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Father of slain girl recounts tragic night


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000

LARGO -- Just as Terry Mance began to doze off early one April morning, he heard gunshots, similar to those he heard a couple of hours earlier.

"Puh-pow," Mance told jurors Thursday.

He jumped up and raced into the bedroom where his three daughters and his wife's daughter were sleeping. The girls woke up screaming, he said.

Amid the frightening chaos on April 3, 1999, Mance turned on the light and scooped up his twin 6-year-old daughters, Ashley and Aleesha. Ashley began to scream.

"Help me, daddy! Help me, daddy!" Mance recalled. He tried to give Ashley CPR, but "I knew it was not helpful," Mance said. She was pronounced dead soon after.

Mance was the first to testify in the second-degree murder trial of Jessy Joe Roten, a self-described skinhead accused of firing into the house the shot that killed Ashley. He also is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder for the wounds of two other girls, Aleesha Mance and the girls' half sister, Jailene Jones. All of the children are biracial.

Because prosecutors are charging the felonies as hate crimes, 19-year-old Roten is facing up to life in prison.

The trial Thursday included Mance's tearful account of the incident and the playing of 911 call that captured the desperate pleas for help from Mance and his wife, Terry.

Family members, and even the defendant's mother, sniffed and dabbed their eyes.

The case has drawn national interest and is being broadcast live on Court TV.

"This was an intentional shooting," Assistant State Attorney Lydia Wardell said during opening statements. Roten, she said, walked past 10 houses in his neighborhood north of St. Petersburg to the home of Mance, whose wife is white.

Wardell said that Roten, tattooed with white supremacy symbols, collected music with hate lyrics and surrounded himself with symbols of hate: swastikas, skull and crossbones and rebel flags. He dressed in boots commonly worn by skinheads and admitted to police that he was a skinhead.

"No doubt about it, Jessy Roten was a skinhead," Wardell said. And, because of his beliefs, he targeted the Mance home, stuffing 84 rounds of ammunition into a black bomber jacket just before the shooting, she said. Only one bullet entered the Mance home.

But "this was no ordinary bullet. It had a full-metal jacket. It was fired from no ordinary gun," Wardell said. Roten used a Chinese assault rifle, she said.

Defense attorney Buck Blankner said the shooting was a tragedy and that Roten is responsible, but not for shooting on purpose.

"We suggest that his actions are criminal," Blankner said, but not intentional. He was collapsing the gun, it slipped and it fired a single shot into the house, Blankner said.

With a gun like an assault rifle, more shots could have been fired, he said, which supports his accidental theory.

Despite Roten's views, "this shooting was not a hate crime," Blankner said. "It's unfortunate and he will pay the price. (But) it was accidental."

Roten, who had been drinking and fighting with his girlfriend and friends before the shooting, should be held responsible only for his negligence, Blankner said.

Unexpectedly, Roten's mother took the stand on Thursday to explain why she talked to a witness in the hallway hours before the woman was set to testify.

The mother, Katherine Wooley, asked the witness, Joyce Bierl, if she thought the shooting was a hate crime. Bierl said yes. Apparently neither knew who the other was. Wooley was upset because she was ordered to leave the courtroom during opening statements Thursday.

Wooley is listed as a witness and was instructed earlier in the week by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Ley that she would not be allowed in the courtroom during opening arguments. The same rule applied to Terry Mance.

After taking the stand, Wooley said she did not remember anyone telling her that she could not sit in the courtroom during opening statements.

Ley said she remembered Wooley being in the courtroom earlier this week when she gave that instruction. She told Wooley that talking to witnesses could jeopardize her son's trial.

The judge then warned Wooley that if she talked to anyone else, "I will not give it a second thought and I will bar you from the rest of the trial."

When in the courthouse, Ley said, Wooley is allowed only to talk on the stand, to the judge or to the attorneys.

"So you come and go and you don't speak," Ley said.

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