>From : Sherry Lassiter
Date: March 9, 2009
Dear Judge Coady:
You will be sentencing my only son, Caleb, on Wednesday. I know that you will be fair and merciful. I would like to take this opportunity not to provide an excuse for my son’s conduct, but to provide you with information that very few people know that will hopefully explain why Caleb has behaved the way he has.
I married Edward Lassiter on Feb 20 1982 in Longview, Texas. We have four children together. Caleb was born May 1983, Sarah April 1984, Chelsea January 1986, and Calli in 1988. I also have another daughter Olivia, born in June 1992.
I am ashamed to say that there was a clear pattern of violence in our home. The longer Ed went without hitting me, the worse the beating was when it did happen. It got to the point I almost wanted to get slapped at least every week, at least that way his temper wasn’t building. The first time Caleb was physically involved in the abuse, he was only 2.5 years old. Ed was dragging me through the house by my hair. Caleb woke up and tried to pull me away from Ed. He ended up being dragged too. We both ended up with some really nasty rug burns. Caleb did not utter one word to his father for about two weeks. Then, the first thing he said was, “I hate you, you hurt Mommy.” Caleb seemed to appoint himself my protector while he was still a toddler. In May of 1990 we lost everything in a flood and decided to move back to Illinois.
Then, in June of 1991 came the worst night yet. That afternoon, I had gotten a babysitter so I could go with a friend on a girls’ day out with Ed’s co-worker’s wife. When I got home, the babysitter was still here. That had not been the arrangement. Ed was supposed to be home at four. I was due home at 9. Molly and I were still discussing this when the phone rang. It was Danielle (the woman I had been with). She said, Ed just left here, please be careful, he seemed really angry. Ed got home about an hour later, but didn’t seem to be angry at all. In fact he was all smiles and “Did you have a good time?.” I told him about my day and then he said, “Come outside I have a surprise for you.” I went to follow him outside. When I was going through the door I asked him “What’s the surprise?” He said, “This bitch!” and punched me so hard in the face I flew across the porch and hit the second door. That noise alerted Molly (the sitter) and the kids. I never even had a chance to get my bearings before Ed was on top of me beating me. Molly is screaming, the kids are all screaming. I remember screaming at Molly to keep the kids inside. I even got a glimpse of Molly grabbing Caleb. He had a kitchen knife and was screaming “we have to help her!.” For the next 20-30 minutes I was beaten . I was pulled back outside the house and shoved into two wrought iron porch rails so hard they snapped off where they attached to the concrete. I was shoved through a window and pulled back out. I remember hearing my children screaming for me. I also remember hearing screams of “No!.” It took me a second to realize that I was the one screaming “no,” while Ed was screaming “Die bitch.” The next thing I remember is three young men walking towards us. I hear one yell, get off of her now! Ed paused and I saw that one had a gun. That made Ed back off enough that I got my feet in between him and me and kicked him down the steps, ran back to the door and told Molly to unlock it and let me in. I got inside and called the sheriff’s dept. When the dispatcher came on the line she said the police were already on their way, they had received 7 calls about it in nine minutes. By the time the police arrived Ed was gone. They searched for him, but couldn’t find anything. I refused an ambulance and the police stayed with me until a friend got here to take me to the hospital and take my kids to her house. At the hospital they taped my ear back onto my head because the Dr said the swelling was happening so fast he was afraid if he stitched it, it would pull out and make it worse. They x-rayed me and said I had no broken bones. That diagnosis was later found to be incorrect. I actually had fractures to my right orbital socket and the 3rd, 5th, and 6th vertebras. A warrant was issued for Ed’s arrest. A few days later I got a call from Sheriff Vazzi telling me Ed was being arrested right then and that I should hide. He was concerned that if Ed had enough money on him he would bail out and come after me.
I stayed with my great Uncle and waited for an opening in one of the shelters before moving my children and I there. I got an order of protection and began trying to obtain a divorce. I finally got my divorce decree in 1993 or 94. I don’t recall the exact date. During the interim, the children and I attended counseling through programs provided through Sojourn House until they were stopped in this area due to lack of funds. I couldn’t afford to go to Springfield very often and then not at all for financial reasons. While I was married to Ed I didn’t qualify for any financial aide, yet with four small children to care for and later another on the way, it was nearly impossible to find any work that would cover day care costs let alone pay the bills. None of my credentials from Texas would transfer here, I would have to start over, yet still had outstanding student loans to pay.
I ended up doing mostly odd jobs. I baby sat, took in laundry, cared for my grandfather Smith. Took one elderly man to his doctor appointments and did his grocery shopping and errand running, that kind of thing. My family was still not in favor of me divorcing, and in order to get me to see things their way refused me any further help. I turned to my church only to be yelled at by my pastor to remember my vows. I had already learned from experience as a small child not to have any faith whatsoever in state authorities, so I simply did the best I could with what I had, and that was damn little.
Unbeknown to me at the time, several family members were telling Caleb that he was the man of the house now and had to take care of things. The child was 8 years old! What a burden to put on a little guy.
Things weren’t any better for him in the community or school either. He was a scrawny little kid with big glasses, which made him a target for bullies, and he was bullied. I went to the police about it a few times, but got blown off or flat out laughed at. I remember one specifically telling Caleb, don’t worry about it, one day you’ll be able to beat them up. Wonderful thing to say to a child sitting in an ER room with a bloody face. One time Caleb came home from school with a note saying he was being suspended, I believe he was 10 years old at the time. When I read the note it said that Caleb had been caught with a sharpened Popsicle stick trying to stick another boy with it. When he saw my eyes going large at reading this he said, “Wait Mom, I can prove this isn’t true.” He showed me a knot of the back of his head. On closer inspection, there was something in the knot. I got the tweezers and pulled out a half inch long piece of wood. Then he removed his jeans and shirt. That’s when I saw he had several puncture wounds to his thighs and his back. Considering this incident took place on the bus before school started that day, I wanted to know why he hadn’t told anyone at school. He told me he had tried to tell the vice principal, but had been told “Sit down and shut up, I already know what’s going on.” I met with the Principal the next day. We came to an agreement. I’d not make a big stink over this if he would assure me the vice principal was never allowed to deal with my children in any way shape or form again.
Due to the bad conditions of Caleb’s birth he had needed special services from the time he was born. He had suffered some brain injury from lack of oxygen. He was slow to crawl, had some problems learning fine motor skills and the like. By the time he was 6 I didn’t see any reason for continued services, yet the schools continued to label him as learning disabled. Then when we got in this school system, it continued. The school thought he was ADD. I agreed to testing, which consisted of him being watched playing in a room for about 20 minutes. The person that did this “testing” agreed that Caleb was ADD and sent her findings to the school and our doctor. When I went to the doctor’s appointment, he wanted to put Caleb on Ritalin. I reluctantly agreed under the condition that nothing be administered at school. My oldest daughter was born with heart problems and the school had already messed up with her meds three times. I didn’t trust them any longer to distribute meds to my children. By the second or third day on this medication Caleb was beside himself. He told me he felt like he had bugs running through him. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I decided that night that since he’d been taking this for such a short time, I’d take him off of it and simply not tell anyone and see how it went. At the next meeting with the school a few weeks later, the first thing said to me was by his teacher. She said. Mrs. Lassiter , “I’m so glad you finally agreed to medicate Caleb, things are so much better.” I lost it. I turned to her and said, “Guess what? He hasn’t been on meds. So, I contend the only thing that has changed is your attitude towards my child.” There was a lot of shuffling of papers and coughing, but the meeting was brought to an abrupt halt. I let them know right then and there I was withdrawing Caleb from their school. I did withdraw him and sent him to stay with his Uncle Chuck in Raymond for what remained of that school year. Caleb did a lot better at that school, but I couldn’t afford to move to that district. I had considered home schooling while in Texas, but hadn’t considered it further once we were in a smaller community like this. Now things had changed. I contacted a friend in Texas, who put my in touch with a lovely Mennonite woman in this state. We talked, then met, and she put the word out through the home schooling community. By the first month of that summer, I was a member of two home schooling support groups, and fellow members collected enough books for me to borrow to see not only Caleb through the next school year, but my girls too. Things went well for a while. Ed was sticking to the conditions of the OP. He had visitation with the kids under the condition that if I even suspected drug or alcohol abuse, I didn’t have to turn them over to him. He abided by that quite well for a time. That is until he moved in with a new girlfriend. It became evident quite quickly things had changed. By the third visitation after she entered the picture, I put a stop to the visitations. I told Ed if he didn’t like it he was more than welcome to take me to court. He didn’t do so and that made me sure I was right in my suspicions.
I began having trouble with Caleb in new ways. He was angry and acting out. He was even angry with me, although I don’t think he was mature enough to even realize that himself. He was still young enough to believe mom should be able to fix things. I remember once when Caleb was in a fit of anger I asked him where my smiling boy was. He told me that boy had died. When Caleb began getting into trouble, all the authorities, from prosecutors to probation officers, to public defenders to child welfare workers kept telling me, “He needs a man in his life.” .Like I didn’t know that? Was I supposed to manufacture one? I even had one woman tell me I was being a bitter ex-wife for not letting Ed have the kids. She didn’t stay around long enough for me to explain why I had stopped the visitations. I tried signing Caleb up for Big Brothers. We were called and told he had been matched with someone and the date the young man would be here to see Caleb. That day Caleb sat out on the porch for hours waiting for this guy. He never showed. Once again circumstances showed Caleb that he wasn’t worth anyone’s trouble or attention.
When he was 11 he did his first of three stints in rehab. He was housed with a group of teen gang- bangers from Chicago. He looked up to those teens. They impressed upon him that they were cool. That gang life was cool. That to be a thug was cool. When Caleb was 12 he was sent to a home in Mt Vernon. The counselor there told me that the only time he had been able to make Caleb show emotion was when he told him he did have worth as a human being. He told me Caleb hugged onto him and cried for two hours. Also, right around that time, Caleb and Sarah went to spend a couple of weeks with my mother and her husband. While they were there, Sarah was sexually abused by my step-father. Caleb took this very hard. In his mind, he should have been able to protect his little sister. I don’t believe he ever fully got over that feeling of guilt and helplessness.
There was also a man named Wesley Gruen that tried to take my daughters Chelsea and Calli one evening when they were leaving a church function. For nearly three years that man stalked Chelsea. Eventually, there was a trial and he was sent to prison, but the damage from those years of hell was already done. Not only to Chelsea and Calli, but our family as a whole. By the time Caleb was 15, I had been brow beaten into letting him go live with his father. I was not allowed to call Caleb, and very rarely saw him. Once in court the judge told Ed that I had every right to call any time I wanted. Ed’s girlfriend had the phone removed. I still suspected there were bad things going on in that house, but had no proof. Years later I found out that Ed’s girlfriend was the one that got Caleb high on crack for the first time; before he had ever gone to live with them.
I know Caleb to be a very compassionate young man. Not from anything he’s told me, but from things some of his friends have told me. One of his friends told me about one time they were walking in Litchfield. They walked by an old man and Caleb asked him how he was doing. The man told him not good, he had just lost his wife. Caleb stayed and talked with the man for more than an hour. Before he left, he prayed with the man. I remember one time after an abuse counseling session Caleb asked me, “How can I make sure I don’t turn out like Dad?” I told him the way to make sure he didn’t become an abuser was to never let himself forget what it felt like to be a victim.
Caleb has a lot of respect for women. He will not tolerate any woman being treated badly in his presence. I’ve seen him tell men to quit what they are doing, even if the only thing they are doing is talking badly to the woman. It is simply not in Caleb to tolerate any form of abuse towards women. Considering all the violence he witnessed as a child, it could have turned out very differently.
Caleb is a hard worker too. Every man he has ever done work for has at some point told me he was the best worker they could ask for. When Caleb was here with me, I found his help invaluable. I have some health issues due to old injuries problems with my neck that lead to problems with my leg and arm. He fixed a lot of things around here that I couldn’t do for myself, nor could I afford to hire someone to do it. He’d get on me about trying to do things that had the potential of hurting me more or causing me to fall.
I know my son is no angel. In many respects, Caleb has paid a very high price for my mistakes and my poor decisions. Caleb has never made excuses for his poor decisions, and he probably will not do so in front of you in court. But I can tell you this. He’s had very few breaks in his life. His father failed him. I failed him in many respects. The school system failed him as did the social service system.
Caleb is prepared to take his medicine like a man. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he was forced to become a man well before he was ready. I know that Caleb must be sentenced to at least 6 years and at most 30 years. He has actually taken advantage of opportunities he has had in prison that were not available to him here such as education. I would ask that you see like I see, and like Caleb’s counselor in Mt. Vernon saw, that he has worth as a human being. I would be forever grateful if you would sentence him closer to 6 years so he could see a brighter future that I was unable to provide him. I also know Caleb could have turned out much worse all things considered. I love him and trust that you will not fail him.