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Bakersfield Mass Slaying Suspect Arrested, Let Go

Five members of man's family were killed. He surrendered to police in North Carolina.

July 10, 2003|Jose Cardenas, Li Fellers and Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writers

Mickey Sturdivant, 53, is the founder and president of Mothers Against Senseless Killings, which is sponsoring the event. Sturdivant, who grew up in the predominantly black neighborhood, said that when she was a child, her mother had taught her to respect Earnestine Harper, a force for good in the community.

"My mama would say, 'If that lady talks to you, don't you talk back. If she tells you to do something, you do it.' "

As an adult, Sturdivant said, she helped the senior Harper organize trips to Sacramento for community members to lobby for reform of California's legal system. Harper's impact on Bakersfield was immeasurable, she said.

"But we can't stop here. I'm just ready to pick up the baton and keep doing what she did," Sturdivant added.

Joanie Harper and Brothers were married in January 2000, but the marriage appeared to have been troubled from the start. Brothers filed for dissolution one month after the marriage, and Harper filed for nullification nine months later. The marriage was nullified on Sept. 26, 2001.

Still, the couple continued to be together, off and on, and friends and family members said they considered them to be married. Ted Dixon, who is married to Joanie Harper's cousin, said he had seen her with Brothers only occasionally, but it seemed obvious that "that woman loved that man. She did what she was supposed to do. She married this man and she stood by him."

Dixon, his son and daughter-in-law and a few friends somberly watched on television Wednesday as Bakersfield police announced Brothers' arrest. As the temperature approached 100 degrees outside, the group sat inside the small ranch house in south Bakersfield, dimmed but for the glow of the TV.

Dixon said he was willing to give Brothers the benefit of the doubt. But he asked, "If the guy didn't do this, then who did it? And why? That's the scariest thing about all this."

Early Wednesday, Bakersfield police had soft-pedaled their interest in Brothers, saying that they needed to speak to him before they could eliminate him as a suspect. Mahan said investigators were considering the possibility that the killings were committed during a home invasion robbery, a crime typically committed by a stranger.

But by mid-day, Mahan and other police officials were sounding increasingly confident that Brothers was the killer.

"At certain stages of an investigation, you have to make certain decisions," Mahan told reporters after announcing the arrest -- and before Brothers' release.While declining to discuss the evidence, Mahan did say that police had served search warrants at the crime scene and at Brothers' Bakersfield apartment. They also had seized two cars registered to Brothers.

One, a blue Chevy pickup, was found Tuesday at the Airport Bus of Bakersfield terminal, which provides transportation to Los Angeles International Airport. The other, a Mercedes-Benz, was found at a 24 Hour Fitness center in southwest Bakersfield, where Brothers often worked out.

Mahan said police were trying to determine how long the Mercedes had been parked at the gym on Gosford Road. Police said they also did not know how long the pickup had been at the bus terminal in central Bakersfield. Mahan said Brothers had been seen there on July 2, four days before the family was last seen alive.

Asked when Brothers left for North Carolina, a police spokeswoman, Mary Degeare, said investigators were still piecing together his travel itinerary with help from other agencies, including the FBI. Mahan said Brothers had gone to police in Elizabeth City after family members told him he was being sought for questioning about the killings.

Police said they had not found the murder weapon, and that Brothers was not a registered gun owner.

On Wednesday evening, shortly before the announcement of Brothers' release, an NBC-TV affiliate from Norfolk, Va., was allowed into the A. Parker Midgett municipal building in Elizabeth City, where Brothers was in a small holding cell.

The station's videotape showed him sitting on a white bench wearing a blue T-shirt and khaki shorts behind a mesh screen. Upon seeing the television camera crew, he appeared to become agitated and quickly headed for the bathroom in the cell, disappearing behind the door. He remained there until the television crew left.

*

Fellers reported from Los Angeles, and Cardenas and Fausset from Bakersfield. Times staff writers Mitchell Landsberg in Los Angeles, John Johnson and Jia-Rui Chong in Bakersfield and Steve Hymon in North Carolina also contributed to this report.

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