Skip to comments.Murder convict makes appeal
Posted on 01/05/2004 8:04:06 PM PST by Holly_P
MENARD -- Jimmy Childers says a quarter-century in prison hasn't unlocked memories of a bloody summer night when he traded his dream of the major leagues for a lifetime behind bars. "I just don't have an answer as to why all of this happened. That's what haunts me today," said Childers, who was a mop-haired 17-year-old when he was sentenced to life without parole for the grisly murders of his brother, mother and stepfather in the family's Pekin home.
Now 42 and balding, Childers is down to his last shots at getting out of prison, with an appeal pending before the Illinois Supreme Court that would cut his life sentence and a plan to ask the governor for clemency.
Trying to keep him where he's at, though, is someone who once walked the same high school hallways and played on the same ball fields in Pekin, a river town of about 32,000 people just south of Peoria.
Apology not accepted
Where Childers talks about how sorry he is for the 1978 slayings, Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz says nothing short of dying in prison can pay for the brutal stabbings that he said gave seasoned investigators nightmares.
"I think this by far was probably the most gruesome murder that we have ever seen in Tazewell County," said Umholtz, who is two years older than Childers.
Childers' mother, Norma, was stabbed 24 times and shot twice. His stepfather, Robert Rotramel, was shot and stabbed eight times. His 15-year-old brother, Warren, was stabbed 18 times.
His mother's family remembers the horror of the murders but backs his release, saying their only concern is whether he could adjust and be productive in a society much different than the one he left behind more than 25 years ago.
"It's a difficult situation for us because we lost all the way around. But we've always said we love him and support him," said Childers' cousin, Julie Neilson.
Before the murders, Childers, a once-promising shortstop, had tried out for the Cincinnati Reds and was getting married in a few months. He longed for a minor league contract that would take the newlyweds south for spring training, far from the abuse at home that he suspects sparked the killings.
His high school coach, Bob Beal, doubts Childers could have made it to the major leagues but could have landed a college scholarship or minor-league deal.
But the dream vanished after a killing spree prosecutors contend was triggered by an argument that started when Childers came home late from visiting his fiance.
More than 25 years later, Childers said he still remembers just "bits and pieces" of that night.
"There's just nothing clear about that night, as hard as I try. It's like the psychologists said, you'll probably never remember," said Childers, who agreed to an interview with The Associated Press to discuss the killings and their aftermath.
Childers said his memories are clearer of the abuse he suffered at home. He said it started when his mother was raped by a boyfriend about 10 years before the killings and suspects she resented that neither of her young sons tried to help her.
"That's when she started just hating us, I guess you could say," Childers said.
Relatives were aware of the abuse and had confronted Childers' mother but the pattern continued, said Sue Lowe, Childers' aunt. She said her sister had a temper and "maternal instincts didn't come naturally."
"It's difficult for me to speak of her in this way since she's gone but she didn't do the things she should have with the boys," Lowe said.
Childers said he never reported the abuse because it was a taboo subject then.
If he had, he thinks his family's lives might have turned out differently, and he encourages kids to speak up about their problems before they reach the same tragic snap.
He said he wants to help steer kids away from bad choices by telling his own story in a book and through a program he proposed that would bring young offenders into prisons for a firsthand look at the consequences of breaking the law.
Umholtz questions Childers' motives, saying they're just part of his last efforts to get out of prison.
"I think that giving Mr. Childers any relief and certainly granting clemency would not only diminish the seriousness of his crime but would trivialize it," Umholtz said.
Childers thinks that hard-line approach has clogged prisons with kids who made just one terrible mistake.
"These kids that commit crimes like school shootings, sure they've got to pay. But pay with the rest of your natural life? No," Childers said.
Instead, he said cases should be judged individually, offering the possibility of release if inmates stay out of trouble and try to rehabilitate themselves.
Julie Marry-Falkenberry, a staffer who worked with Childers on prison recreation programs for more than 20 years before she retired last December, thinks Childers deserves that chance.
"I've seen a whole lot of people get out of there who are just bad to the bone and Jimmy's not. If he did (kill his family), something awful happened for a kid like this to do something like that," Marry-Falkenberry said.
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