'He wasn't as strong as I am'
By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS -- As Jennifer Johnson finished her court testimony, she stared at the man accused of breaking into her apartment and stabbing her 15 times, nearly ending her life.
"He wouldn't make eye contact with me," said Johnson. "He wasn't as strong as I am."
On Friday, Alexander Roscow Whaley was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in prison after a jury found him guilty of five of six charges relating to the attack, including attempted first-degree murder.
For Johnson, the 18 months since the attack have been a seemingly endless cycle of hospital visits, sleepless nights and anxious waiting. The 23-year-old said she's ready to put the trauma behind her, but not the lessons she's learned from the assault.
"It's a part of my life and will always be a part of my life," Johnson said. "This has made me who I am."
The June 24, 2000, attack attracted a lot of attention in Citrus County because of its extreme violence. Whaley waited for Johnson to return from work, then popped up from behind her bed and demanded sex, authorities said. When she refused, he plunged a six-inch steak knife into her body again and again, officials said, leaving severe stab wounds in her chest and stomach.
"It unnerved a lot of women in this county," said Assistant State Attorney Lisa Herndon, the lead prosecutor in the case.
Herndon said it's the only case of its kind she's seen in Citrus County, where she has served in the State Attorney's Office for the past four years. Home invasions are rare, and the few that do occur typically involve a robbery, not an assault, she said.
The case was also unusual because Whaley seemed to pick his victim almost entirely at random. While he lived only a half-mile from Johnson's Crystal River apartment, the two had never met.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, most victims of sexual battery know their assailants. The majority, 43 percent, are raped by a friend or an acquaintance. Seventeen percent are raped by a lover or spouse, and 2 percent by a relative.
Johnson was a nurse's aide and a student at the time of the attack. She told a 911 dispatcher about her dream to one day become a doctor while she waited for an emergency medical crew to airlift her to Shands at the University of Florida at Gainesville.
But all of that was put on hold in the days following her release from the hospital. Johnson couldn't sleep at night, and what little rest she did get was interrupted by violent nightmares. She was afraid to leave the house or answer the telephone, said Becky Bugbee, Johnson's mother.
"It was really hard," said Bugbee, 53, her eyes filling with tears. "I remember seeing her in the hospital, and she would press the little button to trigger the painkillers. It wouldn't be long before she'd have to press it again because she was in so much pain."
It was especially hard for Bugbee to watch her daughter suffer because the older woman has also been the victim of a violent attack: Bugbee said she was raped 26 years ago while living in Winter Haven. Her assailant was eventually caught and convicted.
"It brought back a lot of memories for me," Bugbee said. "But I think it helped me understand what she was dealing with. She didn't know what I had been through until she went through it, too."
Especially infuriating to both mother and daughter was Whaley's status as a repeat offender. In 1983, the 39-year-old Crystal River native was convicted of the rape, abduction and attempted murder of a convenience store clerk.
Whaley was sentenced to 17 years for the crime, but released 10 years early because of prison overcrowding. He has been in trouble with the law virtually ever since, including arrests for battery, driving under the influence and possession of marijuana.
"This man didn't belong on the streets," Johnson said. "How did he slip through the crack, and where is that crack so it can be sealed to make sure this doesn't happen again?"
Slowly, Johnson has started to regain her life. She is engaged to be married to longtime friend Elvis Camuso, 25. A November wedding is planned.
Johnson said Camuso has been very supportive throughout her ordeal, but she asked him not to be present in court.
"I had to do this on my own," she said. "I didn't want him to be tainted with this part of my life."
Johnson is preparing to return to school at Central Florida Community College, although she no longer knows if she wants to be a doctor. She plans to stay active in speaking out for the rights of crime victims, and wants to lobby state legislators to ensure no one with a criminal record as extensive as Whaley's is allowed to roam free.
Testifying at Whaley's trial was the most difficult thing Johnson said she has ever done.
"I was terrified I would say the wrong thing," she said.
But mere minutes after the sentence was announced, Johnson said she experienced a tremendous sense of closure. No more worrying about the trial, no fear of meeting Whaley on the street.
Johnson said she's changed a lot in the 18 months since Whaley surprised her with a knife. She said she's found untapped reservoirs of endurance inside herself, and wants the trial transcripts and pictures as a reminder of everything she has experienced.
"I'm back, and I'm stronger than ever," Johnson said. "He can never, ever attack me again."
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