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    Mother: I was 'very scared'

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2000


    LARGO -- Self-avowed skinhead Jessy Joe Roten knew detectives were soon going to search his room hours after the shooting that killed 6-year-old Ashley Mance, prosecutors say.

    In his cluttered room, Roten had left his bomber jacket stuffed with 84 live rounds of high-velocity bullets for his Chinese assault rifle, the gun that police said killed Ashley and wounded her two sisters.

    So as Roten waited with detectives elsewhere, he managed to talk to his mother by telephone while police weren't listening.

    "He told me to get rid of the jacket," his mother, Katherine Wooley, testified on Monday. After she asked why, he told her, "Just get rid of it," she said. So with police still combing her neighborhood north of St. Petersburg, Wooley put the jacket out by the trash with some other clothing.

    "Were you scared?" a prosecutor asked her.

    "Very scared."

    Prosecutors are expected to rest their case today in Roten's second-degree murder trial. Jurors may begin deliberations by Wednesday. Roten, now 19, also faces two attempted murder charges in the wounding of Ashley's twin sister, Aleesha, and their half-sister, Jailene Jones, in the April 3, 1999, shooting.

    The felonies are charged as hate crimes, and Roten faces life in prison if convicted as charged.

    Prosecutors Bill Loughery and Lydia Wardell say Roten fired into the Mance home because he abhorred interracial couples. Ashley's father, Terry Mance, is black and lived in the home with his white fiancee, Tracy Townsend. The couple has married.

    Police later found the bomber jacket in the trash and then recovered the high-powered rifle in Wooley's garage.

    Wooley said her son had hugged her as sheriff's detectives arrested him. She said Roten had told her, "Mom, I'm not a murderer."

    She told jurors that her son admitted to her that he had fired some shots into the air two hours before the shooting, not long after he broke up with his girlfriend.

    After drinking some vodka, Wooley said, Roten told her he took the rifle out again. But this time, she said, her son said he had fired a round into Ashley's house by accident as he tried to fold the gun's stock.

    But prosecutors noted that her son told Wooley that he had beenpointing the gun at the ground, which couldn't explain the bullet fired into the home.

    George Harvell, 20, the friend who had sold Roten the rifle just a week or two before the shooting, testified that he and Roten considered themselves skinheads who didn't look well upon interracial couples.

    "We did believe it was important for white people to know where they came from," Harvell said.

    Under questioning by defense attorney Greg Pond, Harvell said Roten never avowed violence toward minority groups.

    Defense lawyers say Roten's act wasn't a hate crime. Instead, they said, he was simply angry after an argument with his girlfriend, Dana Molina, when he took the rifle into an alley behind his house and fired an accidental shot.

    Molina, 19, testified wearing a bright yellow wig to cover her short-cropped hair for a national audience watching the trial live on Court TV.

    She testified that her relationship with Roten had been on the rocks. The night of the shooting, Roten was especially angry that she had ignored his wishes and cut her hair short.

    As detectives arrested Roten,he shook uncontrollably, telling her, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Molina told jurors.

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