive” whoever had done this terrible thing.
Some may have wrongly thought Whitehall meant giving the killers leniency or mercy, but he was merely trying to protect his sanity.
“There’s a point of forgiveness that you have to reach in your own heart or you will become consumed with bitterness,” he says. “Most people wouldn’t blame me for being bitter, but what would that speak of Felicia’s life or what we tried to be as a couple?”
If any good can come out of the nightmare he is living, it is Whitehall’s resolve to help slam the jail cell doors on future Kevin Boots. He has signed a petition that seeks the death penalty for juveniles who commit capital crimes. He’s considering a run for political office in 1996. “I want to do anything I can to keep another family from going through this again,” he says.
Nothing, however, can dull the constant heartache or the haunting memories that keep replaying through his mind.
The day after Christmas, Whitehall and Reese walked hand-inhand through a shopping mall to return a few unwanted gifts. They stopped at a store a moment and flipped through a book on names.
Spencer for a boy. Brianna for a girl.
Whitehall and Reese were six months away from their wedding, but already had decided on what to someday name a future child. “People who knew us said we were perfect for each other. We fell so strongly in love it was beyond words.”
Whitehall paused a moment to collect himself. “I would give anything to give her a call, to hear her voice one more time.”
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