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SUNDAY REPORT

The Fractured Life of Jeremy Strohmeyer

Once a promising honor student, he began to slide into a darker world. Now, he stands accused of killing a little girl in a Nevada casino.

July 19, 1998|NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He had something to tell her. He had done something horrible. Agnes thought he was stalling so she would stay longer. He had strangled a young black girl in Las Vegas, he said.

Would she leave the country with him? Mexico. Singapore. Canada. Anywhere but California or Nevada.

Agnes thought it was a pathetic, sick joke. She didn't know about the killing, hadn't watched TV because her brother was studying for his finals.

"She didn't believe me," Jeremy said later. "She didn't want to believe me."

He had hoped she would help him escape. Go watch TV, he told her.

There was one difference from what he had told everyone else: David, he said, had raped the girl. When Agnes got home, she flipped on the TV and saw the footage from the surveillance video. It looked like Jeremy. The details matched his story.

Long Beach police: What did you do after seeing the news?

Agnes Lee: "I called Jeremy back at his house. I told him that if it was him, which I still did not believe, then he should leave the country 'cause I didn't want to know him. I didn't want to know who he was or what was going on, and that he should turn himself in to his parents and let them know. And he should also go talk to a priest at a church--that that's what I'd be doing.

"I truly felt compelled to turn him in because, royally speaking, I wasn't the type of person who would hold something like this in. So I thought if I would tell him that I felt compelled to turn him in, then he would finally confess and tell me he was joking all along.

"When he did not say he was joking and when he confirmed this is what he had done, then I told him he would be on his own, that I was not going to help him. I was sorry I couldn't be there for him. I told him it was time to end the conversation."

Agnes phoned her father at work. He called the police. A detective reached Agnes. Jeremy, she said, intended to flee.

"He does have a temper," she told detectives. "He gets violent, and that's when he's extremely unpredictable."

'I Need You to Pick Me Up. The Cops Are on the Way.'

When Jeremy returned from talking to Agnes, Justin was waiting for him in his room. Winnie had let him in and gone with Jeremy's sister to South Coast Plaza.

As a broadcaster offered a description of the clothing worn by Suspect No. 1, Jeremy said the shorts and shirt had belonged to Justin, but he had burned them in the brick fireplace.

The phone rang--it was David. He had a message from his father instructing him to wait at home for him. His father, David was sure, had figured things out. David would have to go to the police.

Jeremy said he understood. "If that's what you have to do, that's what you have to do. That's fine," Jeremy would recall telling David. "You know, I'm not gonna be upset with my friend for that."

Jeremy told David he was going to make a run for it. "I just told him," David later said, " 'Do whatever you're going to do--but do it now.' "

When Jeremy hung up, he explained to Justin he was going to take the silver BMW parked outside. Or could Justin drive him to the airport? Train station? Bus depot?

"There's no way I'm going to do that," Justin answered. "I love you as a friend, but there's no way I can help you. You're on your own. I've got to go."

Justin went home and dressed for his aunt's 60th birthday dinner. Ordinarily buoyant, he sat silent by his father at the Acapulco restaurant. As the waiter brought dinner, Justin's pager rang. It was a 911 message from Jeremy, a signal to call back immediately. Justin excused himself.

"I need you to pick me up," Jeremy said. "The cops are on the way."

The Los Angeles Times: What went through your mind?

Justin Ware: "I wanted to tell my parents right away. But I just couldn't tell them in front of all my relatives and my grandparents.

"I wanted to tell Winnie right then when I saw her [in the afternoon]. I was trying to think in my head, how should I tell her? Should I or not? I decided not to, because I didn't know how to tell her. 'Oh, your son just murdered a girl.' How do you tell a mother that?

"I know right from wrong, and I knew I was doing something wrong. And I felt guilty. It was eating away at me. I wanted to tell someone, but I couldn't, I couldn't live with myself turning Jeremy in, even though I know that was the smart thing to do. I couldn't bear doing that, because he was my best friend.

"It even hurt when I couldn't pick him up, because I knew if I picked him up, I'd get in trouble and then I'd be trying to get him away from a crime which I knew he should be punished for. And I told him, 'Jeremy, you shouldn't get away with this. You should be punished for what you did.' "

As Long Beach undercover police watched, Jeremy sat on the porch and smoked a cigarette. He was dressed in Levi's, blue tennis shoes, a white tank top with a blue jacket and a black baseball cap. After 15 minutes, Jeremy disappeared into the house. His sister drove up in her BMW and dropped off their mother.

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