The Killer and Mrs. Johnson

A gruesome crime. A bizarre defense. Can a crusading author reopen her best friend's case?

On the morning of December 17, 1992, a rangy freshman named Jacob Ind was pulled out of his first-hour class at Woodland Park High School by counselor David Greathouse. Concerned about Ind's emotional stability, Greathouse had arranged for the fifteen-year-old to meet with a mental-health specialist from a Colorado Springs hospital.

Ind agreed to meet with "the shrink," as he called her. The woman asked him how things were going at home. Everything was going okay, he told her. No problem.

Actually, everything was not okay. As with so many aspects of the Ind case, the attempt to evaluate Jacob's mental health was too little, too late. Only hours earlier, he and another teenager had slaughtered Pamela and Kermode Jordan, Ind's mother and stepfather, in the master bedroom of the family's 4,000-square-foot mountain home. Their bodies were found later that day, after Ind fessed up to the crime to his school principal. Both he and his accomplice were promptly arrested.

The night of the murders, Ind had taken a batch of cold pills to help him sleep, having entrusted the task of snuffing his parents to seventeen-year-old Gabrial Adams. A self-styled martial arts expert, Adams would later tell police that Ind had promised to pay him $2,000. But the pint-sized assassin muffed the job.

Ninja-like, Adams crept into the Jordan home after midnight. He shot a sleeping Kermode Jordan twice in the head with a .22 pistol. Jordan woke up. So did his wife. Adams shot Pamela twice and Kermode two more times, touching off a desperate struggle for the now-empty gun.

Ind awoke to screams. He ran to the master bedroom and came upon the Jordans wrestling with Adams over a hunting knife. Ind sprayed his parents with bear Mace, then retreated to the bathroom, where Kermode kept his .357 Magnum revolver. Ind grabbed the gun. He shot his mother and stepfather once each in the head, putting an end to the carnage.

"I didn't want to be involved," Ind scolded Adams. "You fucked up."
After Adams left, Ind showered and put on some music. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Exodus, the Doors--music for parricides. ("Father?" "Yes, son." "I want to kill you...Mother, I want to--eeaaaarrrgghh!") He took the bus to school, met with the shrink, and then told friends about the slayings, which he'd been contemplating and talking about for weeks. He was going to kill himself now, he said.

Instead, he was called into the principal's office, then arrested.

The murders shocked Woodland Park, an upscale bedroom community eighteen miles west of Colorado Springs. Both Ind and Adams were charged as adults. At Ind's 1994 trial, his attorneys attempted to present evidence of self-defense, claiming that their client had been beaten and verbally abused by both parents for years--and, as a child, sexually molested by Kermode Jordan.

A key witness was Ind's older brother, who'd moved out of the house shortly before the murders. Charles Ind provided a graphic account of how Kermode "would basically rape us" during long "bath sessions." But Jacob himself never testified, and the jury didn't buy the argument that he was in imminent danger of harm at the time he executed his parents. Like Adams, Jacob Ind was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison--making him the youngest person in the Colorado Department of Corrections doing life without parole.

At his sentencing, Ind spoke out for the first time, complaining that the justice system wasn't designed to get at the truth. "The system sucks big, fat, sweaty toe," he said.

Then he vanished into prison, to reappear occasionally by satellite on "Kids Who Kill" talk shows hosted by the likes of Montel Williams. As a result of various infractions of prison rules, since 1995 he's been in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at the state supermax, the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP). But the case continues to haunt several of Ind's relatives and former neighbors, who believe there is much more to the story than what the jurors were allowed to hear. And for Mary Ellen Johnson, a 48-year-old author who claims to know Jacob Ind better than anyone alive, reopening the case has become an obsession.

"Jacob may never get out of prison, but people need to know what happened," Johnson says. "If this kid can wind up with this kind of defense and this kind of sentence, then we have a problem with our justice system."

A Woodland Park resident and writer of historical novels, Johnson befriended Ind a few months after his arrest. Despite her lack of experience, she was soon hired by Ind's defense team as an investigator, assigned to draw out Jacob's scattered memories of abuse. By the time of the trial, she had become a fierce behind-the-scenes advocate for Ind--and the rest of the defense team had all but stopped talking to her.

Last year Johnson self-published a book about the case, The Murder of Jacob. The book is a stinging attack on school officials and the Teller County Department of Social Services for what Johnson regards as an inadequate response to reports of trouble in the Jordan home before the murders; it also blasts both the prosecution and the defense for not investigating the claims of abuse thoroughly enough. In fact, Johnson regards her own involvement in the case, for which she was never paid, as a fair indication of just how "haphazard" Ind's court-appointed defense really was.

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