NATURAL BORED KILLERS
part 2 of 2
January 31, 1995
Met T downtown. Afterwards we went and fucked once, then I saw Rachelle's picture in his wallet & I took it. He totally tweaked out on me so I got all hurt. Got in hugest fight ever. He told me we're over.
When Terrance's parents went out of town in late July 1994, Terrance invited Cheryl to stay with him for a few days. "And that," Cheryl testified at her trial, "was the first time Rachelle came into the picture.
"I'd heard about her a couple times," she said on the stand. "And he had just told me that they were together for almost a year. They had broken up right before he met me. And I had the impression that Rachelle was just--that she hadn't gotten over Terrance and that she still wanted to be with him. And he used to tell me that she was obsessed with him.
"So then she stopped by his house, and he ended up leaving for about four hours; not directly with her, but I knew he was with her. And when he came back, I was really upset about it, but we didn't break up. We just fought about it and then we made up. And that was when I first started, you know, kind of not trusting him and having my doubts if he was really loyal to me."
Over the next few months, Cheryl and Rachelle took turns breaking up and getting back together with Terrance--usually because one discovered that he was again dating the other. Sometimes Rachelle wasn't part of the triangle. "There was lots of girls," Cheryl testified at her trial. "It was mostly Rachelle, though. Rachelle was the main one."
The rivalry deteriorated into a physical confrontation by late summer. Rachelle had broken up with Terrance yet again, and she had demanded her belongings back. On August 17, Cheryl agreed to drive Terrance to the Target store where Rachelle was working so he could deliver the goods. Terrance told Cheryl that he planned to tell Rachelle he never wanted to speak with her again. "He wanted to convince me that he didn't want to be with her anymore," Cheryl testified.
Instead, Terrance confronted Rachelle and demanded to know where she'd been the night before. When she wouldn't respond, he pulled her out of her checkout booth. The police were called, Terrance was arrested, and Rachelle took out a restraining order against him.
But that didn't end Terrance's harassment or his obsession with Rachelle. He even enlisted Cheryl in on his schemes. According to Cheryl's testimony at trial, Terrance asked her to call Rachelle's house. She did, rousing Lorrie Peterson at 1 a.m. "She just said, `Is Rachelle there?'" Lorrie Peterson recalls. "And I said she was sleeping. She said, `Tell her she's dead.' I said, `Who are you?' And she said, `This is Cheryl.' I asked her, `What did she ever do to you?' And she said, `Just tell her she's dead.'"
By late October, the tables had again turned. Terrance and Rachelle were back together. And Terrance confided to Cheryl that Rachelle was pregnant. The Petersons say they're still not sure whether their daughter really was pregnant at the time or whether she and Terrance made up the story to hurt Cheryl. Either way, Cheryl was livid and, according to Nanci, a little jealous that it was Rachelle who was pregnant and not her.
"I think she thought that maybe she would be in Rachelle's position if she was pregnant," Nanci says. "You know, with Terrance. Once she said, `I think I'm pregnant; that would be so cool.' And I'm like, `Your mom would trip.'"
It was just a couple weeks after Cheryl heard the news, and just a day after she'd spent the night with Terrance, that Cheryl ran into Rachelle and Terrance at No Excuses, an Arvada nightclub. "Terrance and Rachelle were standing there," Nanci says, "and Cheryl said, `Fucking bitch! I'm going to beat her ass!'" At trial, under questioning by Silverman, Cheryl admitted she "probably" said she wanted to kick the baby out of Rachelle's stomach.
Terrance tried to break up the fight by pinning Cheryl's arms, but she was still able to kick Rachelle in the torso. At trial, Silverman suggested that the attack may have caused Rachelle to have a miscarriage, though it's still not clear whether she was even pregnant. When bouncers came to break up the fight, Cheryl convinced them that it was Rachelle who'd started the melee; Terrance and Rachelle were the ones who got booted out.
According to Terrance's family, Rachelle was the one Terrance truly loved. With Cheryl, says Terrance's cousin, Tareal, "it was more or less a use thing. He kind of knew it and she kind of knew it. Whenever he needed a ride he would call her, or if he needed money he would call her.
"She was in love with him," Tareal says. "To her, he was God. We both knew that no matter how bad he'd treat her, she was still going to love him. That's called `locked down.' She was locked down."
Cheryl remained "locked down" throughout the New Year. In her diary, under the heading "1996 Planning," Cheryl wrote: "Make Terrance fall in love w/you. Stay with Terrance for-ever. Move in with Terrance. Get engaged to Terrance."
By early April, however, it seemed that Cheryl might actually be ready to move past Terrance. Rachelle was pregnant, for sure this time. Cheryl and Terrance were still involved in their on-again, off-again relationship, but she was beginning to think about other guys. She'd even been out a couple times with a gangbanger named "Pup." If Pup thought Cheryl was ugly, he didn't say so.
But Terrance did. Under questioning by detectives, Cheryl's friend Jenny Phelps described the scene prosecutors believe spurred Cheryl to begin hatching a murder plot. It was Easter weekend, and Jenny, Cheryl and Terrance were speaking to each other on a conference call when they started arguing, Jenny told police. "Terrance was making fun of her, and Cheryl went and called him a nigger," Jenny said. "And Terrance said, `Fuck you and all your spic friends.' And, Jenny added, he called Cheryl "crater face."
According to Silverman, the hurtful remark made Cheryl seethe. "How could she ever sleep with him again?" the prosecutor asks. "How could she ever look him in the eye?"
When Silverman posed those same questions to Cheryl at her trial, she denied ever hearing the words. But, she admitted, if she had heard them, she never could have envisioned herself with Terrance again.
Prosecutor Silva says that after the "crater face" remark, Cheryl used her friends' gang loyalties to turn them against Terrance. It was something she'd done before. "In her videotaped statement [after her arrest], Cheryl talked about how Lavar hated Terrance because of gangs," Silva says. "She would call one of them and say that the other called him a slob and stuff like that. She would play on that."
In fact, Cheryl spoke again with Terrance the day of the conference call. She and Lavar Carter telephoned him, and Cheryl listened as the two traded threats with one another. The following day, Cheryl would tell police, Terrance had "Bloodettes" phoning her and threatening to "kick my ass."
March 11, 1995
Saw Rachelle & T--followed em--she wouldn't get out of the car. I was gonna kill her. Threw a metal bar at her car, then blazed. That bitch is gonna get it boy!
On the night of April 17, Cheryl crammed five other people into her Honda. With her were Jenny Phelps, Romeo, Lavar, Terry Bawiec and Chris French. Of that number, only Terry Bawiec and Chris French weren't among the regular crowd that hung out at Romeo's.
Chris, a seventeen-year-old runaway from Littleton, was considered a hanger-on, a "nerd." Cheryl and her friends thought Terry Bawiec, twenty, to be "a little crazy." They described him as "not all there," with a brain "fried" from drugs. Terry hadn't been hanging with Romeo for a long time, "but all of a sudden, he did," says Terry's girlfriend, Amanda Coon. "He happened to meet up with them that day, I guess."
The guys had been drinking heavily that night. Flaming shots of Bacardi "and some brown stuff," Jenny Phelps says. "Maybe Kahlua." Chris drank so much that he vomited before getting in the Honda. Cheryl let him lay in the hatchback, behind the backseat, only after Chris promised not to throw up all over her car. Cheryl the teetotaler was stone cold sober--the only one in the bunch who hadn't touched a drop all night.
It was raining. The group was bored. And thanks to Chris French, they were armed. Chris had stolen two guns, a .22 and a 9mm, and given them to Lavar and Romeo about ten days earlier in exchange for nothing more than the promise of some pot and a pager. Lavar and Romeo were ecstatic.
Lavar "was like a little kid" when he got the gun, says April Lemay. "He was so excited. But they didn't even know how really to use them. I about beat Greg up. He was pointing it at everybody."
That night, "Romeo was talking about wanting to shoot their guns," Jenny Phelps told detectives. "Lavar said something like, `We need to go somewhere like a big field so the cops don't come.' So Cheryl said, `Let's go to Terrance's house--we can shoot him.' And Romeo said, `Okay. Let's go.'"
From his perch in the hatchback, Chris French listened to the conversation as Cheryl pointed the car north. "Greg and Lavar said, `Let's get that fool; he's talking shit and he threatened to kill us,'" Chris told detectives. "And Cheryl keeps saying, `This is going to be cool. I'll be so glad when he's dead.'" One of the guys said that they'd have to kill any witnesses, too.
It took 45 minutes for the group to drive from Littleton to Montbello. It was about 10 p.m. when Cheryl pulled up in front of Terrance's house. She knew that Terrance's parents were out of town, but she didn't know that Terrance had a visitor until she spotted the maroon Hyundai in the driveway. It was Rachelle's car. According to Jenny, the sight of it infuriated Cheryl.
"Cheryl's like, `That fucking bitch is here,'" Jenny told detectives. "She said, `Kill her, too! Kill her and her baby.'"
Cheryl drove around the corner and let Lavar, Terry and Romeo hop out. The trio then marched up to Terrance's door. When he refused to let them in, they returned to the car. (Unbeknownst to them, Terrance had phoned 911 at the sight of them and told an operator that some gang members, possibly armed, had come to his house.)
It looked at that point as if there would be no gunfire. But as Cheryl turned the Honda around to leave, she spotted Terrance in his front yard. "They were all, `Go back! Go back! Go back!'" Jenny Phelps said in her statement to police. And Cheryl did go back. She again let the three out of the car, then drove off to circle the block.
Chris French, who'd stayed in the back of the car, told police he learned about what happened inside Terrance's house directly from Lavar and Romeo. According to Chris, Lavar managed to push his way into the house, followed by Romeo and Terry Bawiec. At the moment Lavar confronted him, Chris said, Terrance told the trio that he'd already called police. "You did what, nigger?" Lavar reportedly said, and then shot Terrance in the head.
"Greg shot him after Lavar did," Chris said in his statement. "He said he shot Terrance two or three times. Lavar said he saw a girl run into the bedroom. He said he shot her about five times." Lavar shot Rachelle as she cowered beneath the blankets of Terrance's waterbed. Terry Bawiec, who earlier in the evening had pestered the other two to please let him have a gun, too, apparently did nothing but watch the events unfold.
By the time Cheryl had made one pass around the block, the guys were done. They hopped back in the car, and she drove off as Romeo and Lavar explained that they had killed Terrance and Rachelle.
"Cheryl was like, `All right!'" Jenny Phelps told police. "Cheryl asked if Rachelle was naked and they said no, and she said `Good.' And she said, `Oh, I love you guys!'"
At Cheryl's trial, under cross-examination by Silva, Jenny testified that after learning Terrance was dead, Cheryl "was happier than I've ever seen her in my life."
As the group left the neighborhood, they were momentarily spooked by a passing Denver police cruiser. The officers were answering Terrance's 911 call. They went to Terrance's door. When there was no answer, they left.
April 16, 1995
Went out with Pup & Diz. Kicked it at his dad's til 3:30 a.m. We finally kissed & all that other shit. He never asked me 2 be with him, but we're pretty much 2-gether now.
Two days after the murders, Chris French was picked up by Jefferson County Sheriff's officers, who wanted to speak with him about the burglary in which he'd stolen the two guns. Chris not only told them about the theft, he told them everything he knew about the murder. Chris, however, didn't know precisely where Terrance lived. Nor was he sure of Terrance's last name. Jefferson County officers checked his story with Denver police. At that time, however, the Denver cops still hadn't received a report of a double slaying.
On the day that Chris was telling all, Lorrie Peterson knew only that Rachelle was missing. She hadn't been to school on Tuesday, and she hadn't shown up for work that night, either. When there was no sign of her by the next day, Lorrie phoned her ex-husband, Rick, to see if Rachelle had stayed the night at his house. Rick Peterson promised to swing by Terrance's and see if Rachelle's car was there. It was.
"I beat and beat on the door and rang the doorbell and hollered for Rachelle," Rick Peterson says. "But she didn't answer the door. So I left a note on her car that said, `Page me as soon as you get this.' And I left, figuring she went home [to her mother's house]. I didn't hear from Lorrie again until maybe two days later, and she said Rachelle still hadn't come home.
"I never thought of calling the cops," Rick Peterson says. "I figured she was still at Terrance's house." However, Terrance's mother, Juliet Mayo, did call for help. Although she was out of town, she became concerned when she couldn't reach her son by telephone. She asked a relative to check on his well-being. The relative phoned police. The bodies were discovered on April 21, four days after the slayings.
The Mayos and the Petersons say they at first didn't know or understand who could have killed their children. But when Tareal Bonds heard that his cousin had been murdered, there was no question in his mind who had done it.
"The first words out of my mouth were, `I know that bitch Cheryl had something to do with this,'" he says. "I just knew she wasn't over him yet. I had the strongest feeling that if ever anything was to happen, it would be her."
After the discovery of the bodies, Denver police brought Chris French in for questioning. In short order, officers also picked up Lavar and Terry Bawiec. Cheryl and Romeo were arrested at the Southwest Plaza mall. All four were charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and burglary (for breaking into Terrance's home).
Romeo was tried first, in September. Although his attorneys claimed he had been too drunk that night to form the intent to kill, the jury found him guilty on all counts and sentenced him to two life terms with no possibility of parole. His attorneys have already filed notice of an appeal. A trial date has not been set for Bawiec, who is undergoing court-ordered psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is competent to stand trial. Lavar Carter's trial took place last week; he was convicted of first-degree murder this past Monday in Denver District Court.
From the first, Cheryl claimed she never wanted Terrance dead. "I just wanted to teach him a lesson," she told the detective who questioned her after her arrest. "I swear on my life I didn't believe they were going to kill him...I was in love with Terrance. I was so in love with Terrance. I would have died for him. I picked him over my mom. I did all kinds of stuff for Terrance. I would not want him dead. I wouldn't," she said, her eyes tearing up.
Cheryl said much the same thing, in much the same way, at her trial, which took place last month. She also told the court that Jenny Phelps and Chris French lied about what happened in the car that night.
Cheryl's words apparently had an effect on two of the jurors. When the panel retired to deliberate and took a straw poll, it stood at ten for conviction on first-degree murder and two for a manslaughter conviction. According to a post-verdict questionnaire filled out by one of the panelists, "two jurors said in the beginning of deliberation that they would not change their minds. They wanted manslaughter. The other ten of us either had to compromise or I am not sure if it would be a hung jury or a mistrial."
The jury did compromise. The panel came back with a verdict of guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and not guilty of burglary. Second-degree murder is punishable by a term of 16 to 48 years in prison. The terms can be stacked, meaning that Cheryl could face as much as 96 years in prison.
"I was crushed," Rick Peterson says of the jury's decision. "When they read that verdict, Cheryl turned around and smiled at me. You tell me that she's not saying, `I got away with it.' She was just like the devil, I swear to God.
"Those two shooters would never, ever have gone there, ever, and killed my daughter if it wasn't for Cheryl," Peterson says. "Cheryl made them do it. She drove them there, she promised them--she did everything to make them do it. She's the cause. She's the reason my daughter's not here."
His only hope for justice, Peterson says, is that Cheryl will receive a 96-year prison term when Judge Warren Martin hands down her sentence this week. Silva and Silverman have promised the victims' families they will argue for the maximum penalty.
Cheryl Armstrong declined to be interviewed for this story, but she has not remained silent while awaiting her fate in the Denver County Jail. She has kept up correspondence with a number of her friends on the outside. She's written to Nanci and to Pup, the boy she dated a few times before the murder. Some of those missives have been turned over to prosecutors.
"In letters to Pup," Elizabeth Silva says, Cheryl, now seventeen, "warned him not to talk to other girls."
Cheryl's exact words to Pup in that regard were, "Don't do me wrong. I don't put up with that shit. I ain't no stupid bitch who puts up with people doing me wrong."
end of part 2
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.