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“What happened…

Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena were 14 and 16 years old, respectively. They were friends who attended the same high school in Houston, Texas, Waltrip High School. On June 24, 1993, the girls spent the day together….and then died together.

They were last seen by friends about 11:15 at night, when they left a friend’s apartment to head home, to beat summer curfew at 11:30. They knew they would be late if they took the normal path home, down W. 34th Street to T.C. Jester, both busy streets. They also knew they would have to pass a sexually-oriented business on that route and so decided to take a well-known shortcut down a railroad track and through a city park to Elizabeth’s neighborhood.

The next morning, the girls parents began to frantically look for them, paging them on their pagers, calling their friends to see if they knew where they were, to no avail. The families filed missing persons reports with the Houston Police Department and continued to look for the girls on their own. The Ertmans and Penas gathered friends and neighbors to help them pass out a huge stack of fliers with the girls’ pictures all over the Houston area, even giving them to newspaper vendors on the roadside.

Four days after the girls disappeared, a person identifying himself as ‘Gonzalez’ called the Crimestoppers Tips number. He told the call taker that the missing girls’ bodies could be found near T.C. Jester Park at White Oak bayou. The police were sent to the scene and searched the park without finding anything. The police helicopter was flying over the park and this apparently prompted Mr. ‘Gonzalez’ to make a 911 call, directing the search to move to the other side of the bayou. When the police followed this suggestion, they found the badly decaying bodies of Jenny and Elizabeth.

Jennifer Ertman’s dad, Randy Ertman, was about to give an interview regarding the missing girls to a local television reporter when the call came over a cameraman’s police scanner that two bodies had been found. Randy commandeered the news van and went to the scene that was now bustling with police activity. My first knowledge of the death of Jennifer was seeing Randy, on the news that evening, screaming at the police officers who were struggling to hold him back, “Does she have blond hair?? DOES SHE HAVE BLOND HAIR?!!?”

Fortunately, they did manage to keep Randy from entering the woods and seeing his daughter’s brutalized body and that of her friend Elizabeth, but they were unable to escape that fate themselves. I saw hardened, lifelong cops get tears in their eyes when talking about the scene more than a year later.

The bodies were very badly decomposed, even for four days in Houston’s brutal summer heat and humidity, particularly in the head, neck and genital areas. The medical examiner later testified that this is how she could be sure as to the horrible brutality of the rapes, beatings and murders.

The break in solving the case came from, of course, the 911 call. It was traced to the home of the brother of one of the men later sentenced to death for these murders. When the police questioned ‘Gonzalez’, he said that he had made the original call at his 16 year-old wife’s urging. She felt sorry for the families and wanted them to be able to put their daughters’ bodies to rest. ‘Gonzalez’ said that his brother was one of the six people involved in killing the girls, and gave police the names of all but one, the new recruit, whom he did not know.

His knowledge of the crimes came from the killers themselves, most of whom came to his home after the murders, bragging and swapping the jewelry they had stolen from the girls.

While Jenny and Elizabeth were living the last few hours of their lives, Peter Cantu, Efrain Perez, Derrick Sean O’Brien, Joe Medellin and Joe’s 14 year old brother were initiating a new member, Raul Villareal, into their gang, known as the Black and Whites. Raul was an acquaintance of Efrain and was not known to the other gang members.

They had spent the evening drinking beer and then “jumping in” Raul. This means that the new member was required to fight every member of the gang until he passed out and then he would be accepted as a member. Testimony showed that Raul lasted through three of the members before briefly losing consciousness.

The gang continued drinking and ‘shooting the breeze’ for some time and then decided to leave. Two brothers who had been with them but testified that they were not in the gang left first and passed Jenny and Elizabeth, who were unknowingly walking towards their deaths. When Peter Cantu saw Jenny and Elizabeth, he thought it was a man and a woman and told the other gang members that he wanted to jump him and beat him up. He was frustrated that he had been the one who was unable to fight Raul.

The gang members ran and grabbed Elizabeth and pulled her down the incline, off of the tracks. Testimony showed that Jenny had gotten free and could have run away but returned to Elizabeth when she cried out for Jenny to help her.

For the next hour or so, these beautiful, innocent young girls were subjected to the most brutal gang rapes that most of the investigating officers had ever encountered. The confessions of the gang members that were used at trial indicated that there was never less than 2 men on each of the girls at any one time and that the girls were repeatedly raped orally, anally and vaginally for the entire hour.

One of the gang members later said during the brag session that by the time he got to one of the girls, “she was loose and sloppy.” One of the boys boasted of having ‘virgin blood’ on him.

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The 14-year-old juvenile later testified that he had gone back and forth between his brother and Peter Cantu since they were the only ones there that he really knew and kept urging them to leave. He said he was told repeatedly by Peter Cantu to “get some”. He raped Jennifer and was later sentenced to 40 years for aggravated sexual assault, which was the maximum sentence for a juvenile.

When the rapes finally ended, the horror was not over. The gang members took Jenny and Elizabeth from the clearing into a wooded area, leaving the juvenile behind, saying he was “too little to watch”. Jenny was strangled with the belt of Sean O’Brien, with two murderers pulling, one on each side, until the belt broke. Part of the belt was left at the murder scene, the rest was found in O’Brien’s home.

After the belt broke, the killers used her own shoelaces to finish their job. Medellin later complained that “the bitch wouldn’t die” and that it would have been “easier with a gun”. Elizabeth was also strangled with her shoelaces, after crying and begging the gang members not to kill them; bargaining, offering to give them her phone number so they could get together again.

The medical examiner testified that Elizabeth’s two front teeth were knocked out of her brutalized mouth before she died and that two of Jennifer’s ribs were broken after she had died. Testimony showed that the girls’ bodies were kicked and their necks were stomped on after the strangulations in order to “make sure that they were really dead.”

The juvenile pled guilty to his charge and his sentence will be reviewed when he turns 18, at which time he could be released. The other five were tried for capital murder in Harris County, Texas, convicted and sentenced to death. I attended all five trials with the Ertmans and know too well the awful things that they and the Penas had to hear and see in the course of seeing Justice served for their girls.

Two VERY important things in the criminal justice system have changed as a result of these murders. After the trial of Peter Cantu, Judge Bill Harmon allowed the family members to address the convicted. This had not previously been done in Texas courts and now is done as a matter of routine.

The other change came from the Texas Department of Corrections which instituted a new policy allowing victims’ families the choice and right to view the execution of their perpetrators.

I had an ever-swaying opinion on the death penalty before this happened to people I know, before I watched the justice system at work firsthand. I have now come to believe that there are some crimes so heinous, so unconscionable that there can be no other appropriate punishment than the death penalty.

This is why I joined Justice For All.”

Source: Victim’s Voices

“This is dedicated to Ms. Bethena Lyn Brosz. As a daughter, sister, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, aunt, niece, cousin, friend—in every aspect of her life, she is loved & missed more than we know how to describe.

Bethena was born October 10, 1981 in Dallas, TX at Baylor Hospital. During her school years, she was in many Honors & Pre-AP classes and sang in Choir. She was selected for Who’s Who in American High Schools and graduated high school with a 3.82 GPA. She was working customer service for Web-TV subscribers & taking her freshman year courses at UNT in Denton, TX. She wanted to go to Colorado to study Astronomy for her degree.

One of the last things I remember Bethena shopping for was a baby’s bathing suit (with sandals to match) for her best friend’s little 8-month old daughter. Beth was a very giving person who was always helping others. If a friend needed a ride to buy groceries, to get to a job interview or to work, or to go to the doctor, often she would even rearrange her schedule so she could get them there….

I know that she must have suffered beyond anything we could imagine, in terror & in agony, but I will never understand how anyone could do such a thing to another human being, especially one so gentle & kind as our Bethena. Too much has been taken from her and from us—her smiles, her wedding, her hugs, her children, and the carefree joy of a holiday that does not hold a bittersweet, black empty space where she should be. Murderers have forced this path upon us. Murderers have taken her from her home.

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The men who murdered my precious daughter chose to use their God-given free will for horrifying evil. They shot her in the right knee, slashed her throat 3 times, slashed her shoulder, and shot her twice in the head. Only 5”1” tall & about 110 pounds, she could not have had the slightest chance against 2 men with guns & knives. But in spite of these mortal wounds, God made a miracle & kept her alive for a time, unconscious & unfeeling they tell me. Then He led 2 good Samaritans to find her & call for the Care Flight that arrived within minutes of their call.

Because of that miracle, at least Beth did not have to die alone. We will always believe that on some level she knew we were there with her in the ICU, praying for her & telling her over & over how very much we love her. Also because of that miracle, it was possible for Beth’s wish to be granted—7 of her organs were donated & 5 lives were saved.

That would not have been possible if she had died in that roadside ditch. We thank God for this miracle—that He made sure her wish could be fulfilled in spite of what was done to her. Since we couldn’t change what had happened, fulfilling that wish was one of the last things we will ever have been able to do for her. For us it is the only silver lining in a very, very tarnished situation.

The other victim was found dead at the scene, his throat slashed, shot 6 times in the head. One of the few correct things that has been printed in the news is that everyone connected with the investigations has said that Beth was just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. But this is little consolation, because what happened to our Beth & the other victim should NEVER happen to ANYONE for ANY reason.

Beth was wounded May 2, 2001. She was pronounced brain dead at 4:30 PM on May 3, 2001. Even before she died, the police had received some very good tips & leads. The first suspect was in custody a few days later, and the second was arrested in another state in July 2001. A CrimeStoppers reward was issued to that anonymous caller that happened to see him & knew he was wanted in Texas. He was extradited back to our home county in Texas in August 2001.

Our DA announced that they would seek the Death Penalty for the first time since 1993 in our county, due to the brutally vicious & preplanned way in which these murders were committed.

One of the 2 suspects, Steven Woods, was found guilty of capital murder. The jury recommended & the judge sentenced him to the Death Penalty. He has been transported to Death Row in Livingston & will be showing up on the TDCJ Death Row website as soon as they finish the “intake process” (psychological testing, etc.) is what the DA’s office tells me.

See the link below for the article that was written the Sunday before the trial began and the article covering the final sentencing day–what was not reported in the paper was that Woods had been arrested when he was a juvenile–for making a bomb & leaving it on a neighbor’s deck, and another time for aggravated sexual assault–for these juvenile offenses he had received only probation & mandatory mental health treatment (a whole 6 weeks worth).

When the social worker who reviewed his juvenile criminal & mental health history testified that his home environment & lack of proper treatment were mitigating circumstances, our lead prosecutor asked her if the other children that grew up in the same home had become murderers too. Of course, she said she had no way of knowing. But I am guessing that is why the defense did not even put Wood’s mother on the stand in the sentencing phase–so our prosecutor couldn’t ask her that question–I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

If there were other children in that family who were murderers, if the home environment is truly what made it impossible for him to be/act otherwise, the DEFENSE would have already brought that information out–we would not have had to wonder at all.

We will find out more about when the 2nd suspect’s trial will be in the next week or so. His name is Marcus Rhodes. He is still in the Denton County Jail.

We are very fortunate to have the support that we have from our DA’s office in Denton County. Jackie Carpenter, Kathy Bomar and Erin Frewin from Victim Assistance were there for us in so many ways. Any time that we had to simply leave the courtroom because we could not bear it anymore, we never had to leave alone–one of them would always be right there for us so we had support.

I really don’t know how I would have made it through this horror tale that is our reality without them. The DAs on this case have been amazing throughout, considering some of the horror stories I have heard of what has happened in other places. ADA Michael Moore leads the prosecution team.

We have been working with him for over a year, and I have never had to wait more than a few hours for him to return any call unless he was out of town, and then he would call me back on the first day he returned. ADAs Roger Jones (the head of criminal prosecution in Denton County) and Tony Paul completed that team. We really feel like Bethena did have someone representing her in that courtroom, and for that we are so grateful.

On Monday, August 19, 2001, when that jury recommended the death sentence, my husband Terry & I went to see Beth when we left the courthouse–to sit on that bench and let her know that we were halfway to that justice for her that she so deserves, but that we were wishing mostly that there had never been any reason for any of it–the only true justice would be if we were all home together that evening. But since we can’t have that, this will just be the best we can do. Then we had to go to Beth’s sister’s house & give our grandsons big hugs, and whether they can understand yet or not, I had to tell them that the world just got to be a bit safer place for them on that day.

That trial was the second hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I am not looking forward to doing this again, but we will do whatever is necessary so that at least these particular criminals can never do this to any other person, any other family ever again.”

Source:Victim’s Voices