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A mother's pain and hope

She begs the family of her son's killer to put his children in the program that helped keep her son out of gangs.

October 27, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

He killed her only child.

But now Lovel Abram was worried about the murderer's children.

"We love you. There's no hate, no hate. Just hurt and sorrow," she said Thursday as she faced convicted killer Michael Jones in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

A few steps away Jones' two young children -- described as 5 and 7 -- sat quietly with other family members. They were too tiny to comprehend what the 69-year-old woman was talking about as she fought back her tears.

Abram told of son Dexter Rideout's lifelong struggle to avoid the gang violence that plagued her South Los Angeles neighborhood. Her voice breaking, she explained how a Big Brother changed her boy's life.

For a dozen years her son was paired in the nonprofit mentoring program with Tom Riley, a Van Nuys entrepreneur. A burly former Notre Dame football player, Riley became a surrogate father -- introducing the shy inner-city kid to a world he would otherwise never have known.

It was at the corner of 49th and Hoover streets, however, that Rideout, 19, was gunned down by Jones on July 20, 2003. Police called it an unprovoked attack as the victim left a barbershop.

Jones, 20, was convicted last month of first-degree murder. He was back in court Thursday to be sentenced by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta.

But first Abram wanted to address the court -- and her son's killer.

"Mr. Michael Jones, I present to your family two applications so your children can have a big brother and sister," Abram said. "I give your children these applications so your family can assist your two children to have a good life. I want them to be happy."

Sobbing now, Abram struggled to continue.

"Take care of Mr. Jones' children. Take care of Mr. Jones' children," she begged. "Big Brothers and Big Sisters, please take care of Mr. Jones' children. They're babies!"

Onlookers helped the distraught Abram to her seat as Riley rose to speak. He explained how he and Abram had worked together to help shelter Dexter from the punishing environment that surrounded him. Because of the danger, the youngster was not allowed to play in his home's frontyard.

In time, Dexter became a member of Riley's own family. He traveled with them on vacation trips. He served as a groomsman at Riley's wedding. With the encouragement of Riley and his wife, Dexter finished high school and enrolled in classes at Los Angeles Trade Tech.

"He made it through to adulthood without joining a gang or having a criminal record," Riley said, looking directly at Jones.

"I'm not a vengeful man. I just ask for justice for my little brother."

Francine Forbes Riley told the judge of a visit to Abram's house after the murder. On Rideout's bedroom wall she found a framed photograph from her and her husband's wedding -- next to an announcement telling of the recent birth of the couple's twins.

Steve Willis, Rideout's cousin, told of the widespread family pain caused by the murder. "We spent all our lives keeping Dexter out of gangs, to keep him from becoming a Michael Jones," he said. "You should walk the streets again when Dexter walks the streets again."

Jones, who did not look at Abram as she spoke, covered his eyes with his hand as Ohta sentenced him to 50 years to life in prison. He did not speak -- although prosecutor Daviann Mitchell said he had expressed remorse for the slaying.

Outside the courtroom, Big Brothers Big Sisters administrators told of how the Dexter Fund -- launched by Riley after the murder -- has so far raised more than $125,000 to expand mentoring in the inner city. Currently, however, 1,224 children are on a waiting list to join the program.

Big Brothers Big Sisters President John Kobara said Jones' children would be welcomed.

"We hope to enroll them when they're older," he said. "We'll certainly be in touch with them."

Jones' family members declined to comment as they hurried the children out of the courthouse.

But Riley said he hoped that the family made use of Abram's application forms.

"We lost Dexter. They lost their father," he said. "Nobody won today."

*

bob.pool@latimes.com

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