I suppose almost everyone’s personal life would be complicated if you laid out all the key events and tried to understand them, and I hope jurors remember that since I’m on trial for murdering my family, and they must first decide if I did it, and if so has the case been proven beyond reasonable doubt, and if so do they still want to vote guilty, knowing I could face execution, a penalty they’ve beforehand sworn they (at least in theory) do not oppose.
I wish there was some easily-understood physical evidence proving guilt or innocence. We need a murder weapon – in this case a .22 caliber handgun – bearing fingerprints of the real murderer. By now, four years after the murders, I know they’re not going to find the gun or any blood or DNA at the crime scene. This is a circumstantial case. Eyewitnesses who place me in Bakersfield at the time of the murders are undependable but that’s also what some are calling my brother Melvin.
I know jurors are trying to build a picture of me based on articles they’ve read and news reports heard, and could not have avoided reading or hearing in this town, long before their selection. They’re also daily bombarded with conflicting character portrayals by prosecution and defense, and voluminous testimony by women who say they had various kinds of romances with me.
The California chapter of my life began in 1988 when I accompanied Angela Richardson to Bakersfield where she’d been recruited to teach elementary school. In June that year I was arrested on domestic violence charges, pled guilty, and was sentenced to three years probation. Despite the problems, Angela married me when I was 26, in October 1988. We divorced in 1990. Before the divorce was final, I had begun a relationship with Shann Kern and proposed to her. Years later Shann said I tried to alienate her from her family, got her pregnant, and then quickly turned away. And she recently testified that I was always reluctant to pay child support for Margaret, but I indeed did pay.
Soon I had another obligation. In 1992 I married Sharon Glover. Three months later we broke up. Sharon claimed I was “violent and threatened to kill” her. If so, why did she reconcile with me? In 1996 Sharon filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order, claiming I was “verbally abusive” and she worried I would “become physically abusive.” She also “feared” for the safety of her daughter, who was not my biological child. We endured more reconciliations, and three divorce filings, until our marriage ended in 1998, and I accused my former wife and stepdaughter of “disrespecting my authority (and) attempting to damage my reputation and good standing in the community…I’m a very respected individual (who) would never jeopardize my position as vice principal.”
I was assuredly a respected educator. One of 10 siblings, I’d been raised by a mother on welfare in Long Island, and studied and worked hard to earn my way through Norfolk State University in Virginia. And after my arrival in Bakersfield I completed my credential work and promptly established myself as a dynamic young teacher who pushed students at Emerson Middle School to succeed. Most came from low-income families in areas infested with gangs, drugs, and crime. After becoming an administrator, I stood at the school gate each morning and looked into students’ eyes as I shook hands to “wake them up” and get them “ready for school.”
In 1997 Carla Tafoya taught at an elementary school, and one afternoon went to Emerson to ask for directions to a meeting. I replied with charm, and we soon began going to movies, exercising in the gym, playing tennis, and riding bicycles. Carla testified last week that I was separated from my second wife at the time. I had a house in southwest Bakersfield where she often spent the night. We took trips to Las Vegas, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, and Santa Monica. She said she was in love, and I more than once told her I was too. She thought I proved it in 1998 at a mall in Santa Monica, asking her to marry me and striding into a jewelry store to buy a gold engagement ring crowned with a diamond. She said yes and wore the ring.
I confess I didn’t like being tied into relationships. That’s not a crime. That’s the way many people are. Look at the divorce rate. The deeper I got into domestic life, the more worries I had. This time I avoided problems by beginning to “ignore” Carla. She she testified I “acted as if I didn’t know” her and wouldn’t answer her phone calls and “withdrew…for weeks or months…but never more than two months.” When I felt better I’d sometimes rekindle relations with a phone call, a note, or by sending flowers.
In 1999 Carla discovered that I had fathered a son, Marques, born to Joanie Harper in 1998. True, I initially denied this, as it was private, and later denied having married Joanie in January 2000. Unbeknownst to Carla, Joanie was then pregnant a second time and had moved into my house before leaving a month later. I filed for divorce. Later in 2000 Carla heard that Joanie and I had another child, Lyndsey. I did tell Carla that wasn’t so but later acknowledged the two children were mine. Carla was also suspicious upon finding a phone number at my house that year. She said she dialed the number and pretended to be me – how she imitated a man, she didn’t explain. The woman on the other end hung up, and within minutes Joanie drove to the residence. The two women saw each other again after an equally-suspicious Joanie intentionally scratched Carla’s car. Joanie later apologized.
Carla pressured me to prove I was single, and after September 2001 I showed her documents of the annulment of my marriage to Joanie. In 2002, exhausted by a hot and cold relationship going in circles, Carla told me it was over. I accepted her decision in gentlemanly style and even stated it was my fault things hadn’t worked out. Admittedly, during this period I was also was also having an affair with Esther Quiroz, a teacher I’d met at Emerson Middle School. According to Esther’s testimony, we didn’t date. We didn’t talk much about personal matters. We just had sex. And when she asked about my two young children with Harper, I said I didn’t think they were mine. That was really none of Esther’s business, was it?
In January 2003 I remarried Joanie, who was then pregnant a third time, and moved into Earnestine Harper’s house, where Joanie had been raised and long resided. In May Joanie and I had our final child, Marshall. Domestic life still irritated me, especially when Earnestine started “getting in my business.” She complained I’d been “sneaking things” out of the house. I had to. I’d rented an apartment on Real Road in south Bakersfield, and started taking 48-year-old Lupe Hernandez there. She was a clerk I’d met at Fremont Elementary School where I served as vice principal. Since there was no furniture in the apartment, Lupe said we had sex on the floor. She’d originally said she didn’t know I was married but attorney Michael Gardina reminded her that I kept several pictures of my children in my office at school.
The spring of 2003 got more complicated. Maria Cristafulli, age 39, a school-district bus driver who’d emigrated from Italy in 1985, was also seeing me. She felt good when I called but bad I only seemed to want sex. She told me she wasn’t a piece of meat. Well, neither was I. When first questioned by authorities, Maria said she had sex with me four times between May and June 2003. In court last week she insisted that occurred in 2002, before I remarried Joanie in January 2003, that is. District Attorney Lisa Green called her a liar and noted that Maria has visited me seventy-eight times in county jail at Lerdo.
In May 2003 I wanted to see Carla and called but she retained her suspicions. I proved my independence by taking her to my barren apartment. We did not use the floor, instead retiring to her house. She testified that in June I left a phone message, and she tried several times to return my call but got only voice mail.
Shann Kern, mother of my daughter Margaret, then age 14, had also been in touch, but not for romance. She wanted me, and the Harpers, to attend Margaret’s junior high school graduation ceremony in another city. I agreed but told the Harpers they couldn’t come. Shann testified that I called and said I was on the way. I was nearby but lost, and no one responded to my phone messages. I proved my case by showing the Harpers travel brochures from the city where Shann and Margaret lived. That didn’t help Saturday evening July 5, 2003 when Shann, having taken the bus to Bakersfield to visit friends for the holiday weekend, dropped by the Harper family home and shared photos from Margaret’s graduation. Joanie stormed into the garage and sped away.
On July 8, after learning about the tragedy, Shann called my mother, who said I wasn’t there. I was in Ohio visiting brother Melvin. That is correct. In early July I indisputably parked my car at the airport in Bakersfield, took a bus to Los Angeles, and flew to Ohio. When Melvin first told authorities I never left between July 4 and July 7, they coerced him to say he hadn’t actually seen me during that period. But he was undeniably with me July 8 when we drove to North Carolina to visit our mother, who immediately told us what happened and led us to the local police station.
I couldn’t have done it. I was about 2,300 miles away. How could I have been in Bakersfield the afternoon of July 6, killed my family, and gotten back to Ohio the evening of July 7, when Melvin says I reappeared? These charges are absurd. Right now the prosecution’s timeline requires me to have driven a Dodge Neon about 100 miles an hour nonstop for 24 hours minus stops for gas. That’s no basis for convicting a man of murder. Please note that police checked videos from many gas stations en route and found no footage of me.
A representative from Dollar Rental Car testified that employees often “cut corners” recording mileage during holidays. The man who rented the Dodge Neon before me said he drove only 20 miles, yet the record shows he logged 1,800. Totals for other renters were also examined. The man at the wheel after me said he’d only driven several hours around Virginia. When the FBI seized the car, the odometer read 8,552 miles and hadn’t been tampered with. According to the prosecution, the company’s imprecise records indicate I covered more than 5,000 miles, enough to drive from Ohio to Bakersfield and back and then to North Carolina. Surely some conscientious jurors will either doubt that happened or that it can be proved.