Suspect in girls' shooting called skinhead
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK and ED QUIOCO
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 1999
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jessy Joe Roten, charged with first-degree, premeditated murder after firing an assault rifle into a home Saturday and killing a 6-year-old girl, is a self-proclaimed skinhead who collected neo-Nazi, racist paraphernalia, police said Sunday.
As they investigated the Saturday morning shooting, sheriff's deputies searched the 17-year-old's bedroom, taking away items such as books, swastikas and personal drawings, said his mother and stepfather, Katherine and Paul Wooley.
"It's completely empty," Mrs. Wooley said Sunday.
The Pinellas-Pasco state attorney will decide whether to bring hate crime charges against Roten, said Pinellas County sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.
Roten's parents said they do not share their son's views, and they urged the public not to judge their son too quickly. They insisted that the shooting, which occurred early Saturday in a neighborhood of modest homes just north of St. Petersburg, was accidental.
"He says it wasn't a deliberate thing," Mrs. Wooley said from her home at 3146 57th Ave. N. "He didn't mean to do it." She began to cry.
"My heart goes out to the wounded child," she said. "I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen."
The fatal shooting occurred about 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Angry from two arguments earlier in the evening with friends, according to deputies, Roten went into the alley behind his house and shot numerous rounds from an SKS semiautomatic assault rifle.
Bullets entered the home at 5630 31st St. N, where four little girls were sleeping. Three bullet holes could be seen in the outside wall Sunday. Neighbors said they saw deputies picking up evidence about 20 feet from the house.
Ashley Mance, 6, died where she slept. Her twin sister, Aleesha, was hit in the shoulder. Another sister, 4-year-old Jailene Jones, was grazed by a bullet. Their half sister, Kaaluh Mance, 2, was unharmed.
Roten has been charged with two counts of attempted murder in addition to the first-degree murder charge.
The victims' families spent Easter at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, gathered at the bedside of Aleesha, who was upgraded to fair condition from critical. She spent much of the day watching cartoons, unaware her twin was dead, said her great-grandmother, Mae Clark.
The family found it difficult to accept the violence as an accident.
"He's a sick boy. He's got to have a sick mind," Clark said of the girl's killer. "That was a stupid thing for him to do. I feel like I lost everything I had."
"This doesn't seem like Easter to me," she said.
Donald Green, who is the uncle of the twins' father, Terry Mance, said four people who lived nearby shouted racial insults at Mance and his fiancee, Tracy Townsend, when the interracial couple moved into the neighborhood about a year ago.
"Skinheads" told the couple to move out of the area, Green said. "I'm hopeful this thing can be upgraded to a hate crime. We need to send a message to everyone who thinks the way (Roten) does."
Meanwhile, the 4-year-old who witnessed the shooting, Jailene Jones, has been asking where her sister, Ashley, has gone. The family doesn't want to explain it yet.
"She's going to miss her sister," Clark said.
The twins were first-graders at Sandy Lane Elementary School in Clearwater, said Anthony Reidy, the school's principal. A crisis team of guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists will be at the school today to help students and classmates.
"They were good students," Reidy said. "They were well-dressed, well-mannered ... neat kids to have in your classrooms."
Vera Harris, 10, who lives next to Ashley and Aleesha in an apartment complex on Kings Highway in Clearwater where the twins' mother lives, described the twins as "exact opposites."
"Aleesha was quiet sometimes, but Ashley was always quiet," said Vera, a fifth-grader at Sandy Lane Elementary. "Ashley was my fifth best friend. (Ashley) liked to play with baby dolls and she liked to ride her bike around the complex.
"They never did anything bad. I told my mommy I was scared."
Early Sunday, Roten had his first court appearance, via a live video feed from the county's juvenile detention center. The thin, muscular young man said little, except to answer queries from Circuit Judge Raymond Gross with "Yes, sir" and "No, sir."
For now, Roten will be held at the juvenile center without the option of posting bail. The Wooleys aren't sure if they can afford a private attorney. Mrs. Wooley packages eyeglass lenses for a living. Her husband builds furniture for fast food chains.
The couple moved to Florida about 31/2 years ago to find better jobs than they had in Colorado. Several months later, Roten moved in with them. He had been living with his father in Amarillo, Texas, but the two clashed. His father could not be reached for comment.
Roten had a rocky time here, too, attending two St. Petersburg high schools. He got into a few fights, based on his skinhead beliefs, his mother said, but his family never perceived him as violent.
About two years ago, he earned his high school equivalency certificate. He was paying rent to live at home with his girlfriend while working at Metal Culverts in Largo. His mother pasted photos of him in her "brag book." They show him smiling on vacation or posing with drawings he had sketched.
Roten hung out with a group of friends who described themselves as skinheads, his family said. The group went to ranges to practice shooting and partied on weekends.
"It seemed like he needed somewhere to belong," said Mrs. Wooley.
Late Friday, Roten argued with his girlfriend and fought with a male friend at a party in Pinellas Park, his family said.
Deputies say Roten left the party in a rage, went home to get his semiautomatic rifle, and fired about a dozen shots in the alley. He told his parents that the shots that hit the house were fired accidentally.
Saturday afternoon, Roten permitted a search of his room, where authorities found a .30-caliber bullet similar to a dozen spent rounds of ammunition found in the alley, his mother said.
Paul Wooley was helping deputies search the garage when they picked up a piece of restaurant furniture and found the rifle hidden underneath.
"I was shocked," Wooley said.
The semiautomatic Norinco rifle, which was manufactured in China, is legal in the United States -- if it was imported before new guns laws went into effect and if it has not been illegally converted into a more formidable weapon, said Carlos Baixauli, a special agent in the Tampa office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Roten told deputies he acquired the gun about three weeks ago from a friend. But at 17, Baixauli said, Roten is not old enough yet to legally buy such a weapon.