Jacob Ind is the reason I became involved in the issue of kids serving life behind bars. Jacob killed his parents at age 15. I’m posting the letter I sent to Governor Ritter, requesting clemency. That will give a thumbnail sketch of who I believe Jacob Ind to be.
I will be posting a chapter from The Murder of Jacob every couple of days. From this effort I hope you learn something about abuse, parricide, our court system — and about the murder of a child’s soul.
Letter to Governor Ritter and Juvenile Clemency Board
Nearly two decades have passed since that tragic December night when Jacob Ind killed his mother and step-father, 16 years since he was sentenced to die behind bars. Jacob has spent much of his incarceration in conditions neither you, nor I, nor most fellow humans could EVER survive. Yet somehow he remains cheery and upbeat, hopeful, interested in everything that goes on around him. Jacob is one of the brightest, as well as one of the most interesting, individuals I’ve ever met. He reads everything from THE FEDERALIST PAPERS to ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT – anything he can find in a library that contains way too many romance, adventure and western novels. Not very stimulating fare for a mind like Jacob’s. He has an excellent memory, recalling verbatim shared conversations I’ve forgotten, or dialogue from a TV show we both saw and only one of us remembers. While walking into prison still causes me dread, I seldom hear Jacob complain about his life. Regardless of the lockdowns, the tensions, the boredoms, the petty squabbling that is commonplace in confinement, he generally finds the good in situations. Perhaps that’s because he’s never expected much from life. Yes, growing up his family was financially comfortable and what a picture perfect family they were – forever smiling in those hundreds of photos – but all of you are or should be familiar with child abuse so I won’t belabor the reality of Jacob’s childhood.
I first met Jacob Ind in 1993, a few months after the murders. A tall, gaunt fifteen-year-old, he was, according to the trial testimony of a child psychologist, the “most severely depressed child” she’d ever seen. The events that had blown away Jacob’s parents had also blown away Jacob’s ego. He was raw and exposed, as dazed and shell-shocked as a war casualty, which is what he was. What struck me most about him was his vulnerability, on display for anyone who bothered to spend time with him.
As I visited—and interviewed–Jacob over the many months leading up to his trial, I thought, There is NO way anyone could EVER sentence this baby to prison. The thought of a life without parole sentence never entered my mind. Of course I was not only wrong, but frighteningly naive. The community of Colorado Springs had very little trouble convicting Jacob. Some jurors expressed shock and horror that a conviction meant Jacob would die behind bars. Not knowing that the judge had to give him a mandatory life without parole sentence, one thought he would get “no time,” another “treatment.” In fairness, though, at least one juror thought he should be executed.
Jacob went to trial after Colorado’s celebrated summer of violence, when the media were screaming about a pint-sized super predator epidemic that never materialized. In addition, Erik and Lyle Menendez, those privileged twenty-somethings, had murdered their parents and the air waves reverberated with condemnations of the “abuse excuse.” So easy to equate a 15-year-old who had never dared walk to a McDonald’s by himself lest he get in trouble with two rich, fully grown California punks who did or did not blow their parents away to inherit millions.
Have things changed in the 20 years since Jacob’s arrest? Has all the publicity about brain development, prison conditions, babies behind bars, and supreme court rulings about the unconstitutionality of certain sentences for juveniles softened people’s opinions?
Earlier this year a 16-year-old Colorado Springs girl who killed her abuser received two years’ probation. And a Colorado Springs teen, 18 months younger than Jacob at the time Jacob killed his parents, was charged as a juvenile in the death of his brother and the wounding of his mother. Danny Gudino was lucky enough to be 13 at the time of the killings. He received a transfer hearing before a merciful judge. Four months older and he would have faced direct file and a decision by the DA to charge him within 72 hours as an adult. The fact-gathering in Danny’s case took more than a year and the hearing took more than a week. Then the judge gave Danny a second chance.
Jacob’s case was VERY different.
First of all, the murders made national news. Secondly, attorney John Suthers immediately decided to try Jacob as an adult. As you read all of Jacob’s files will you come across this fact: at the time of Jacob’s crime, he could have been sent to the Closed Adolescent Treatment Center, a renowned program designed specifically for teens like him? Other kids who killed a parent(s) had been sent to the “CAT House,” been successfully treated and returned to society. Why didn’t anyone in power EVER give Jacob that option? Why was the “system” so intent on hammering him into oblivion? What was it about him or his crime that stirred such a quest for vengeance? Is it the fact that in the minds of local law enforcement a dark, primordial line had been crossed – a child who kills his parents? Distasteful. Discomforting. Shocking. How sick is that?
As sick as a parent having sex with his child?
As sick as the sentences we hand down to parents who kill their innocent babies – which is far less harsh than those when a child kills a parent? Such sentencing disparities quite clearly say that all lives aren’t equally precious. A kid who kills a parent, particularly if his name is Jacob Ind, deserves the full force of the law. A parent who kills his 12-month-old infant? Not so much.
Why didn’t anyone care about the reason behind Jacob’s actions? You don’t have to be an expert to know that, more than 90% of the time, kids who kill their parents are badly abused. If you didn’t know that, how about this: on the first day of Jacob’s arrest, his older brother hinted darkly of things “that weren’t right in that household.” Why didn’t authorities say, “I’ll gather all the facts before deciding how to charge him?”
From the outset, the state methodically gathered the evidence to convict Jacob, discarding anything that might not fit into their “theory of the crime.” Jacob’s defense, as in so many JLWOP cases, wasn’t doing much of anything. Jacob never had a chance. No mercy for him – at least from those who actually held his fate in their hands. And now, I imagine you flipping through his paperwork. When you’re finished will you have any concept of who Jacob is as a human being? Will he remain no more than just a kid who killed his parents? Is that the alpha and omega of it all? Will you study the photos of him before the murders? Will you ponder what he endured as a child, what he daily endures buried in a living tomb? Or will you simply be on the alert for clues to justify a decision to give him a thumbs down?
Overall, the general public is sympathetic to cases like Jacob’s. When I speak at colleges, clubs, libraries, and businesses, I often use Jacob as one of several examples of Colorado teens serving life. His case elicits shock and disbelief – not at the nature of his crime but at the severity of the sentence. Afterwards, well dressed, immaculately coiffed “women of a certain age” have pulled me aside and with tears in their eyes whispered, “I know exactly what he went through.” How well I’ve come to recognize the secret language of child abuse.
But for every person who says, “I was abused as a child and I understand,” there are half a dozen who say, “I was abused as a child and I never killed anybody.”
Not true. We’ve all killed.
Everyone talks about the murder of two people’s bodies, but nobody talks about the murder of a child’s soul. And we are ALL guilty of soul murder. But that’s okay because we can’t see the results of our murders, though they are just as real. We are surrounded by the walking dead, but because we’re a literal society it doesn’t count unless we can weigh it and measure it and haul it off to the morgue.
Oscar Wilde said it well:
“All men kill the thing they love
By all let this be heard
Some do it with a bitter look
Some with a flattering word
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword.”
However, even as I ask others to have compassion for Jacob, I’ve struggled with forgiving those I’ve judged, particularly law enforcement, whose definition of “justice” – 40,50,60, 70 years behind bars is fine with you??? allows no excuses, no mercy. That would be easier for me to accept if it was consistent, but we all can cite case after case of the rich and powerful breaking the law without punishment – including murder. (Only then we’ll call it something else – an accident, war, the cost of doing business, etc.) Gerry Spence was right when he said, “Little people get little justice.”
Despite copious evidence to the contrary, prosecutors in Jacob’s case (as in others claiming abuse), denied and diminished its severity before trial. Some continue to do so.
“He wasn’t really abused. He made it up.”
Guess all the other witnesses who testified about the abuse made that up too.
“Abuse doesn’t justify murder.”
Not for Jacob. But it did for all the kids who were treated at the CAT House or those who have been offered plea bargains before and since. Did you know that Jacob is one of only two teens who killed their parents or caregivers who has received a life sentence?
“But the crimes were so bloody and gruesome.”
Everyone familiar with parricide knows that such crime scenes are invariably horrific. Overkill. Cuz you can’t believe that the source of all that terror, all that rage can ever be silenced with one bullet or a couple of blows to the head. A particularly mangled crime scene is not the sign of a monster. It is one of the hallmarks of an abused child.
“But the crime was clearly pre-meditated.”
True. As, once again, even those with a cursory knowledge of parricide are well aware. Jacob hadn’t just been talking about killing his parents for weeks, he’d been thinking about it since a few years after the rapes began. But the law doesn’t have any addendums for abused kids. Premeditated. First degree murder. No mercy. No exceptions.
Jacob also has a hard time with forgiveness. Whether or not he dies in prison or walks free tomorrow, the miracle will be if Jacob can ever forgive himself.
In the months and early years following the deaths of Kermode and Pamela Jordan, Jacob never expressed remorse. He felt he had no choice, that he had no way out, he said. Some found that perspective “chilling.” I always hoped that the psychic numbness would remain. As age and maturity drip, drip, dripped like water torture upon his brain, what would he do if he awakened one day and said, “I didn’t have to kill them. I could have…” Run away? Told more teachers? Insisted that he be removed from his home? Refused to return from Christmas vacation with his real father? However impossible those options seemed at the time, how would he review them from the vantage point of adulthood? What would happen if the grief he’d buried for being the hated child of the person who was supposed to love him the most, the sexual object of the man who vowed he’d take care of him, ever surfaced? Dealing with the refuse of child abuse is difficult enough when done with a caring therapist, and supported by a loving family. What about in prison when the only way to survive is by burying emotions?
I prayed that day would never come.
And it didn’t. There wasn’t one particular day, just a stretch of time, that led him to a conclusion his parents would have applauded. He is totally at fault. Nothing justifies his actions. No excuses. No redemption for him.
A year ago I came across Jacob’s booking photo. He looked so achingly young, particularly since at that time in 2008, Jacob was about 50 pounds heavier than he is today. The weight had added years to his looks, broadening his face and hiding his eyes, which are his most distinctive feature. I couldn’t see much of the child in the man he had become, and I felt such a tenderness for that vanished being, the same way I do when flipping through old photo albums of my own children. At that time I had been reflecting on my own life, particularly as a very young wife and mother. Remembering my reactions to certain events, I’d commented that I felt a lot of compassion and tenderness for someone so young, so innocent and so frankly, clueless.
I mailed Jacob the photo. During our next visit I asked him his reaction.
“I really was young, wasn’t I?”
“When you look at that child, can you have more compassion for who you were and what you did?”
Jacob shook his head. “I can’t go back from the vantage point of who I am today and think like that kid.”
“But you were so young. No more than a baby. You couldn’t know.”
“There’s no way I can ever forgive myself,” he said firmly.
The man who regularly overlooks my weaknesses with no more than the comment, “Thinking error!”, who has only praise for a father who visits him once a year if he’s lucky, and who seldom has an unkind comment about anyone other than liberals and gangbangers, can find no forgiveness for that broken fifteen-year-old.
People often ask me what Jacob is really “like.” I’ve already mentioned his intelligence, his easy nature. He also has a great sense of humor and makes me laugh. I admire his integrity, his willingness to die for principles that he believes in. I admire his ability to survive and still remain human. I admire his insights into people. When I want to see a problem clearly or I’m wrestling with a piece of human nature that just doesn’t compute, I often turn to him for clarification. His advice and observations are unfailingly wise. Maybe that’s a result of the decades he’s had for self-reflection, particularly since he’s spent many years in isolation, as well as all those courses he’s completed like “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” He does have his faults. I don’t like certain beliefs he’s developed in prison. I simultaneously hate and admire his continued rebelliousness, which he insists is a product of my mind. He sees himself as the kind of prisoner who just fades into the woodwork, kind of the way he tried to disappear as a child. Sometimes, when speaking of re-entry into the outside world, he strikes me as immature and unrealistic, but I’m not sure I can fairly judge him by my standards. He’s lived with so little, he doesn’t expect much when he speaks of freedom – breathing mountain air at night, walking wherever he pleases when he pleases, having a pet, listening to whatever music he wants to at whatever volume, being able to read any book he’s interested in. Prison has taught him to be grateful for the smallest things.
And he would be very, very grateful if you granted him his freedom.
Sweet and cloying through the air/Falls the stifling scent of despair.
~T.S. Eliot Murder in the Cathedral
Chapter 1/Fall 1992 (Click to entire chapter.)