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Murder Trial of Boy Unfair, Mother Says

July 30, 2005|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

The mother of a 13-year-old Pony League player convicted of murdering another boy with a baseball bat said angrily Friday that her son did not receive a fair trial.

"It was one-sided," said Gigi Harris in a telephone interview from her Palmdale home, one day after her son was sentenced to 12 years in the California Youth Authority, the maximum possible term for an offender his age. "We didn't think it was fair at all."

Her son didn't mean to harm 15-year-old Jeremy Rourke, Harris said, despite prosecutors' contention that the 13-year-old, as a baseball player, should have known how seriously he could injure someone with a bat.

"When he took his bat out, it was a deterrent, not to hurt anyone," the mother said. Her son didn't know where the bat would strike when he "flung" it at Jeremy, she added.

Harris also disputed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Naranjo's contention that Rourke's only provocation was teasing her son about losing a game.

"He wasn't teasing [my son]," Harris said. "This incident happened because this kid was a bully."

Jeremy, who stood a head taller and weighed 100 pounds more, attacked her son first by shoving him, causing him to stumble and feel scared, Harris said.

"That was assault and battery," Harris said. "My son asked him to stop, and he wouldn't. We're talking about a significant size difference and weight difference.... This was a big kid -- he's bigger than my husband."

She also accused Naranjo of not listening to defense witnesses.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lonnie Felker, Naranjo and the Rourke family could not be reached for comment. Jeremy's father, Brian Rourke, said Thursday that the sentence was appropriate.

During the trial this month, Harris and her husband, Greg, sat quietly in special chairs set aside for them just a few feet from the lawyers' table, so they could be behind their son.

After each hearing, they shunned reporters. On Thursday, they left Lancaster Juvenile Court without saying a word.

"We were just kind of emotional, and we didn't want [all the media] attacking us at once, all those mikes," said Harris, an artist.

But Friday evening, Harris said she finally felt ready to tell her son's side of the story.

She and her husband moved to Palmdale when her son was in the second grade, she said, because they thought it would be a better place to raise children. The younger of two children, he is a model student who made the honor roll, Harris said.

According to witnesses, the attack took place in a snack bar line after the 13-year-old's team lost an evening game to the worst-ranked team in the league.

Rourke approached the boy and teased him about the defeat, witnesses said. But Harris said the teasing wasn't directed at her son. It was only after Jeremy shoved the 13-year-old that the younger boy reached for a baseball bat and swung it twice at Jeremy.

The first blow was to Jeremy's legs and the other was to his head and neck. Jeremy was pronounced dead in a hospital later that night.

During the sentencing Thursday, Naranjo said Jeremy "didn't deserve to die for teasing."

"At 25, Jeremy will still be dead," Brian Rourke said during the sentencing hearing Thursday.

Harris is upset that some people think her son was a sore loser. Her son, an avid athlete, had lost plenty of games before, she said.

"Just this last year, his basketball team lost every game," Harris said. "He was fine."

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