The Maelstrom Of Justice
A Murder Always Catches More Than Just The Killer And His Victim In Its Sinister Undertow.
By Norah Booth
FEBRUARY 23, 1999: BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Salena Kahl was a lovely child, with interests and talents in writing, drawing and singing. She knew trouble, especially financial hardship, and she suffered from seizures, a mild form of epilepsy. Her parents separated when she was a baby. An only child, she was raised by her mother, Wendy. In an adolescence under extra stress, she had run away once, but, according to friends and family, Salena seemed happy at the start of her freshman year at Amphi High School.
In late October 1995 her living situation--a string of extended stays with friends apart from her mother--was about to end because Wendy had just found an apartment for herself and her daughter. Saturday, October 28, Salena, her brown hair dyed an extreme red, accepted a $10 bill from family friend Sam Taylor, and agreed to meet her mother back at friend Brian Collin's house at 10 p.m. She headed out to Fourth Avenue early in the evening to show off her 'Halloween hair' to friends.
Out to walk my dog, I found Salena's body in the Rillito near Alvernon about 8 a.m. Sunday. Trick or treat.
BRIAN COLLIN, WHO waited along with Wendy for Salena to show up that Saturday night, took her picture with him to Fourth Avenue on November 2.
He walked into Jet Market, a liquor/convenience store no longer in business, and showed the picture to two clerks. Jason Smith told Collin that the guy he'd seen with Salena Saturday night just walked out the door. Collin rushed outside with one of the clerks, who pointed out Jamie Dean Givens, 26. Someone called 911.
Collin followed Givens down the street, eventually coming up behind him and putting his hand on Givens' shoulder so the responding police officer, still in his patrol car, knew whom to approach.
Givens found himself at gunpoint. He did not respond as the officer asked if he'd find any sharp objects in his pockets. The officer found two knives, one a razor knife. He also found a small amount of marijuana and a smoking pipe and arrested Givens on a possession charge. That evening Givens offered the first of two tape-recorded statements to police.
GIVENS SAID HE spent Saturday night with two university women at their friends' apartment. He said he was drinking heavily, and mentioned Sheath Stout, his favorite beer. With his soft Southern accent, it sounds like 'Chief Stout,' which is how it's spelled in the tape transcript. On the way to the County Jail, detectives took Givens around the University area so he could point out the apartment where he said he had been Saturday night. Detective Ken Thompson informed Givens that a girl had been murdered Saturday and her body found in the wash.
Three years later, Givens will weigh approximately 300 pounds, having gained, according to his counsel, 150 pounds in jail, and the defense will claim that Detective Thompson gave Givens specific details of the crime that night.
THE FIRST TIME I get subpoenaed I find it disturbing. Over the next three years so many arrived, I would send back the enclosed card acknowledging receipt, and then toss the subpoena out. Finally, December 1, 1998, I'm the first witness in court.
I found Salena lying face up in a shrub-sheltered spot along the riverbank. She was nude except for a pulled-up T-shirt. Her hands were over her head. Sand covered her face. I saw her bright red hair.
No one asks and I don't tell how long it took me to retrieve these details. For much of these three years I have either not been able to remember a thing, or I have not been able to get the images out of my mind.
Some people think victims and their family and friends want just anybody to hang for the crime that cost them their loved one. This is not my experience. I came as a witness and then stayed for the trial because I wanted to be sure the police had caught the murderer and not just collared some drifter, a convenient someone to pin the crime on. I found this same sentiment shared by Salena's family and friends.
In 1995, John Noble, one of the Jet Market clerks who helped identify Givens, could not pick Givens' picture out of a six-photo line-up.
Three years later at trial the same was true. For the second time, he picked another man's photo.
By the time of the trial, Jason Smith, the other clerk, is dead from an overdose. Prosecutors read to the jury a transcript of Smith's testimony from a prior hearing. During the few weeks Givens had been in Tucson, Smith had brought him to his apartment once. Smith was sure about what he'd seen that Saturday night: Givens with Salena in front of the market.
Toxicology reports showed that Salena had no drugs or alcohol in her system. Autopsy reports could not determine the exact order in which the following was done to Salena:
She took three crushing blows to the back of her head from a heavy, blunt object, creating three open wounds. One or more blows bruised her face over her right eye. She had wounds on the small finger of her right hand and forearm where she probably tried to protect herself. Her attacker cut her long pants and panties off her and a puncture wound from a blade was left inside each thigh. Sexual assault occurred with blunt force--either a penis or a blunt object--leaving tears inside and around her vagina. One of her socks was stuffed in her mouth; the other was still on her foot.
Ultimately, strangulation killed Salena. The courtroom grew silent in horror as the medical examiner displayed the bootlace, from Salena's own boot, which he had cut from her throat. The bootlace had been wrapped tightly around her neck--it was barely large enough to accommodate Salena's wrist--and then tied in a knot.
POLICE IMPOUNDED THE car owned by Givens' girlfriend, Keri Dahlquist. It had been home to her and Givens the few weeks they'd been in Tucson. Investigators dusted it for fingerprints. They placed sticky tape over the upholstery to pick up loose bits of anything that could be examined under a microscope. They vacuumed the rest of the car.
A technician using heat-vaporized super glue even tried to lift fingerprints from Salena's body.
These efforts yielded nothing. No fingerprints in the car matched Salena's. The experts found none of her hair. They testified that it's common not to find victims' hair and incriminating fibers at a crime scene.
A beer bottle taken from near the body had prints that did not match Givens or Salena. The prosecution argued the bottle was trivial, that it could have been anybody's.
Several shoe prints taken at the crime scene also had no match.
While some matched Salena's boots, none matched Givens' shoes. According to police records, at the time of his arrest Givens was wearing a pair of sandals. Experts testified these probably wouldn't have left much of a mark in the riverbed sand.
Likewise none of Givens' hairs were recovered from Salena's corpse.
In the panties that had been cut off and left beside her was one hair, which did not match either Salena or Givens. The prosecution said this could have come from anywhere; the defense maintained it belonged to the real killer.
Days after the arrest, investigators told Dahlquist, a.k.a. Dolphin, she could pick up her car at the police station. When she saw the old Ford LTD she had bought for $900 from Givens' uncle, it was covered inside and out with fingerprint dust. She just walked away.
The police eventually found the University students Givens mentioned on his first night in custody. He'd pointed out the wrong apartment in the right area. The young women corroborated Givens' story, but for the wrong night: Friday night, not Saturday. One of the young ladies--we'll call her Clueless--testified she woke up before dawn Saturday morning on the living room floor next to Givens. Her girlfriend slept nearby on the couch. What wakened Clueless was Givens pulling down her pants. Then, she said, she felt his penis probing her from behind. She called him 'persistent,' but said he stopped when she made it clear--by moving away from him--that she wanted him to stop.
Givens jumped up just after dawn, saying he had to be somewhere. Clueless kissed him, she said, adding he left with her phone number in his pocket because she wasn't afraid of him. She testified he seemed like 'a regular guy.'
There were other people in the house sleeping upstairs, and they had all shared some beer. According to testimony, none of them had more than a few drinks Friday night. Givens didn't talk about strange dreams, or of monsters chasing him, according to Clueless--a point that would become important as the evidence unfolded.
Givens' aunt from Georgia testified she'd spoken to him several times on the phone just after his arrest. At first he told her he was being held for marijuana possession. He called back a few days later to say it was murder. The aunt talked to Dolphin, who said the police had taken a semen sample from the murder victim. When his aunt asked him if the police were going to find his semen in that girl, Givens, according to the aunt's testimony, started crying.
ON NOVEMBER 7, 1995, Tucson Police Detectives Ken Thompson and Brenda Woolridge had a second and final tape-recorded session with Givens. This time Givens told a different story. In rambling and bizarre fashion, Givens responded to the interrogation pressure.
Thompson told Givens he had footprints from the wash. Givens said he'd been camping there, so his prints would probably be there. Except Thompson hadn't told him where Salena had been found. Givens gave hallucinatory-sounding details of the crime scene: 'lots of bushes--a small fire--a treehouse.'
Thompson said he had hair and fibers from the car and said he thought they were going to match this young girl. He mentioned DNA. Givens brought up the name 'Ace' and went on like Ace was the killer and Givens had just been watching. Thompson told Givens that Ace could not have been there because they knew Ace was in New Mexico. Givens changed directions in his story and started talking about bad dreams and how messed up he was that night--how drunk, how stoned, how his father had beaten him as a child, how these monsters had been chasing him all his life. The tape ended abruptly.
The defense went after Thompson. Wasn't it his practice to Mirandize on tape? Thompson testified he'd read Givens his rights to silence and a court-appointed lawyer, but had not recorded himself reciting Miranda.
Defense Lawyer James Stuehringer made a list of all the details of the crime that Givens did not mention: the sock in the mouth, the T-shirt pulled up, the cut-off panties, the green pants, a list of 19 items in all. Indeed, the details Givens offered about the crime scene were ones anyone who had camped at that site might know.
JUDGE ROBERT DONFELD was trying the first murder case of his career.
With no jury present, prosecutor Susan Eazer objected to the defense's tactics. She argued Givens' attorneys had opened the door to the last 13 pages of his tape-recorded statement. Givens said on tape, 'I don't wanna talk no more,' but the detectives pressed on. Because these last pages clearly represented a Miranda violation, they had not been admitted in court.
However, the defense claimed in opening arguments that Givens knew 'nothing about the crime other than what the wash looks like.' The lawyers argued over case law; 'This is not an easy decision to make,' Judge Donfeld said.
The judge reversed his decision, saying there were no 'curative instructions' he could give the jury for the impression the defense created: the remainder of the statement would be admitted.
At this point, co-counsel for the defense, Laura Udall, who had made the opening remarks, rose from her chair and with agitated voice and gestures said, 'We might as well stick the needle in his arm right now.'
'I'll take that as a heat-of-battle remark,' Donfeld responded.
The defense moved for a mistrial based on its ineffective counsel, but Donfeld denied the motion, and the jury heard the last of the tape and Givens' wild, but much more specific, talk about strangling a monster by tying something thin around its neck, and then burying its face in the sand.
'I see a monster--I put sand on it--I don't remember putting anything in its mouth--remember praying over the top of it. I mean, I don't even know what language I was talking in--put sand on it, earth, earth--on the face--to bury it , get it away from me, that it would stay there and not come after me again--I don't know. I choked it with something--Rope or something. I don't know, maybe a vine. I ain't sure--I think I just wrapped it around and tied it--I don't even remember having sex with her--Look man, I just tied it on and put sand over its face--I thought when it was buried, maybe that it would be gone--I may have done something to this girl--I killed something,' Givens said on the tape.
A jubilant Eazer made a list of 21 details about the crime Givens did know.
The defense countered that in at least 50 places Givens tearfully responded to questions with 'I don't know.'
The prosecution's petition to a higher court--requesting that Givens' prior arrest records, mostly for minor drug offenses, be read in court to show that he was familiar with Miranda rights--was denied.
Basically, the defense claimed the detectives had off-tape conversations with Givens during which they fed him details of the murder, which he later gave back on tape. Givens complained about being given the drug Thorazine at the time of his second statement. A jailhouse nurse testified he was given no prescription drugs.
KERI DAHLQUIST AND Jamie Givens met in Santa Cruz, California. During the two years they lived and traveled together, they attended a Rainbow gathering in New Mexico, visited with her family in Orange County, stayed with his aunt's family in Georgia, and stopped by his grandmother's in Texas before coming to Tucson. A street person told them Fourth Avenue was a good place to hang out. Within a day or two of their arrival, someone showed them a secluded area in the Rillito near the end of Alvernon.
Police followed Dolphin down the path she and Givens took to the river, and then to the scene of the crime, where she sat down almost exactly where Salena's body was found. 'Here,' she said. 'This is where we camped.'
The night Salena disappeared, Givens had left Dolphin alone on Fourth Avenue for the second night in a row. But this time not only was he gone, so was her car. Givens didn't have a license, Keri testified, and made no money while they were in Tucson. In fact, he hadn't made much money since she'd known him.
That Saturday night, she met up with a male acquaintance and was preparing to sleep on the street at Fourth near University when Givens showed up between 11:30 and midnight. No one had watches and no one knew exact times. 'Where have you been?' she testified he asked her.
They walked to Jet Market, where he bought cigarettes. She asked him where he'd gotten the money and he said he'd used her car to give a jump-start to some guy who handed him a beer and a few bucks in exchange. This detail was important to the prosecution, who pointed out that there was no money in Salena's pockets when she was found.
Instead of sleeping on the street, Jamie Givens, Dolphin, and their acquaintance, Mole, drove to Mole's girlfriend's place. There Givens seemed normal, according to Dolphin. After 15 minutes of conversation, Dolphin asked if they could get a shower. Givens rushed into the bathroom and was in the shower before Dolphin entered the bathroom.
That night he slept peacefully in her arms.
After his arrest, Givens wrote several letters to Dolphin. In one he claimed he had multiple personalities and that maybe 'Daniel' had gotten him in trouble.
Dolphin testified to a fact crucial to the prosecution. Givens has a normal scrotum, but extremely small testicles.
A medical expert explained such a condition meant that Givens was 'most probably' azospermatic, that is, unable to produce sperm. The prosecution failed in its attempt to introduce photos of Givens' genitalia in court.
'It's a guy thing,' is how Salena's mother, who had endured the courtroom photo displays of her nude, dead daughter, interpreted the ruling. Wendy was often unable to attend court. It was too painful.
A couple, former residents of the neighborhood near Alvernon and the Rillito, said they saw Dolphin's car parked in front of their house as late as 11:15 on that Saturday night. They identified Dolphin's vehicle at the police station in the week following Salena's death.
When the trial began, I kept thinking that if this was indeed the man who had committed the violence whose aftermath I witnessed, he was bound to reveal himself at some point.
THE PROSECUTION HAD another witness--an inmate who claimed Givens had made a jailhouse confession to him. Nine days into this month-long trial, Mr. White, we'll call him, was in a lone cell downstairs at the courthouse waiting to testify when Givens was placed in a nearby holding cell during lunch recess.
'Jamie, is that you?' witnesses said White called out.
'Jaime, it's Jaime,' Givens answered.
Three other prisoners, in court for their respective trials, heard Givens claim he had money and suggest he'd pay for White not testifying. White ended the conversation.
According to the others, an angry Givens next turned to a prisoner we'll call Red, offering him $25,000 to strangle White, slit his throat, and rip out his voice box.
Well versed in the system from a long list of felony priors and deals-for-testimony for the state, Red told his lawyer after lunch that he was willing to testify about Givens' bribe offer and threat--if the prosecution would cut him a deal concerning his sentence. A deposition followed, but the prosecution offered no deal. Red refused to testify and Donfeld sentenced him to an additional six months in jail for contempt.
WHITE, THE JAILHOUSE snitch, took the stand to testify he'd spent two weeks with Givens under suicide watch in January 1997. The first reason White gave to his lawyer for testifying was that Givens was 'a fucking animal' who did not belong free in our society. His second reason was that he wanted to cut a deal.
According to White, Givens had told him he'd 'met a girl on Fourth Avenue. They got to talking and he asked her if she wanted to go smoke a joint in his car. He wanted to take her to a place in the Rillito where the cops wouldn't bother them. He tried to get in her pants. She said no; she was on her period. Givens said this pissed him off. He hit her. He told her if she didn't get off of it, he was going to fuck her up. He told her that one way or another, he was going to get in her pants. She made gurgling noises like she was struggling. He couldn't stand that. That noise was really bothering him. He strangled her. 'Fucking right, I killed that bitch.' He lay on top of her. He said it felt good to him. But he couldn't stand her eyes. So he covered her face with sand. He cut her ugly fuckin' green pants off, stuffed them between her legs and went home. Said he slept like a baby. He said he had everyone believing he was crazy and he was going to beat the case. He said he wasn't crazy then, and he wasn't crazy now.'
And, in a part of White's statement not available to the jury, he said Givens told him he would do the same thing again. What's more, White said, Givens said he'd like to do this to prosecutor Eazer.
The defense claimed White knew details of the case--including the date of October 29, 1995, and how to spell Salena's last name, Kahl, because he'd stolen and read Givens' court papers. White said he memorized what Givens told him, he knew the date because Givens had said it was Halloween weekend; he had several explanations for why he chose the correct spelling of Salena's name.
'You have,' Stuehringer said, 'a history of lying, cheating, stealing.'
'I'm not lying now,' White replied.
After his testimony, with the jury in recess, White was ordered under protective custody to await transfer to prison in another state.
THERE WAS ONE spot of semen mixed with Salena's blood recovered from her T-shirt. After the prosecutor's last-minute appeal to a higher court, the jury was informed that DNA testing was attempted on the spot, but was inconclusive. There was more to the story.
The prosecution's test of the T-shirt sample showed it belonged to an azospermatic.
Even without the presence of sperm, DNA was still present in the fluid. The prosecution petitioned a semen sample from Givens, who refused, claiming he'd found religion in jail and it was against his beliefs to masturbate. The court upheld his right to refusal. His jailers, however, retrieved a towel from the jail that contained Givens' semen. Since no invasive technique was used to get this sample, it became admissible in court.
Givens was housed at the time with another inmate. The prosecution wanted no chance of confusion. Guards obtained a second towel from a time when Givens was housed alone. Both samples showed Givens was azospermatic.
The defense argued that many men are azospermatic.
There was, however, information the jury never heard. DNA 'markers' from the T-shirt spot were 'insufficient to report' and could not be admitted in court. But, according to Det. Woolridge and prosecutor Eazer, these markers matched Givens' semen from the towel samples.
The defense requested its own DNA testing with the total sample. Donfeld obliged. After an eight-month delay for appeal, the entire swatch of cloth that held the tiny, crusty spot was awarded to the defense. In August 1998, the defense investigator literally walked away with the evidence in a plastic bag. Not required to reveal results of any testing, they did not.
'You know,' Woolridge said, 'if they had found anything that would have helped Givens, they would have brought it into court.'
During the three years this case had been tied up in legal maneuverings, a new method for testing DNA became available. However, it takes several months to accomplish. When the defense returned the sample one month before the trial date, the prosecution did not request another trial delay for testing, saying Donfeld had indicated he wouldn't grant further delay in the case. Besides, prosecutors said, they were no longer sure the sample would be free of contamination.
The rest of the trial brought more defense witnesses, but little that helped Givens.
The defense brought in an expert in false confessions, Dr. Richard Ofshe, at an initial cost to the taxpayers of about $29,000. Ofshe spent a torturous two days on the stand-going over the transcript of Givens' statements to police practically line by line.
Ofshe testified that nothing in Givens' testimony led him to believe Givens had knowledge of the crime. He thought Givens did not give the kinds of details he'd consider to be free of the detectives' contamination.
When Eazer pointed out that 73 percent of the court cases in which he had testified for the defense resulted in convictions, Ofshe snapped, 'So what?' This remark prompted several jurors to write 'What a JERK,' and 'Get him out of here' on their note pads. Ofshe was Givens' best and major defense.
THE JURY SPENT about 10 hours over three days deliberating the case. On Tuesday, December 30, word went out there was a verdict. Salena's mother and some friends had been waiting at the courthouse; others rushed to get there. Sue Eazer had her two children with her. They sat at the back, and once, when she passed by, her 6-year-old whispered loudly, 'Mommy, is he killed yet?' It was a false alarm--the jury wasn't ready. We returned the next morning.
All 12 jurors found Givens guilty of first-degree murder and 11 found him guilty of felony murder involving sex with a minor.
Givens, whose mother and grandmother attended the first week of court, was alone as the verdict was handed up, except for Udall, who offered the tearful man comfort. Givens didn't rise as the jury left. He didn't look at anyone in the public seats. But as he was led out of court past Sue Eazer, he hissed at her, 'I'll get you someday.'
Afterwards one juror said it was the simple things, like the car being identified in the neighborhood that night, that convinced her, along with the way details of the crime scene connected with Givens. An empty water bottle found in the car supported the prosecution contention that Givens had washed up after the assault, leaving a water stain on the sand near the body. Givens had mentioned a water stain on the tape. They also thought an unidentified footprint from the crime scene looked like a sandal print with toes coming over the top.
The jurors hated Ofshe. They were angered at the expense of this witness. While they liked White, many discounted his testimony because he was a felon and because the defense had raised questions about his testimony-for-probation deal. The T-shirt spot convinced them of the felony sex charge.
'It all just fit together,' one juror explained.
After the verdict, jurors were invited to Judge Donfeld's chambers. One told him how sleepless some of her nights had been and indirectly asked his verdict in the case. She said Donfeld considered, and then said, 'If I were you, I'd go home and sleep like a baby.'
GIVENS, WHO SAYS his 'spiritual name' is One Dog Walking, now has his whereabouts documented for the last few years, and police know of four women who disappeared while he was in their areas. Two were found strangled. Two have never been found. One of the missing, a young member of the Rainbow Tribe, according to Woolridge, bears a striking resemblance to Clueless, the UA student Givens was with the night before Salena was murdered. Just another coincidence, perhaps.
Don't think this case is over. Appeals will be filed and continue for years at enormous expense. If the death sentence were overturned--always a possibility--then the entire process would start over again.
PERSONALLY, NOTHING ABOUT this experience has felt very good. I sent a message of condolence to Salena's family, and as a result, was invited to view her body before she was cremated. I now have the good fortune to count Salena's remarkable mother, who endures the unendurable, as a friend.
I've met Salena's girlfriends at a rally of Parents of Murdered Children and watched as they gossiped and giggled during the speeches. I kept thinking Salena should have been somewhere else with her friends at that time, just being a girl.
Although I received some helpful counseling from the Pima County Attorney's Victim Witness Program, life is different for me now. The casualness with which violence is accepted--on TV, in movies, in books--is intolerable to me now. I blanch and feel nauseous at what so frequently passes as entertainment.
Of course my discomfort over my role in this murder case is nothing compared to the lifelong fire of grief that now burns in Salena's mother and family. With all the money spent on this conviction, it's notable that there's practically no compensation for a victim's family.
And while it seems that everything and everyone worked to capture and convict Givens, this amazing business of American justice repeats. The murder of Salena Kahl was just one of 94 homicides in Pima County in 1995, with Tucson setting a record of 65. In 1998 Tucson had 60 homicides and unincorporated Pima County a record 32, for a total of 92.
Norah Booth has a masters degree in journalism from the UA. She teaches writing at Pima Community College, the Extended University, and at an after-school program for Tucson Pima Arts Council.
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