A 22-year-old cook from Spokane put a human face on the crime debate Tuesday.
Ken Whitehall bared his grief for his dead fiancee, Felicia Reese, urging a sympathetic joint House committee to get tough on juvenile offenders so she will not have died in vain.
“We need to improve the system,” said Whitehall, 22, who testified wearing her graduation ring and a button that read “Don’t Forget Felicia.”
Reese was shot and killed a few days after Christmas. The 22-yearold died six months before her scheduled wedding day.
Cousins Kevin Boot, 17, and Jerry Boot, 16 are accused of forcing Reese into a car at gunpoint, taking $43 from her purse and shooting her in the head.
Reese, a devout Christian, had been at a church conference just before the killing. Police reports indicate she died holding a Bible, praying for her assailants.
The suspects are being tried as adults, but that’s not enough for Whitehall.
He backed a bill considered Tuesday that would automatically try all juveniles - who are eligible for prosecution - as adults if they are charged with committing violent crimes with guns.
Current law draws the line for referral to the adult courts system at age 16.
If enacted, the bill would cost taxpayers $16 million in the 1995-97 biennium. That money would pay for more prison space to house 333 more juvenile offenders in the next six years, state estimates show.
Kids who commit serious crimes need to be locked up younger, sooner and longer, Whitehall said. He carried a Bible and letters of sympathy from strangers in his briefcase to bolster himself for his testimony.
Prayer also sustains his courage, Whitehall said.
“It’s definitely God. But last night I just started crying, I miss her so much. It’s the times when I’m alone I think, ‘What would we be doing if she were here right now?’
“It’s the little things I miss so much. Going out for ice cream or a walk. I’d give anything just to hold her again. If I can help change the system, her death won’t be in vain.”
Lawmakers have to show kids they care enough to punish them if they break the rules, Whitehall said.
“These counseling efforts don’t work. Punishment is what tells you, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ You can talk someone’s ear off, but without punishment they are going to keep on doing what they are doing.”
Outrage erupted in Spokane over Kevin Boot being free despite a lengthy criminal history. His rap sheet includes 18 offenses ranging from theft to assault.
Between April and October 1992, he racked up 14 convictions in juvenile court, but he served only a total of one year in the Spokane County juvenile detention center.
“Obviously, the system doesn’t work,” said Rep. Mike Padden, R-Spokane, chairman of the House Law and Justice Committee, who supports the bill.
Padden also supports a bill introduced Tuesday that would give parents more control over their runaway kids.
That bill is called the Becca bill after Rebecca Ann Hedman, a 13-year old runaway murdered in Spokane in October 1993. Her parents were powerless under existing law to require police to pick her up.
The bill would change the law to redefine a child as anyone younger than 18. Existing law leaves youths older than 12 out of their parents’ control.
“All they have to do is say ‘I’m out of here’ and they are free to live on the streets,” said Rep. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, the bill’s sponsor.
Some crime victims like Whitehall and parents of runaways brutalized by the streets say they hope lawmakers are starting to listen to their pleas to change the system.
“I think they are finally paying attention,” said Dennis Hedman of Tacoma, Rebecca’s father.