I can't say it's the most fun thing in the world but I think I have more freedom here than I did at home.
--Dale Whipple, 22, currently serving 20 to 40 years in an Indiana prison.
Paul Mones' clients usually go to prison. Many pull hard time--"Star Trek time," he calls it, meaning that their earliest parole dates are decades into the next century.
Mones' clients are young killers.
They broke a taboo of the heart and the law.
They murdered one or both parents.
The Los Angeles attorney may be the only lawyer in the country specializing in the defense of parent killers. These lethal offspring, he says, almost always are abused teen-agers, some as young as 14, who snap and slay in a spasm of fear, revenge and self-defense.
"I basically just take a case where it's clear that the kid killed the person and it's just a matter of proving why," says Mones, 37. "I'm representing people who live on the edge of humanity. . . . These are extreme cases. These are first people who are physically and emotionally and sexually abused at levels that approach torture. . . . My heart just goes out to those people who are most vulnerable, who have committed the most heinous crime."
Dale Whipple, for instance, says he endured years of physical abuse from both his parents. In a telephone interview, Whipple told of how, after conspiring with his sister, he used an ax to kill his mother and then his father.
Memory of Violence
"My dad was asleep. I struck my mother with an ax," Whipple said of the night of Jan. 1, 1985, when he carried out his plan, first luring his mother to the garage and, after killing her, striking his father repeatedly. He added that he was "scared" but "was pretty much in touch the whole time."
Mones, who got involved after Whipple's conviction and is currently seeking an appeal, says that abuse against Whipple and his sister was systematic.
"His father would go to these family gatherings with this thing he called his two-by-four," Mones says. "He took pride in cutting it and sanding it and making a nice handle on the lathe and he would beat these kids every night."
The attorney says that Whipple repeatedly went to his school guidance counselor about his treatment by his parents but received no help. "Thirty months later he took his parents' lives," Mones says.
Whipple's case, according to Mones, is fairly typical of the approximately 100 cases in 30 states he has been involved in.
"There are kids who are totally psychotic and kill because they think their parents are agents from another planet," he says. "Mostly kids kill because they've been battered and abused for a number of years and help has not come to them and they know that everybody knows that they're being abused. . . . The good abused kids don't tell anybody. The bad abused kids either run away from home or they kill their parents."
The Price of Abuse
Despite the sadness and ugliness--and the emotional toll on himself--Mones maintains that these brutal tangles of love, hate and violence are valuable lessons on the anarchic price--to the living and the dead--of child abuse. Because parricides often occur in small towns, he says, they bring into open court examples of physical, sexual and mental abuse that might otherwise go unnoticed or unreported.
A parricide trial "is an ice-cold bath that the community takes when it happens because it's a crime that always engenders tremendous, tremendous emotion," he says. "But the problem is that until very recently these cases never saw the light of day. Kids pleaded guilty to long prison terms or went into mental hospitals."
Lenore Walker, a Denver-based clinical and forensic psychologist who has worked with Mones on half a dozen cases, agrees that "there is the real excitement of being an educator in a sense. Juries really do resonate to the information (about abuse) once you get it into the courtroom."
Walker, best known for her work with battered women and as the author of the book "The Battered Woman," said abused children who kill have many similarities to women who turn on their abusers. While abuse is now often considered in the defense of battered women who kill their lovers and husbands, that defense is heard less frequently in parricide cases, she says. When it is, it is often thanks to Mones, adds Walker, whose next book, "Terrifying Love: Why Battered Women Kill and How Society Responds," will be published in October.
Has Been a Pioneer
"Paul has really been a pioneer in this area," she says. ". . . The abuse has never been a core issue (in parricide). Paul understood that and locked onto it."
One measure of Mones' expertise is that he is writing what may prove to be the book on the subject, tentatively titled "When the Innocents Strike Back," due to be published next year.