Horror story of girl's death is a bitter cautionary tale

August 03, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

SO JURORS didn't believe Jason T. Richards' tale that he was just some innocent guy caught up in a bad situation.

Quelle surprise.

It took a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury only 90 minutes to convict Richards on Monday. He was found guilty of conspiring to murder 15-year- old Quartrina K. Johnson, who was killed last summer. Her murderers tried to dispose of her body by burning it in a Baltimore County park.

The 25-year-old Richards was charged with being the ringleader of a plot that sought to murder not only Quartrina, but also her foster sister. Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman was convicted of murdering Quartrina in July. Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the case. Michael Xavier Shelton pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

Jurors had as some of the evidence in Richards' trial his videotaped statement to Baltimore County Police Department homicide Detective Gary Childs, which was shown in court Friday. At first, Richards denied everything, including knowledge of Quartrina's death. But after some skillful questioning by Childs caught him in a lie, Richards changed his story, blaming everyone but himself.

At one point, Richards claimed that almost every time he's been arrested in his life, somebody else was to blame. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, in every case, he said, but one. Listening to Richards, you'd have sworn he was born under the zodiac sign of Victimarius.

It was a tale of woe that didn't exactly leave me prostrate with grief.

What should leave all of us grief-stricken is the account of Quartrina's murder, a truly harrowing and disturbing horror story in a city where horror stories are all too common. It's also a cautionary tale that every preteen and teenage girl should heed about why they shouldn't get involved in relationships with older men.

The story of how Quartrina Johnson's life came to an abrupt, early and tragic end began only days before her death. According to statements Baltimore County prosecutors made to a Circuit Court judge in May, Quartrina's foster mother caught her then-13-year-old foster sister in bed with Richards on July 11 last year. Richards was 24 at the time. Their "relationship" had started a year earlier.

The foster mother contacted police, who issued a warrant charging Richards with statutory rape. It was then, prosecutors said, that Richards recruited Watkins, Coleman and Shelton to murder the girls to keep them from testifying. Prosecutors said he lured the girls from their home by telling the 13-year-old he wanted her to run away with him and live in California.

The girl said she didn't want to go alone and asked Quartrina to accompany her. Both left voluntarily. Quartrina was killed hours later on the grounds of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Brooklyn.

In his fascinating web of deceit shown on videotape, Richards tried to convince Childs that he didn't know Quartrina's foster sister was only 12 when he started having sex with her. He claimed that the girl lied to him. Told him she was 21 and worked as a stripper.

I haven't seen a 12-year-old girl yet who could pass for 21. If any exists, I doubt that any can convince a man she works as a stripper. Given Richards' credibility - or rather the lack of it - we might safely assume that he pursued a relationship with a 12- year-old girl because he didn't think there was anything wrong with it. The girl might have engaged in it because she saw nothing wrong with it, either.

That's a reflection of a downward shift in society's moral values that has been going on since at least the 1960s. In an America where our children are inundated with sexual images daily and what can be called "the hoochification of the country" continues at a rapid pace, why wouldn't 12-year-old girls think they're ready for sex with grown men?

In a nation where some have seriously argued that 12-year- old girls have the "right" to an abortion - and that they have the "right" not to notify their parents - why wouldn't some girls interpret that to mean they have an engage-in-sex-and-escape-the-consequences-free card?

And why wouldn't men in their 20s feel it means that 12- year-old girls are ripe for the picking?

This is where a "baby mama" culture leaves us. Richards used the term several times when Childs interrogated him. Although he was a bit more grammatically correct when he referred to the mother of his two children as his "babies' mother," he used another term that shows our downward shift in morality.

No longer are we a country where grown men consider 12- year-old girls off-limits. No longer are we a nation of husbands and wives with children, but of baby mamas and baby daddies.

We are a society that, in effect, has failed the Quartrina Johnsons among us.

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