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    Girl's neo-Nazi killer convicted

    The 19-year-old, who also injured the child's sister, could be sent to prison for life on the murder and hate crime charges.

    [Times photos: Boyzell Hosey]
    Aleesha Mance, 8, hurt in the shooting, and her mother, Yahaira Carattini, front, are hugged by victim advocate Ramona Merritt.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2000


    LARGO -- Eight-year-old Aleesha Mance knew him as the "bad guy," the man from her nightmares. Now, he stood just 10 feet away.

    Aleesha looked up into her mother's face, unsure why she was crying.

    photo
    Jessy Joe Roten shot into the home of an interracial couple last year.
    The "bad guy," Jessy Joe Roten, a self-avowed skinhead who killed Aleesha's twin sister with a shot from an assault rifle, the neo-Nazi who nearly killed Aleesha with the same shot, stood impassively, staring straight ahead.

    After deliberating eight hours, a jury Thursday found the 19-year-old Roten guilty of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the April 1999 shooting that killed 6-year-old Ashley Mance.

    Jurors, rejecting a call by defense attorneys to convict him of the lesser crime of manslaughter, also decided that Roten's act was a hate crime. That enhances the potential penalty he faces when sentenced next month.

    "Aleesha really knows what's going on," said her father, Terry Mance. "As far as she knows, the bad guy has been sent away never to harm her again."

    Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Ley set sentencing for Nov. 30. Roten faces a maximum term of life in prison without parole.

    As the verdict was announced, Roten displayed no emotion. He nodded politely at the judge as she set his sentencing and quickly wiped the black ink from his fingers after bailiffs fingerprinted him.

    His attorney, Buck Blankner, put a consoling arm on his shoulder and whispered in his ear.

    Ashley and Aleesha's father found himself surrounded by TV cameras after the verdict, his children looking on in astonishment at the display.

    He said the chest wound that nearly killed Aleesha has healed, but the emotional scars linger.

    "She's seen a lot more than most grownups like us can deal with," said her father, who wore a T-shirt with a picture of his four children, including Ashley, that said, "Together throughout eternity."

    Yahaira Carattini, mother of the children, said of Roten:

    "I don't hate him. This will open a lot of people's minds to think before they do things. . . . Everybody's the same inside, whatever their color."

    Roten's mother, Katherine Wooley, sat behind him through most of the trial but wasn't present when the verdict was read.

    The shooting occurred on April 3, 1999. Roten, who had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend and into a fight with a friend, had returned to his home north of St. Petersburg.

    He grabbed his SKS Chinese assault rifle and dozens of armor-piercing bullets.

    At 2:30 a.m., he fired a volley of shots into the air as he stood near the Mance home. Two hours later, he returned to the alley behind his parents' house, walked past 10 other homes and fired a single shot into Mance's home.

    Prosecutors Bill Loughery and Lydia Wardell say Roten knew that Mance was a black man living with his then-fiancee, Tracy Townsend, who is white. The couple have since married.

    Roten, prosecutors say, particularly abhorred interracial unions.

    The single shot traveling at twice the speed of sound hit Aleesha, drove through her chest and exited, then nicked the ear of her half sister, 4-year-old Jailene Jones. The bullet then struck and killed Ashley.

    Loughery told jurors: "Mr. Roten's whole world was being a skinhead. That was the focus of his life. Not just a skinhead, but a neo-Nazi, white supremacist.

    The bullet was Roten's "calling card," Loughery said.

    Defense lawyers say Roten fired the shot by accident as he tried to fold the stock of his gun. The rifle discharged as he did so, they said.

    Blankner, Roten's lead counsel, acknowledged Roten was a skinhead, but he told jurors that Roten did not fire the shot to send a message to an interracial couple.

    "He did a reckless, dangerous, bone-headed, stupid, stupid thing," Blankner said during closing arguments. "And he's going to pay for it."

    Roten, he said, was simply a love-struck 17-year-old angry at his girlfriend. He noted that Roten left 24 rounds in the assault rifle's magazine. If Roten had targeted Mance, Blankner said, he would have emptied the gun at the house.

    But Loughery said Roten was old enough to know one thing.

    Said the prosecutor, "He was old enough to know better."

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