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I was working at my job in the local mall when Stephen came up to me. He'd seen the "Now Hiring" sign on the side of my booth and asked me what it took to get hired. I responded with the standard. "We take your résumé and we call you when we need someone new."
He immediately shook his head and said, "No, no one wants to hire me. I was convicted with second-degree murder." He then turned around and walked over to a nearby food court table.
Immediately, my interest was peaked. I was alarmed by the statement. Perhaps this would have scared most people, and I did consider calling security, but after a minute of quiet, I became bold enough to walk up and ask if I could interview him on his conviction.
I changed his name at his request. This is the resulting interview:
Liza Newheart: Tell me what led up to it.
Stephen: What led up to it? Well, I went to my cousin's house and I knocked on the front door. No one answered, so I went in. I went in and heard noise in my cousin's bedroom. I went and opened the door and I just couldn't believe it.
And then next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor, and there was blood everywhere. Then I see my cousin, lying dead on the bed, and he's laying down on his back, almost completely decapitated.
And I'm sitting there wondering what happened. I thought I was set up, because I don't remember. So I called my dad and I told him. And he goes, "I'm gonna call the law" and I told him to go ahead, because I was trippin'. I didn't know if I should run.
So the cops came and they instantly, without even asking me any questions, slapped the cuffs on me. They were physical with me, too, like hitting me. I guess that it was the brutality of it, that they thought I was an animal that needed to be roughed up.
I went to jail. I was 18. If I could take it back, I would have. But there's no way to change it. I was in the county jail for 18 months. It was second-degree murder and I got convicted of it.
I did 21 years, 8 months. And the only reason why I got out was because of overcrowding in California prisons, or else I would have spent the rest of my life in there. They had to get rid of 40,000 inmates, and they couldn't get rid of 40,000 inmates who weren't violent offenders, so they had to start letting them out. I had 21 years down and 50 to life with good behavior.
They asked me if I would like to go home and I said they were full of garbage. They said nope. They said I only had to do one little program and they'd give me a day. I was like naw, I'm not gonna do it. I didn't do the program and I got out anyways.
I don't remember doing it (killing my cousin) to this day. The real messed up part of it is that he was my favorite cousin and we were like brothers, like best friends. I just snapped, I guess.
But I don't think I should be convicted of second-degree murder. It was violent, but I'm not a violent person. So, I think I snapped because when I was, like, five years old, I was molested.
I don't know, I don't know why I did it. I'm not evil like that. You have to be evil to do that. I don't even kill cockroaches. It was crazy. When I woke up, I was so confused.
He was molesting his 6-year-old daughter. My second-cousin. To this very day, she paints her face red. I think it traumatized her more than her dad. She's crazy. She wasn't crazy before. She was still there when I woke up.
I think that it's a blessing that I don't have to live with it. It's hard to live with taking a human's life. If you don't remember it, I think it's better. But I'd like to know if he suffered. I'd like to remember if he died quick or if he suffered.
Would you have preferred one of them?
I would have preferred that he didn't suffer. I would have preferred that he were here right now. But I don't remember what happened, so it is what it is.
He needed to die. He could have been molesting his other kids, or other people's kids. No more kids have suffered because of him. I'm not glad, but he needed to die. You can't cure child molesters. If you're attracted to them, you don't act on it, you know what I mean? Because you can't control your emotions. You can't control who you fall in love with, you can't control who you hate. Your emotions, you're feeling them. You can't control that. Just because you're attracted to them doesn't mean you have to act on it.
He needed to die. They could've arrested him, then when they let him out, he'd do it again.
Do you know if you used a weapon? Did you use your bare hands?
Yeah. When my grandpa died, he gave me a knife that I used to sit on the porch and widdle sticks and stuff with. I never got it back.
So, since you've gotten out of prison, you've had a few jobs, and now you're homeless by choice?
All of my family, since I killed my cousin, they've cut me loose. I was 18 when I was imprisoned, and after 21 years, I didn't know how to live in society. They threw me out, gave me $200, and said good-bye.
Stephen goes on to explain how he manages. He explains that his mother still stays in touch with him, pays for his phone, sends him $400 a month, and that he's happy where he's at right now. He says he feels free, with no bills to pay and nothing he has to do.