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THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LITTLE BIT

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Her boyfriend has a problem with crack, too, complains Gurley. "All he does is smoke it. He can't keep jobs. He had a job at Taco Bell, but he quit because someone threw a tray at him."

Belinda went to jail for the last time December 3, after being picked up on loitering charges. She was shipped out to the county jail, where she was well known and well liked.

"We had a pretty good rapport," says sheriff's deputy Pat Gabel. "This sounds bad to say, but she was kind of low-maintenance. She wasn't any extra work. She fit right in."

Most of the women at the jail accepted Belinda because "she was a little different," Gabel says. "They're a little more caring with one another, and she was one of their friends on the street. If she needed help, they would help her."

The deputies did what they could to help her, too. Whenever Belinda checked in for another stay, they always made sure that she got assigned to a bottom bunk--the upper ones were too high for her to manage.

Belinda was freed on December 13 at 8 a.m. She was dead in 24 hours.
Emma Gurley later told police that when she left the apartment on High Street at 5 a.m. on December 14 for her job at a nearby Burger King, Weatherall was nowhere around. After she went to work, however, Weatherall showed up at the apartment with Belinda in tow, police say. The two smoked some crack, and Belinda took a shower. When she emerged from the bathroom, police believe, Weatherall tied her up and strangled her. Police sources say Weatherall told officers he was angry because Belinda was taking too many tokes off the crack pipe and that he also was upset because he tried to have sex with her but was unable to achieve orgasm.

At about 10 a.m., witnesses told police, they saw Weatherall going to the nearby Gathering Place, a day center for homeless women, where he collected some empty cardboard boxes. A neighbor who stopped to speak with him later told police Weatherall had been "acting sort of strange and nervous and said he had to go."

Little more than an hour later, a man hunting for cans in the alley between High and Williams streets found a large cardboard box in a dumpster. The box had been sealed with cellophane tape. Tearing it open, the man discovered a bundle wrapped in plastic bags. Inside was the body of Belinda Bridgmon, her hair still wet from her morning shower.

It didn't take police long to land on Weatherall as a possible suspect. Street people who were hanging around the area told Detective Fiori that they knew "Shorty" hung out with a guy who lived in the High Street apartment. Weatherall turned himself in the next day when he heard police were looking for him. Fiori took Weatherall's statement and then booked him into jail on suspicion of first-degree murder. His bond has been set at $250,000. Contacted by telephone at the county jail, Weatherall declined to talk about the case.

Officer Kathy Deegan was at roll call when she heard about Belinda's death. "My heart just dropped," she says. "I thought, `No way. The girl's just nineteen.'" Like Snow White, Deegan went to the crime scene. "I had to see what they'd done to her," she says. Deegan says she cried and said a prayer for Belinda. Later that day, she and another officer went to Rodney's house to tell him his daughter had died.

Deegan still struggles with her feelings about Belinda's death. "I've just been trying to get over it," she says. "I've never been affected out here like this. I'm still young out here--three years on the force--and I'm still dealing with the question, `Should this bother me?'

"I wonder," Deegan continues, "how did I end up caring about her?"
The murder also "rang a real tight chord" with a lot of people down at the county jail, says Pat Gabel. "What bothered a lot of people here was the way he disposed of her," says the deputy. "He put her in a box and put her in a dumpster, and it just seemed so slight for a human life. A lot of us said we wouldn't dispose of a dog that way."

Rodney Fosburgh says he went on a two-week-long alcoholic bender after his daughter's death. "But I'm gonna be quitting," he says. "I haven't got any use for it."

Belinda's grandmother, Lucille Bridgmon, says Belinda was planning on moving back to Lutts and was supposed to arrive on Monday, December 12, two days before she died. "I was to send her a bus ticket on Thursday, but I wasn't able to do that," she says. Instead, Belinda was flown home for a funeral.

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Karen Bowers