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SANDY BANKS / Life as We Live It

A Murdered Child and Our Moral Deficiency

October 02, 1998

It doesn't look like the visage of evil, that boyish face staring out of the television screen, explaining to us in measured tones that he did not "technically" do anything wrong when he let a little girl die.

He just "didn't want to stick around and see what was going to materialize," David Cash tells Ed Bradley as the "60 Minutes" cameras roll. So he watched as his friend hauled a 7-year-old into a restroom stall and threatened to kill her as he yanked off her panties and cowboy boots.

Cash walked away, he says, because he didn't see much else to do. After all, he didn't know the little girl who was being killed. And her killer was his own best friend. . . .

*

The facts are no longer in dispute: A child left unattended in the middle of the night, in a Nevada hotel video arcade, was sexually assaulted and murdered by a teenage boy on Memorial Day weekend last year.

There is plenty of blame to spread around. Blame the father, who left his young daughter, Sherrice Iverson, alone for hours while he gambled at casino slot machines upstairs. Blame her killer, Jeremy Strohmeyer, a spoiled rich kid with a bad temper and a predilection for kiddie porn. Blame his buddy David Cash, who watched Strohmeyer assault Sherrice and who turned away as she fought for her life.

Strohmeyer has pleaded guilty to murder and will be sentenced this month to life in prison without parole. Sherrice's father is condemned to his own private hell, haunted by the knowledge that his negligence cost his baby her life.

And David Cash . . . he's off at UC Berkeley, studying to become a nuclear engineer, when he's not fielding interview requests or appearing on television shows.

Even more than her killer, Cash has come to symbolize the tragedy of Sherrice's death that ripples out to touch us all.

He walked away as Sherrice was killed--and later entertained his friends with tales of the crime. He joked about it on radio talk shows, made money on it (a TV show, "Extra," paid him and a friend $1,500 for a video of him getting drunk with Strohmeyer), bragged that his newfound notoriety was making it easy--finally--to get dates with girls.

He was drawn to attention like a moth to a flame. And his remorseless public stance has kept this crime at center stage.

More than 20,000 people have signed petitions urging prosecutors to charge Cash with a crime. There is no statute in Nevada or here that compels a bystander to prevent a crime, but legislators have pledged to remedy that with a spate of new "Good Samaritan" laws.

Some want UC Berkeley to throw Cash out, but university officials say their hands are tied because he has broken no campus rules. "We can't simply take an arbitrary action against him on the basis of some kind of outrage that some people feel," Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl told "60 Minutes."

"What has offended the community's sensibilities are the things he has said . . . . We are not about to punish students simply for exercising the right of free speech, no matter how outrageous or objectionable the things they may say."

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He looks on "60 Minutes" like your stereotypical Berkeley geek, strolling across the university quad, his baseball cap on backward, a heavy book bag slung low on his back.

And that is, in part, what both frightens and enrages us. How this brainy, nerdy, awkward kid could wind up at the center of this troubling morality play--and embrace his role in the drama with such passion and pride.

"What's outraged people about this case is not just David's failure to act, but his failure to care," admits his attorney, Mark Werksman. "If my son failed to do what David Cash failed to do, I'd be mortified. I'd be horrified that I failed to raise a son with an ounce of compassion."

It's easy to argue, the attorney said, that Cash did nothing legally wrong. People witness and walk away from crimes all the time.

"In reality, people don't want to get involved in other people's business. We see a personal squabble--a guy pushing his girlfriend around--but we don't intervene to see if the person is OK. We see people being abusive to their children and we don't intervene and call children's services.

"The law has never, ever made criminal [a] failure to act."

But like the rest of us, Werksman struggles to understand Cash's moral failure.

"I have three children. One of them is 7 years old," just like Sherrice. "And I would hope to God that if anybody were ever assaulting my 7-year-old and someone could step in, they would."

Even after hours spent with Cash, Werksman isn't sure what meaning to draw from it all.

"Does he reflect the young of today? I don't think so. But we all feel frightened that this could happen to us, that maybe David exemplifies something beyond this one case . . . something about our society . . . ."

Something that we can protect ourselves from by making new laws?

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There are plenty of explanations to pick and choose among if you try to find meaning in this ugly affair.

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