The Killer and Mrs. Johnson

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

At first Jacob was reluctant to confirm Charles's story. He denied even taking bubble baths until Johnson confronted him with snapshots, probably taken by Kermode, of the boy frolicking in the tub. Although he did eventually provide a graphic account of one rape for Johnson's book, he still insisted the attacks weren't as frequent as Charles claimed and that he was never tied down.

"If he was trying to con someone, you'd think he'd at least corroborate his brother's story," Johnson says. "But he'd say things like, 'If he just masturbated, it wasn't sexual abuse.' 'If he did penetrate me, it was only a few times.'"

Still, Jacob had his own outrageous story to contribute. As the months wore on, he began to tell Johnson about being molested and forced to perform oral sex--by his own mother. From the time he was six until he was twelve, he said, once in a great while, a dreamy-eyed Pam would take him into her bed and show him how to please her. Johnson figured that the youth was more willing to talk about such incidents because they seemed somehow less shameful--more consensual, perhaps, more "manly"--than being sodomized by his stepfather.

Curiously, Ind made no such admissions to the mental-health professionals hired to evaluate him for trial. The brothers' collective account--both parents freely exploiting the children, each unaware or tacitly approving of the other's perversion, the boys not telling anyone about such painful, traumatic encounters until months after the slayings--was almost too grotesque to be credible. Yet other sources seemed to substantiate at least pieces of the story.

Pam's mother recalled how Kermode would take young Jacob on his lap, stroke him "all over" and appear to become so sexually stimulated that he had to excuse himself. A friend of Pam's said she used to pay unusual attention to her children's genitalia, even when they were infants, seeming to fondle them while "cleaning" them. The same friend's son broke silence over an incident that had occurred years before--when, he said, Pam had groped him in a bathroom.

Johnson dutifully reported what she found to defense attorney Shaun Kaufman, but only a portion of what she uncovered was actually presented at trial. She claims that Kaufman almost never returned her phone calls, failed to follow up on several promising leads and potential witnesses, and spent only a few hours with Jacob in the seventeen months he sat in the county jail awaiting trial. In her view, his co-counsel, Tom Kennedy, was more diligent, but Kennedy joined the defense only four months before trial.

Kaufman denies any lack of diligence. "She probably doesn't know why a lot of professionals do what they do, but my time records show that somewhere between seven hundred and a thousand hours went into that case," he says. "I wasn't playing pinball, boss."

Kaufman says that defense investigators scoured medical and school records and flew to California looking for corroboration of the abuse and that he presented the most credible evidence he could find. He didn't spend much time with his client because that was Johnson's job, he adds--and Ind, with his hazy memories and wariness of most adults, wasn't "an integral part" of the defense strategy, anyway. Instead, Kaufman relied on expert witnesses, including a psychologist who'd testified in defense of the infamous Menendez brothers, to try to explain Ind's behavior.

"When that verdict came down, a good part of me died inside," he says now. "It's still a compelling case for me, and really upsetting. I believed Jacob. I just couldn't prove to the jury he was abused enough to have been in immediate apprehension of physical danger when he executed his parents in their sleep."

Friction between Ind's confidante and his lawyer flared on other fronts, too. Subpoenaed as a potential witness herself, Johnson was unable to attend any of the trial, but Kaufman says she made inappropriate remarks to witnesses outside the courtroom. Johnson admits telling one prosecution witness he was a "lying little weasel," but she says she didn't realize that that could be construed as attempted intimidation of a witness.

Yet there is one aspect of the case that Johnson and Kaufman agree about. Both say the police and the district attorney's office did little to check out the Ind brothers' claims of abuse. "They didn't know enough about it to fill a coffee cup," Kaufman says. "They only did enough to try to undo a claim of abuse, to protect their case. That's all."

Prosecutor Aspinwall says he's satisfied with the effort the police made, but Johnson has plenty to say about inadequate investigations in The Murder of Jacob. From its odd title--a reference to the "soul murder" of the youth by his abusive parents--to its first line ("Jacob Ind is my friend") to its last (Johnson counts the days "until Jacob and I are together again"), the book is squarely in the killer's corner. Ind reviewed the manuscript for accuracy ("He was extremely brutal on himself and his motives," Johnson notes) and even wrote a foreword.

"Sure, my childhood sucked," Ind wrote. "Being raped and forced to perform oral sex on my mom and Kermode sucked. Being beaten sucked. But what does wallowing in grief and self-pity accomplish?...I am not a victim."

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Yes that is reason to be slaughtered. Because you have a sharp tong and sometimes have slapped you child.