Published in the New Criminologist on 03 July 2005
Death of a Foster Child
By Janet Parker
The January 2001 murder of a 16-year-old girl exposes the truth that even quiet rural communities are not immune from the ravages of drug abuse and serious organized crime organizations. Christal Jones who was a ward of the Vermont Social and Rehabilitation Services Department (SRS) was found lying dead on a bed; face up in a New York City apartment. Christal was supposed to be supervised by SRS and placed in an independent living program run by the nonprofit Spectrum Youth & Family Services.
On January 3, 2001 Christal Jones, a Burlington VT Foster Child, who was a chronic runaway and had been enticed into a life of prostitution, was found dead in a New York City apartment. According to news reports, Jose Rodriguez and Beverly Holland recruited her in Burlington convinced her to move to New York, and become part of a prostitution ring. It was believed that she was enticed into the prostitution ring by a desire to get money to buy heroin. "Heroin is a tool of predation," said Will Rowe, executive director of Spectrum Youth & Family Services. "You can use it to ensnare and hold anyone."
Court records indicate Bronx police initially treated Jones’ death Jan. 3 as a drug overdose. But forensic evidence did not prove the heroin overdose that was first suspected. Instead only trace amounts of drugs (GHB, Antidepressants and methadone) were found in her blood. Bronx Detective David Concepcion was unsure whether Christal might have died accidentally or it could be a homicide. There was blood on her nose and foam in her mouth. Christal’s mother, Kathleen Wright noted that Christal’s face seemed swollen and discolored. Initially Ellen Vargo of the Bronx Medical Examiner's Office said her office was awaiting receipt of the final toxicology results and additional police investigative reports before making a decision about how Jones died. The Bronx medical examiner took a month to make it official. Christal Jean Jones, the 16-year-old Burlington girl found dead in a Bronx apartment Jan. 3, was the victim of a homicide, according to New York City's top medical officer. "The cause of death was asphyxiation, and the manner of death is homicide," said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the New York City Medical Examiner's Office.
The forensic evidence did not point to a heroin overdose, as her blood was negative for heroin. Christal Jones’ blood did however, have trace amounts of Gamma hydroxybutyrate. Many are not aware that (GHB) Gamma hydroxybutyrate can be a highly addictive drug and is often used in prostitution rings. The drugs effect to lower sexual inhibitions has led to its increasing use in prostitution. People subject to drug testing programs often use GHB as an alcohol substitute and to bypass testing.
Christal was the product of a broken home. Christal entered the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) child welfare system in 1996, as a child in need of supervision. She was only 11 years old. She then spent much of the next five years bouncing between foster homes and residential treatment programs (including those for substance abuse). She was a chronic runaway and ran from her placements at least 12 times, according to the SRS. At age 14, Christal became pregnant and later miscarried. She was charged with several crimes, including car theft and threatening other girls with a knife. For a while in 1999 she was placed in the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, which holds youths from ages 10 to 18 for up to 60 days. Finally she was placed in an independent living program run by the nonprofit Spectrum Youth & Family Services in 2000. She was already involved with drugs and prostitution and appropriate intervention did not occur. Spectrum’s One Stop program in downtown Burlington is described as a drop-in center and a safe place for runaway and homeless youth. But many of the youth instead hang out on Church Street (Burlington’s main drag, one block away), where drug dealers and adult sexual predators hang out.
A dozen girls from Vermont Foster Care may have been involved in this New York ring. After Christal’s death others have come forward to say that teenage girls in Burlington are prostituting themselves to get money to buy heroin and other drugs. Prosecutors said the leader of a drug and prostitution ring in New York visited Vermont with promises of love and money to lure girls living in foster homes and state-run shelters. “These guys were up here, allegedly, basically going to places where there were troubled girls,” Governor Howard Dean later told reporters.
These girls were all terrified of the criminals who were prostituting them. Even the parents (foster and biological) were afraid to cooperate with police because their daughters were in danger. Christal Jones ran away from the Spectrum facility for the last time in September 2000 and was never seen alive again.
Two suspects Jose Rodriguez, 29, and Beverly Holland, 42, were tried for promoting the Bronx based prostitution ring. Young foster girls were coerced into offering sex in exchange for heroin and, eventually, performing sex acts because they were too afraid to refuse. Rodriguez is also charged with statutory rape. Jose A. Rodriguez, plead guilty in 2002 to five counts of transporting minors across state lines with the intent that the girls engage in prostitution. Romeo maintained sexual relations with the girls. He forced them to work three to four nights per week, sometimes having sex with as many as 15 men in a single night. He is now serving 10 years. Beverly Holland was convicted of eight counts of transporting and conspiring to transport the girls and young women across state lines to become prostitutes. She is serving 19 years.
A 1991 study by the National Association of Social Workers found that more than 20 percent of youths in homeless shelters, came from foster or group homes. It is estimated by a recent federal study that more than 5,000 kids leave foster care each year simply by running away. In Washington State operators of the runaway lock-up facilities estimate that 27 percent of the youths fled public care facilities.
Chronic runaways often fall into “a netherworld between prevention and juvenile detention”: They often do not meet the criteria to be locked up because they’re not accused of crimes, they generally can’t be committed to mental facilities because they haven’t hurt anyone. Foster Care Youth who move from one facility to the next, often don’t form long-term bonds with any youth worker. “Even if you do get a good social worker, you learn those social workers aren’t going to be there for very long.”
The kids in public care have already been traumatized – removed from their families, abused, orphaned, suffering from emotional problems and sometimes mental illness. Moving between foster care facilities or other institutions leaves foster care teenagers feeling rootless, and often they just want to flee back to their old neighborhoods and friends. They are rebellious and distrustful of adults and put themselves repeatedly at risk.
In a recent Vermont Conference to deal with these issues Sharon Peters said at least 70 percent of girls who end up in state custody nationwide have been sexually abused, compared with about 40 percent of boys in custody. When including emotional and physical abuse, as well as indirect abuse such as watching a sibling be hurt, 100 percent of girls in state custody have been victimized, she said. Delinquent girls are flooding into Vermont’s social services system at nearly three times the rate they did a decade ago.
In Washington State, legislators voted to create lock-up facilities for runaways in 1995 after the murder of a 13-year-old girl who’d fled her adoptive home. The state has nine locked Crisis Residential Centers (total beds: 66), where runaway youth are held for up to five days while their condition and treatment needs are assessed. Charlie Chelan, executive director of Community Youth Services in Olympia, WA told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer two years ago that 10 to 15 percent of chronic runners needed locked residential treatment programs.
Although the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act prohibits locking up status offenders, the State of Washington justifies the practice because so many kids escaped from Washington’s lock-ups, that they didn’t really qualify as locked facilities. Ten to 15 percent of the kids in the lock-ups run by Washington do escape, says Program Administrator James Mowrey. For safety reasons, he says, the doors have time-release mechanisms, so “a kid can push on a door for 15 seconds and it opens.” So the state has opened four lock-ups in county juvenile detention centers, where there are no time-release mechanisms. In these lock up facilities no runaways have fled. The response from the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) was to rule that those facilities are lock-ups, and as such, are in violation of Federal law. DOJ has told those 4 counties that they will lose their federal Title V delinquency prevention funds.
Kathleen Wright, the mother of Christal Jones believes that her daughter was the victim of the still-unsolved homicide. She alleges the Social and Rehabilitation Services Department was negligent in watching Jones and failed to protect her from harm. A state investigation was started to look into systematic problems of the Foster Care System and into the actions of social service agencies charged with the custody of troubled teens.
But the SRS evaluation concluded that the department had done all it could for her. This conclusion was questioned later by investigators appointed by the governor who reported that SRS employees, other state workers and local police had suspected as early as May 2000 that Jones was involved in a drug and prostitution ring in New York City. Several other SRS runaways were part of the same ring and it was known from them this prostitution ring specialized in luring girls who lived in foster homes and state-run shelters by offering them Heroin.
In March, a second Vermont teen died Jones, Shawn Farnsworth, 17, of Rutland. Shawn had cycled through state rehabilitation programs and jail. He couldn’t stay off drugs and alcohol. On March 12, 2001 Shawn injected an overdose of heroin and lapsed into a coma and later died.
According to The Rutland Daily Herald (1/26/01) recent estimates indicate that heroin use in the rural state of Vermont has doubled in just the past three years, and the number of people seeking drug treatment has risen even more rapidly. There has been a sharp rise in teenage drug abuse with the average age of the first time Heroin user now only 17 years old. Vermont's various police departments turned in four times more seized heroin to the state's forensic lab in 2000 than they did in 1999. Shocked by these twin tragedies, Governor Howard Dean and legislative leaders responded with investigations, public hearings, news conferences and proposals to shore up the state system of care for rebellious and drug-using teenagers. He backed passage of a law that makes it a crime for someone to harbor a runaway. William Young, commissioner of the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services had his staff review the files for all children and teens in state care. ‘‘It is the most comprehensive look at kids in custody and on probation ever done,’’ he said. ‘‘I felt we had to come into this legislative session with a lot more information about kids.’’ Young said the survey showed 92 percent of teens had ‘‘adequate placements,’’ meaning they had an appropriate place to live, counseling, school options, substance abuse treatment and other special services if needed. But weaknesses in the system were very apparent - high caseloads, long waiting lists for mental health services and inadequate programs to smooth teens’ transition from structured facilities to independent living. Of the state’s 73,000 teenagers, 998 were in state custody. There were 392 who were on probation as juvenile delinquents; 366 were victims of abuse or neglect; and 240 were unmanageable. 39 percent were in foster care; 20 percent live at home; 19 percent were in residential care in Vermont; 6 percent were living with relatives; 5 percent were placed in out-of-state residential programs; 5 percent were in pre-adoptive homes; 4 percent were living independently. The State survey found that 900 children had adequate placements, while only 78 were found to be in inadequate placements.
These two tragedies were then followed a heinous drug-related triple murder in Rutland, Vermont. Two 20 year olds, Robert Lee and Donald Fell, had spent the night drinking and taking crack cocaine. While high they allegedly murdered Fell’s mother and a friend. They are accused of carjacking a woman arriving for work at a local supermarket and then driving to New York, where they beat her to death. The two youth were indicted by a federal grand jury for carjacking resulting in death and kidnapping, (Burlington Free Press, 1/5/01)
Governor Howard Dean announced several steps to improve services to “high-risk” youth, including installing alarms and security systems in residential youth facilities, training more staff at such facilities to be certified substance-abuse counselors, and adding after-care supervision. He also announced a broad plan to attack heroin and other drug trafficking and use. Drugs were used as the bait to lure Christal and other girls into prostitution and were linked to the triple murder in Rutland.
But the story of Christal Jones doesn’t end there, as her two brothers are charged with first degree murder. In October 2002, Daniel Jones and his younger brother Jesse Jones were arrested and charged in connection with Elrehaine Whitely's death. According to police, Whitely was shot inside a car during a crack cocaine deal gone awry. A group of five young people summoned Whitely to the apartment in a ruse to purchase cocaine from him, but instead ambushed and attempted to rob him, and then began shooting. All five faced charges of felony murder. Daniel Jones, 23, pleaded guilty to the September 2004 shooting death of Elrehaine Whitely 27. Jesse Jones, 19, Christal Jones' younger brother, was also charged with felony-murder charges. Clearly there is a cost to the community of not providing appropriate social services for these foster children, Intervention needs to occur earlier in the lives of these wards of the state.
Further Information about Christal Jones’ murder:
Trinka Porrata, “GHB Addiction & Withdrawal Syndrome” http://www.project.ghb.org/
GHB Addiction Helpline via: http://www.projectghb.org/.
Emily Stone, “December 30: Who killed Christal Jones?” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/1230a.htm
Sam Hemingway, “ October 26: Teen was sober when killed” Autopsy says girl was not on drugs at time of N.Y. death http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/1026.htm
Tom Zolper, “April 18: Report: State knew of sex ring: Agencies aware in May that girl was in Bronx” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0418.htm
Emily Stone, “May 9: Rodriguez pleads innocent” Man faces charges for teen sex ring http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0509a.htm
Sam Hemingway, “May 9: Locking up Rodriguez will not solve Vermont’s problem” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0509.htm
Lisa Jones, “June 19: Counselors troubled by girls” Delinquency rise poses a challenge http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0619.htm
Emily Stone, “November 15: Lawyer seeks prostitution trial move” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/1115.htm
Candace Page, ”Fell defense portrays killer's violent childhood” July 02. 2005 12:00AM http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/
Nancy Remsen, “Feb. 1: Dean, Legislature to investigate girl’s death” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/020101.htm
Nancy Remsen, “Feb. 3: SRS chief: State is doing all it can” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/020301a.htm
Ed Shamy, “Feb. 6: Suspect in teen’s death was in Vt. custody Rodriguez might have been held for parole violation” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/020601.htm
Sam Hemingway, “ Feb. 7: Vt. teen’s death ruled homicide” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/020701a.htm
Lisa Jones and Cadence Mertz “Feb. 11: Heroin problem growing Small state sees big-city problems” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0211c.htm
Nancy Remsen “SRS chief fills in Vermont lawmakers” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/020701.htm
Tom Zolper “Feb. 16: Vt. runaways remain adrift” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0216.htm
Emily Stone, “Feb. 11: Father fears daughter might meet same fate” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0211b.htm
“Feb. 11: The dark side of Vermont life” Girl swallowed by world of drugs and prostitution http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0211a.htm
Sam Hemingway, “Jan. 31: Dead Vt. teen linked to New York sex ring” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/013101.htm
Tom Zolpe, “April 19: Agency seeks $5M for teens” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0419.htm
Emily Stone “May 6: A new, improved Job Corps” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0506.htm
Nancy Remsen, “ Feb. 8: Governor orders a second inquiry into teen’s death” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0208.htm
Ed Shamy, “March 2: Suspect skirted Vermont jails” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/0302.htm
EDITORIAL December 30: One tragedy, many kids http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/1230.htm
Nancy Remsen “December 30: Fixing the system: Answers for troubled teens elude state” http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/ http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/specialnews/heroin/1230b.htm
“Man charged in prostitution case investigated in 2001 slaying” October 11, 2004 Boston.com AP The New York Times Company Patrick Boyle, “ Runaways from Public Care Leave Agencies Lost” Thousands flee foster care, group homes annually. Are lock-ups needed, or can program changes make kids stay?
“Mother sues state agency over daughter's death” July 4, 2004 Boston.com AP The New York Times Company
“One of three suspects in Burlington murder pleads guilty” September 8, 2004 Boston.com Associated Press
“Judge urges attorneys to settle 2002 murder case”
September 22, 2004 Boston.com Associated Press http://www.boston.com/news/local/vermont/articles/2004/09/22/judge_urges_attorneys_to_settle_2002_murder_case?mode=PF