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part 1 of 2 January 2, 1995 Me and T are over. I wanna commit suicide. I love him so much. --excerpt from Cheryl Armstrong's diary It may have been something about living in the tame Littleton suburbs that made sixteen-year-old Cheryl Armstrong and her friends long for a more...
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part 1 of 2
January 2, 1995
Me and T are over. I wanna commit suicide. I love him so much.
--excerpt from Cheryl Armstrong's diary

It may have been something about living in the tame Littleton suburbs that made sixteen-year-old Cheryl Armstrong and her friends long for a more exciting way of life. What were parks, shopping malls and lawns compared to drugs, gangs, guns and ghettos? So they talked the talk and wore clothes that sagged and they dropped out of school, hoping to be taken for streetwise toughs instead of the middle-class gangster wannabes they really were.

All but one of the tight-knit group lived in the well-kept subdivisions surrounding Chatfield High School, but they liked to cruise Federal with the gangbangers and hang out with the Denver kids they met on the 16th Street Mall. One person Cheryl met there was Terrance Mayo, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout from Montbello who claimed to have gang affiliations. She became his girlfriend the day they met. Mayo didn't know at the time that he was the one flirting with danger.

Ten months after she met Mayo, Cheryl and three of her friends were charged with the merciless double slaying of Mayo and his other girlfriend, Rachelle Peterson. It was a crime more heinous than the average drive-by shooting; Peterson, a former cheerleader and Cheryl's romantic rival, was shot to death as she hid under a blanket, clawing at her head and hair, prosecutors say, trying to pull out one of the first bullets that struck her.

The boys in Cheryl's makeshift posse who actually killed Mayo and Peterson had only the flimsiest of motives for the crime. Prosecutors contend that it was Cheryl, fueled by jealousy and hate for an unfaithful lover, who talked Greg "Romeo" Romero and Lavar Carter into committing the murders. Cheryl denied the allegation at her trial. But it's a theory the victims' parents and Cheryl's own friends readily embrace.

"There's something very dangerous and different about Cheryl," says Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Craig Silverman, who, along with deputy DA Elizabeth Silva, was assigned to prosecute Cheryl and her friends. "She was very manipulative. That's what I think distinguished her from other troubled adolescents."

Cheryl had a habit of instigating fights and arguments, her friends say. "That's how she likes to amuse herself," claims her former friend April Lemay. "She likes starting trouble." Cheryl's modus operandi, says Nanci, another former friend who asks that her real name not be used, was a sort of "he said, she said" game. Cheryl would call a friend and tell them someone had said something bad about them. When that person got angry and said something, Cheryl would call the other person and goad them on by repeating the other person's remarks.

While preparing for trial, Silverman and Silva were allowed a glimpse into the defendant's life that few prosecutors enjoy--they had Cheryl's diary, found by detectives in her car. They would end up using her own words and private thoughts to help convict her of two counts of second-degree murder.

From that diary and from what they learned about Cheryl from her friends, they developed a theory about what caused an insecure, acne-scarred teenager to want to murder two people. It's the prosecutors' position that a single epithet, hurled at Cheryl by her former boyfriend in a moment of anger, sparked the twin tragedies.

"He called her `crater face,'" Silverman says. "That's what triggered her murderous intent."

February 6, 1995
Missed work cause I tripped A. Got budded, went & picked up Lavar. Me, Diz, Lavar, Ron & Brandon & Ro went to Columbine & they beat the shit outa some fool.

Cheryl Armstrong was the only one in her clique with a car. And the way she got it still rankles Silverman. "She stole her mom's car," says the prosecutor. "And you know what her mother's solution to that was? She gave her a car."

Having her own wheels, a 1983 Honda Civic, made a big difference in Cheryl's life, particularly since her mother and stepfather had moved from Littleton to the mountain community of Conifer in the summer of 1994. Although she'd dropped out of Chatfield (and left a Littleton alternative high school in her junior year), her friends were still out in the 'burbs, mostly clustered around her old home near Kipling and Bowles.

But in a way, having a car changed things for the worse. People began spending time with Cheryl because she'd take them places, not necessarily because they liked her.

"If she didn't have a car, I wouldn't have hung out with her," April says. Nanci tells a similar story. "I used her for her car," she says. "I did." Not that it's something Nanci feels ashamed about. "Why would I feel bad?" she asks. "I didn't really like her. We just still kept being friends. I don't know why. I guess we clicked."

If Cheryl was aware of her friends' duplicity, she didn't say so. It was a mutually parasitic relationship; she was nothing without friends, and they were stranded on foot in the suburbs without her. They were careful not to piss her off when they needed a ride, or she'd make them walk home. It had happened before.

It was no secret that Cheryl had a nasty temper. At the time of her arrest for the murders, she was on probation (and attending anger-control classes) for third-degree assault--she'd joined in a free-for-all in Jefferson County and kicked a teenage boy in the head. "I hated him," she later told police with a shrug of her shoulders, as if that explained everything.

"We all were trouble. Just trouble," Nanci says of herself and Cheryl. "We used to steal her mom's truck. We always wanted to get into trouble and do bad stuff and be older than what we were." The two girls spent their days "smoking pot and drinking and hanging out." That was their life, Nanci says, because "there's nothing else to do. That's what everybody does."

The place where "everybody" in Cheryl's clique hung was at Greg Romero's Littleton home. "If we wanted to get fucked up, we'd go to Romeo's," Nanci says, using Romero's favored nickname. Romeo was Cheryl Armstrong's best friend and had been for a couple of years, ever since they met as ninth-graders at Chatfield. The boy ruled the roost at his house, say friends. He was given free reign of the upstairs portion of the home, while his parents were relegated to living quarters in the basement. "That's basically how it was," agrees Amanda Coon, whose boyfriend, Terry Bawiec, has also been bound over for trial in the double slaying. "I never saw [Romeo's parents]. They were always in the basement." (Romero's parents couldn't be reached for comment; Romero attorney Kurt Metsger says the couple was always "there for [their son] in terms of being supportive.")

Cheryl's diary is full of descriptions of what she and her friends would do in Romeo's "crib," as she liked to call it.

January 4, 1995: "Mom gave me a ride to Romeo's. Got high and smoked crystal [speed]. Stayed up all nite."

January 5: "Sat at Romeo's all day. Smoked more crystal."
January 10: "Rode bus to Romeo's. Kicked it there and got high as fuck."
It seemed that Cheryl spent most of her time at Romeo's getting "fucked up," "danked," "budded" and "hella high." She and her friends smoked pot and methamphetamines, took acid and ate "'shrooms." But although Romeo and the others also drank beer and rum and whatever else they could get their hands on, Cheryl was pretty much a teetotaler.

In school, Cheryl's crew would have been identified as "druggies." But their heads had been turned by the romanticized Hollywood version of gang life and by the street slang of rap music, and they preferred to identify themselves with Denver gangs. Cheryl, who grew up mostly in small towns such as Molina and South Fork before moving to Littleton, peppered her diary with big-city trash talk. Romeo told people he was a member of the Crips. Although that gang is primarily black and centered in northeast Denver and Romeo is a Hispanic from Littleton, he pledged his allegiance to that "'hood."

Romeo's actual gang involvement, however, seems peripheral at best. He was stopped a few times in Denver with other gangsters, which earned him a spot on the Denver Police Department's lengthy gang list, but he wasn't known as a gangbanger. His primary gang activity seemed to consist of spray-painting graffiti.

Of all the friends who partied at Romeo's, Lavar Carter was perhaps the only one who could claim some kind of righteous link to a gang. And that was only because he was black and, unlike the other members of the ring, actually lived in gang territory. Lavar's mother, a prostitute, had been murdered years earlier, and he'd lived with his grandmother on the northeast side ever since. He met Cheryl and the others through friends of friends and enjoyed the atmosphere at Romeo's suburban party pad. Lavar told people he too was a Crip, but his involvement apparently was as negligible as Romeo's.

Cheryl, though, wanted to be a "a hoody 'hood rat"--a girl who hangs out with the gangs.

January 9, 1995
Rode bus to T's. Let him F me D-style, finally. I didn't think it was anything special. I stayed at his house. I acted COMPLETELY nice & like I was over him & ready to move on & it worked because now he wants me back again!

When things got too tough or too boring at home, Cheryl and her friends would sometimes run away from their middle-class homes to spend a few days on the street in downtown Denver. In the summer of 1994, it was Cheryl and Nanci who took off, ending up on Denver's 16th Street Mall. That's where Cheryl first set eyes on Terrance Mayo. "It was June 4, 1994," Cheryl told police in a videotaped interview after her arrest. "I remember the date, because it was two days before my birthday."

Nanci's recollection of the meeting is almost as clear. "We were walking by, and he was like, `What's up?'" she says. "And we just started talking." Terrance tagged along with the duo all day and ended up sharing a flea-bag motel room with them that night.

"He seemed like a nice guy, and he didn't expect anything like sex," Nanci says. But it was apparent from the beginning that Terrance hoped Cheryl would be more than a friend to him. "He asked her to be with him that day [as his girlfriend]," Nanci says, still sounding surprised at the love-at-first-sight scenario. "I was like, `How crazy!'"

In many ways, Terrance was just the type of guy Cheryl found attractive. He was young, handsome and black, and he professed allegiance to a gang. But unlike Cheryl's other male friends, who claimed to be Crips, Terrance identified with the Bloods. His friends, his homies in Denver's Montbello neighborhood, were the Crips' sworn enemies.

At age eighteen, Terrance Mayo was smart, well-spoken and well-read. He had been an A student at Gateway High School, says his cousin, Tareal Bonds, who is twenty. Despite his academic success, however, Terrance dropped out following his sophomore year. "I think he was fed up with school and waking up every day," Tareal says.

Although Terrance was not entirely without ambition--he took and passed a high school equivalency exam and planned to attend Aurora Community College this fall--his aspirations didn't extend to working hard for a living. He'd hold a job for a while, get a paycheck and then quit. As a consequence, he and his cousin spent a lot of time "kicking it around the house" or "just hanging." Their preferred hanging spots were metro-area shopping malls, where they'd go talk to girls.

"I used to call [Terrance] `The Mack,'" Tareal says. "Somebody who's always up on the ladies. A ladies' man."

Cheryl, however, didn't know that about Terrance when they began dating. "We got along really good all summer," she told a police detective in her videotaped statement after her arrest. "I would go and spend the night when his parents weren't home. Sometimes when his parents were there. They didn't even know."

But later, when the relationship soured, Cheryl could never bring herself to let him go.

"She never said it," says Nanci, "but I think Cheryl hung on to Terrance because she thought she couldn't get anybody else." Cheryl's looks, specifically the acne that worsened during tenth grade, had made her withdraw. The affliction, her friends say, had made her "ugly."

"She would ask me, `Do I look pretty?'" Nanci remembers. "And I'd say, `Yeah, you look pretty.' But she wasn't pretty at all. When we'd get around guys--this one guy, Rico, he was just so fine--when she first met him, she stuck her head between her legs so he wouldn't see her face. She would shove her hair in her face to keep it hidden.

"I think she knew people would talk behind her back," Nanci adds. "We would say [about the acne], `That's gross.'"

Cheryl's friend April Lemay is even harsher. "She looks like a gila monster," April says. "Please, please quote me on that. She looks like a gila monster. She always tried to think she looked cute, but she was ugly and she knew she was ugly," April claims. "Everything about that girl was ugly. How she looked outside, yeah, but it went farther than skin deep. Ugly is to the bone."

By fall, Cheryl and Terrance were fighting regularly. "Not ever over serious things," Cheryl later told police. "But then I found out he was with this girl named Rachelle behind my back."

January 21, 1995
I've paged T like 4 times in the past 2 hrs & he hasn't called back yet. He's done fucked up now! I know he's w/ some fucking Bitch. I told him about that shit. I said "if you think you're dissin on me, I'm not gonna trip, I'm just gonna dis on u." So that's what I'm gonna do!!

Rachelle Peterson and Terrance Mayo met in 1993, when Rachelle was a sophomore at Thornton High School. Her father, Rick Peterson, says Rachelle met Terrance through a mutual acquaintance he'd once dated.

Rachelle was beautiful. Her auburn hair cascaded well below her shoulders, she was petite and she had a fabulous smile. She was also, Rick Peterson says, "probably the smartest girl, I would say, at least in Colorado. And that ain't to brag about her. She was in the gifted-and-talented program from the first grade on."

Rachelle was one of those people who thrived in school. She had a perfect grade-point average in addition to being involved in numerous activities. "She was secretary of the student council one year and president in the ninth grade," says her mother, Lorrie. "She was a cheerleader, a peer tutor, in the honor society, she played basketball, volleyball and was in All Stars [an anti-drug program]."

But by the time Rachelle reached tenth grade, school had lost some of its luster. There was no more funding available for the gifted programs, and she became bored. That was also the year she met Terrance Mayo. Terrance, says Lorrie Peterson, was a bad influence.

"She got beat up once because of his gang involvement," Lorrie Peterson says. "He would come [to Thornton High] to meet her, and rival gang people knew she was dating him. They had girls beat her up. I got her enrolled in Northglenn after that."

"Everything was fine" after Rachelle's transfer to Northglenn High School, says Lorrie Peterson. But while Rachelle was safe there, her relationship with Terrance, who had already dropped out, continued. Rachelle soon decided she wanted to drop out, too.

"I would take her to school and [Terrance] would be waiting for her, and she'd skip class," Lorrie Peterson says. "She didn't finish her tenth-grade year. She dropped out. She kept saying she could get her GED, but I said that wasn't acceptable to me. Not with a 4.0 grade-point average." (Lorrie Peterson would later prevail; Rachelle re-enrolled for her junior year, vowing to give school her best try.)

Rachelle and Terrance had their fights and a fair amount of breakups, Rick Peterson acknowledges. But except for one two-month period, they were almost always together. Lorrie Peterson offers an ominous reason for that. "Every time they'd have a fight," she says, "he'd threaten to kill himself."

It apparently was during one of Terrance and Rachelle's frequent breakups that he hooked up with Cheryl. For the next ten months he would continue to date them both.

end of part 1

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