Confessed child killer says he had two options – 75 years or death
LAS VEGAS – Jeremy Strohmeyer claims his attorney told him he would be convicted and executed if he went to trial for killing a 7-year-old Los Angeles girl in a Nevada casino so he confessed and agreed to life in prison.
Strohmeyer, who admitted he raped and killed Sherrice Iverson in a May 1997 restroom attack, now claims he doesn’t remember what happened so he wants to recant his confession and his September 1998 guilty pleas. Strohmeyer, now 21, was sentenced to four life terms with no chance of parole.
Strohmeyer maintains Los Angeles attorney Leslie Abramson told him it was a hopeless case and ”if I went to trial I was going to be convicted and executed.”
Abramson, in an often combative exchange with Strohmeyer’s new defense attorney, vigorously defended the options she gave her client, then 19, in the days before he was scheduled to go to trial.
”We have an ethical obligation to settle, to avoid the death penalty,” Abramson said.
Abramson, paid $250,000 by Strohmeyer’s family to represent him, said the options hit home when fellow attorney Richard Wright ”had a nightmare in which he saw our boy dead.”
”We were very concerned if we went to trial he would end up with the death sentence,” Abramson told District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure.
The judge must decide whether Strohmeyer will be allowed to recant the guilty pleas and receive a new trial.
Strohmeyer was charged with sexually assaulting and strangling the young girl in a restroom at the Primadonna hotel-casino in Primm, Nev., 45 miles southwest of here.
Abramson said she and Wright outlined Strohmeyer’s options and even drew a chart for him, telling him that even if he escaped the murder charge he faced 75 years to life on the sexual assault charges.
If convicted of murder and a jury could not agree on a penalty, Abramson said the penalty would be left up to a three-judge panel. She said she was concerned that two of the judges would be from outside Las Vegas and would favor the death penalty.
Abramson said she did not recommend a plea but simply gave Strohmeyer his options.
She said he responded, ”If they’re going to give me death, I have no choice,” adding it was ”better to be alive.”
Asked by Clark County District Attorney Stewart Bell if she recommended the guilty pleas because her fee was running out, Abramson bristled:
”Take the money and run? That would be immoral. I certainly wouldn’t do that to Jeremy.”
At the end of her testimony, she asked the judge if she could walk over and shake Strohmeyer’s hand. Strohmeyer shook his head no and New York defense attorney Robert Preuss said his client didn’t want to shake her hand.
Strohmeyer, an 18-year-old high school senior at the time of the killing, said Abramson ”treated me like a child, like she knew everything and I didn’t know much.”
”She would raise her voice, overpower me,” Strohmeyer said. ”Any input from me would just raise her ire, her temper.
”I thought that spending the rest of my life in prison was far worse than dying,” he said. ”She thought that was immature. She thought it was far better to have life in prison than death.”
Strohmeyer said he had never discussed pleading guilty and was surprised when Abramson and Wright told him they had negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors after a jury was selected.
”I felt very betrayed,” he said. ”Leslie had talked that the prosecution was our enemy. Why were they talking to the enemy?”
Strohmeyer said Abramson told him he faced bleak prospects because of rulings that deemed his three confessions admissible, and a court decision that could reveal what was found on his personal computer. Bell said the computer included child pornography.
Strohmeyer said Abramson urged him not to put his parents, or the parents of the victim, through a long trial.
”She made me feel pretty horrible, and I thought ‘Yes, I guess I am’ because I wanted to go to trial and find out what happened, because I don’t know what happened,” Strohmeyer said, his voice breaking.
Later Tuesday, testimony from LeRoy Iverson, Sherrice’s father, backfired on the defense when he testified by telephone from California that he doesn’t know if he saw anyone coming out of the women’s restroom in Primm. Defense attorneys claimed that Iverson told them he saw David Cash, Strohmeyer’s buddy, exiting the restroom, suggesting that Cash may have killed Sherrice.
But Iverson, who had diabetes and recently suffered a heart attack, was hostile. At one point, he called Abate a ”Yankee trying to get a murderer out of prison.”
He suggested Abate pay him $9,000 in restitution for his daughter’s death. Iverson was not under oath when he testified.
Wright and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detectives Phil Ramos and James Vaccaro, who took Strohmeyer’s confession, are scheduled to testify at the two-day hearing.