John, Barry, J

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Episode four: In Calera, John was known as J the Phone Guy. But it was just the latest in a web of personas. After years of run-ins with the law, John landed back in Alabama, living next to a father he barely knew.


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Ethan Powell, Sharon, Shane, Christine, Casey, Liz Flock

Ethan Powell  00:10

Yeah, just grab a chair, wherever you want. That one’s got a cooler if you brought drinks. We got drinks. You don’t mind if I drink. What’s left of it?

Liz Flock  00:30

It’s a warm September night and Hoover, Alabama. We’re in an RV park next to a big baseball stadium. I’m sitting on a plastic lawn chair with Ethan Powell right next to his trailer. He’s got his beer in one hand, and he needs it. Because we’re about to talk about something painful and bittersweet. His friendship with John, or as Ethan knew him, Jay.

Liz Flock  00:52

So, Jay.

Liz Flock  00:56

Yeah. Thanks for talking to us. How did you meet Jay?

Ethan Powell  01:01

So I met Jay, shortly after he arrived in Alabama. And he was working that consignment deal at the gas station. It’s close now you pass it on your way there. But it’s the used to be the county line. He was fixing cell phones and computers.

Liz Flock  01:23

Ethan was a regular at the gas station. So he and John ran into each other a lot. And from the start, they just hit it off. John was the nicest guy Ethan says, hard working too.

Ethan Powell  01:35

I mean, the man came down here, you know from New York City, with like 10 bucks and iPhone three.

Liz Flock  01:43

John arrived and Alabama in 2013. And with him, of course, was Deven, thanks to her split second decision to escape life up North, including the pressure from her family and the failures of her past. It was a while before Ethan got to really know John and Deven. In the beginning, All he knew was that they were trying to build a new life from scratch in Calera.

Ethan Powell  02:06

And then, you know, meeting and then passing there a lot and just talking to him, we became pretty close.

Liz Flock  02:14

So when John mentioned that he and Deven needed a place to live, Ethan was more than happy to help out by selling them a camper. Later he would also sell John and Deven some guns. How many guns did Jay have?

Ethan Powell  02:28

I know of two. The one that he got arrested with. And the one that killed him.

Liz Flock  02:39

This is Blind Plea. I’m your host Liz Flock. Ethan says he and his ex-wife Dese, who you heard from an episode one probably knew John and Devon better than anyone else down at Clara. But even so.

Ethan Powell  03:01

I felt like I didn’t know I didn’t know a certain side of him as far as who he was before Alabama. But I felt like I knew who he was here.

Liz Flock  03:17

John was complex. Throughout my reporting, I found that he could be one thing to one person and something completely different to another. He had a web of personas, depending on who I spoke to. John was a genius. An angel, a manipulator. I wanted to know more about John so I could understand what set him on the path that ultimately led to his death. And to find out if the system failed him just like it failed Deven. To do that. We have to unravel his past beginning with his childhood and Alabama. It was 1986, he was 8 months old.

Christine  03:55

Jim’s amazing. Just big chunky. We used to call him bubba. And you know, as a kid smart. He didn’t talk a lot when he was very young. He mostly absorbed stuff.

Liz Flock  04:11

This is John’s mom, Christine Leone. She’s a New Yorker, not an Alabamian. But she married one. Henry Vance, John’s father. That’s how Christine, Henry, John and John’s older sister Casey ended up on the Vance family property and Calera, the same land where John and Devon would later live. They stayed with Henry’s mom for a while who everyone called mama cat. But something about mama cats house unsettled, Christine.

Christine  04:40

We had one of the bedrooms in there and it was a weird. I felt like there was a presence of spiritual presence in the house. Anyway, I’m going from one room to the other room bedroom to the bathroom. And every time I passed that very spot, I would get a chill or it would be very hot. Or it was just a very odd sensation in that spot.

Liz Flock  05:03

One evening, while mama cat Henry and some friends were drinking around the table, Christine’s curiosity got the best of her.

Christine  05:12

I go what the hell is going on in this house? Like is it like part of the wall missing? Is the float like what is it because it was hot in Alabama like you’re why do I feel chills in this area?

Liz Flock  05:24

Henry explained that’s where mama cats husband Billy died back in 1977.

Christine  05:29

And then she said I shot him. I shot him dead.

Liz Flock  05:34

So it must have been a relief when Christine and Henry secure their own trailer to live in on the Vance property away from Mama cats haunted house.

Christine  05:43

We lived in one of them their trailers with that wooden furniture with all the big brown flowers on them that you see in memes, too. You know what I’m talking about? We had that whole set. We had that whole friggin set.

Liz Flock  05:57

Even though the land was overgrown, Christine and Henry made it their own. They cultivated a small farm with chickens, cows and pigs. John’s older sister Casey remembers those early days, spending hours playing outside together.

Casey  06:12

We were really really close. We were we only got apart so we were really really close.

Liz Flock  06:17

Casey says she had a horse named strawberry and John had a go kart. What would John do with the go kart?

Casey  06:24

He was really good. Like he knew how to ride that shit. I didn’t. I literally must cut my head off. One time I tried it didn’t work out.

Liz Flock  06:33

Live animals playing on the sprawling and wild land. It sounds like an idyllic upbringing. But Henry’s presence casts a shadow over their childhoods. What was he like as a dad?

Casey  06:46

He was okay. But he was he was hard. Like, he was like one of them hard southern dads. Like you want to swim out teach you how to swim, you throw him in a creek, you know, kind of shit. But he was beer drinking, truck driving, dog fighting, fighting, sort of a bitch. And I think he wanted my son to grow up like that.

Liz Flock  07:09

Henry had always been rough that way. Christine met him back in 1983. And he made a strong first impression. She had been working in Manhattan as a photographer when she needed a change of scenery. On a whim, she flew out to Florida to stay with her sister Fran and her sister’s boyfriend Larry. She was only 21 years old.

Casey  07:28

They picked me up from the airport, Larry and Fran, I go in there with my photo equipment, because that’s what I had with me and some clothes, get in the backseat. And they’re talking, hey, we’re gonna go to wherever we’re gonna go. And Larry goes hey by the way. That’s Henry. And I turned around and I look, and all I could think of now is he reared his ugly head from the back of the car, because he had really very long hair and long beard, and he looked like a Viking. And I go, who you he goes I’m the man your mama warned you about like oh my god. So yeah, so I was intrigued, but then not too long into, you know, hanging out, we became a couple and then then he got physically abusive.

Liz Flock  08:17

Christine says Henry would beat her up regularly. One time when they still lived in Florida. She says he gave her a traumatic brain injury. She wanted to leave the relationship. But once she found out she was pregnant with Casey, she stayed with him. And soon enough, Christine was on her way to the Vance family property and Calera with Henry Casey and John, who is just eight months old. She says the abuse escalated there. And over the next six years, it became more and more apparent that she had to get out.

Christine  08:48

You’d have a different perspective of life. When you have a child, you definitely have a different perspective because they’re tiny humans, that they’re being exposed to your, whatever you’re into, like, whatever life is like, they’re grown up watching that shit and thinking it’s okay to live that way. And after a while, I was like, this is insane. I can’t live like this.

Liz Flock  09:12

After a few failed attempts to leave, Christine finally made a break for it. With her, she took John and Casey who were six and seven and fled Calera.

Christine  09:22

That was the last time I was ever going to let him beat the shit out of me in front of my kids. I’ve did not want to die. I felt like I was going to die. If I didn’t leave. All my kids going to watch him kill me. No way I’m done. I said grab anything that means whatever to you. And we are running and me and the kids ran through the woods, but I have to beg.

Liz Flock  09:47

They stayed in shelters as they journeyed north. They made it to Ballston spa in New York, where Christine and the kids lived with another sister for a bit, then eventually got their own place nearby.

Christine  09:58

I was free. I was so free was like so. Like I couldn’t believe it. But I was I was very, I still was scared because he always said he would find me and kill me if I have left them.

Liz Flock  10:10

Christine says a friend gave her a shotgun for protection, just in case. She says she felt like Sarah Connor in The Terminator walking around corners of the house with a 12 gauge. Did you ever hear from him about what his reaction was or anything?

Christine  10:25

No, I they killed the dogs. We had beauty was a pitbull boxer mix and there was meat. He was about 125 pound Staffordshire Terrier. And we had to leave them. And when I finally did get in touch with him, I he told me that they killed them. They killed the dogs.

Liz Flock  10:57

Christina’s tough. She’s had to be to survive. But in moments like this one, she let her guard down. I asked Casey about that time. Were you scared of Henry at that time?

Christine  11:13

It was normal. You know, saying as opposed to now thinking about it like wow, that’s crazy. Like, that’s insane.

Casey  11:20

Like when you talk about with people, they’re all like, and you’re just inhaling? It was and you don’t realize how stuff is until other people react. You’re like, oh, I guess?

Liz Flock  11:34

Christine says Henry never came looking for them. And he never paid child support. So she worked three jobs to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the kids adjusted to their new life in New York.

Christine  11:46

They used to go out in the creek and swim all the time. And you know, my son would catch water moccasins. He six years old, catching snakes.

Liz Flock  12:00

John sister Casey says that when John wasn’t playing in the creek, he was making things, always making things.

Christine  12:06

computers, building stuff, like all that stuff. That was really his thing. He could build a computer from nothing from parts.

Liz Flock  12:17

Casey remembers their home was scattered with boxes upon boxes of electronics.

Christine  12:22

I felt like if there was more opportunities for him when he was younger, and into all that shit. He would be like fucking Bill Gates or something.

Liz Flock  12:30

My audio engineer Andy and I flew out to upstate New York to meet Christine. She lives in Ballston spa now and she offered to give us a tour of Saratoga Springs. Left or right to Saratoga Springs.

Casey  12:43

Oh, going right. Go back to the main road. Got it. And then you could take 50 all the way to Saratoga.

Liz Flock  12:57

It’s a brisk, sunny fall day. We’re driving by John’s old […] the places they lived when he was young.

Casey  13:03

You’re gonna see a bunch of cedar trees and a lot. And the lot with cedar trees are is where we used to live right there.

Liz Flock  13:15

As a teenager, John became a little less geeky and a lot more popular. Christine says he made a point to dress well.

Casey  13:22

John really had the best clothes like everybody wanted wears clothes and shit. All the good sneakers or the Air Force ones and all that. Remember those real big timberland coats with the down and they had that big hood.

Liz Flock  13:37

John would even sell clothes for a little extra cash. Christine says together they also started to flip cars, electronics and whatever else he could find on the side of the road. as smart as he was. Christine says John was frustrated by school. He also got into a lot of fights. It didn’t help that things were tough at home. Christine says she got into relationships after Henry that were also abusive. Abuse John probably witnessed. Studies show teens who have witnessed domestic violence often struggle with PTSD tend to act out and are more likely to get in trouble with the law. Some repeat the pattern of abuse by becoming abusers themselves, just like it seems Henry did. And John too, John’s sister Casey says he was sent to a group home at 16 to straighten up. Ultimately, he dropped out of school. It was around this time that John started racking up criminal charges from our home. Christine tells me that the first significant charge came in 2005 when John was 18.

Christine  14:39

He was in a car with one guy. The guy had crack. I’m sure they did coke together. John didn’t do crack. I know he did coke at some point in his life. As most of us have. But anyway, they were in a call. They got pulled over by the police. His friend gets out of the car, crack falls off his lap he had bags of crack, the guy did.

Liz Flock  15:05

Christine says the crack didn’t belong to her son, but he was charged with attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance. A few years later, in 2010, when John was 23, he allegedly stole $4,000 from two bank accounts. He was charged with grand larceny, which carries a sentence of up to seven years. But he managed to evade the cops while in Saratoga. By the time John and Deven got together later that year, he was a wanted man. And he had three little girls by another woman. That relationship had been on and off again for years, and it was messy. Christine says John later suspected his first daughter wasn’t actually his. After that, she says he was always worried about his partner cheating on him. Deven knew about some of this, John’s kids a few of his charges, but she loved John and mostly saw the good in him instead. So I mean, since you knew Devin, what did you make of her and John’s connection? Like what did you think about it?

Christine  16:04

I’d be honest, I didn’t say I’m not gonna say they shouldn’t have been together. But they shouldn’t have been together.

Liz Flock  16:12

Christine says she thought Deven developed an unhealthy attachment to John.

Christine  16:16

I think my son has always been attracted to girls who are needing to be saved.

Liz Flock  16:22

That’s what Christine says John was doing when he took Deven away from her family to New York City, saving her. It was in New York City that Devon says John hit her for the first time in front of Christine, when Christine came for a visit. According to Devin after she rolled her eyes over something, John hit her in the chest and she fell to her knees seeing stars. She says that Christine was crying as she tried to separate them. But Christine says it never happened. Deven and John didn’t stay in New York City for much longer. Next, they headed upstate to Schenectady, New York, where John’s sister Casey lived with her kids. It’s less than 45 minutes from where Deven grew up. Did Deven and John seem okay, when they were staying with you?

Christine  17:09

I don’t know. She was like infatuated with them. Neither one of them worked. You know, they would stay up all night. They don’t even have jobs.

Liz Flock  17:19

Did you ever see them like physically fight or anything?

Casey  17:21

I mean, they’ve argued and things like that. I didn’t really see them. Like fistfight or anything. I mean, I’ve heard I’ve heard stories, obviously.

Liz Flock  17:31

Like Christine, Casey’s accounts of that time are very different from what Deven has told me. John’s family insists he wasn’t abusive. But again, there is so much evidence to support the John was violent with Deven, not just physically but sexually. Heads up there are about to share some graphic details about sexual assault. Deven says that during this time, John started to rape her. A forensic psychologist who later interviewed Deven wrote that he demanded sex from Deven several times a day, and that when she did not want to have oral or anal sex, he forcibly thrust his penis inside her. The psychologist also wrote the John sometimes videotaped these encounters. Deven says that abuse pattern would continue for years. Both in New York and Schenectady, Devon says John barely let her leave the room where they were staying. Because he was always worried she would somehow find a way to cheat on him. There stay with John’s sister Casey was short lived due to that incident where John fired a rifle in the air. Casey says it happened after he got into an argument with some people down the street.

Christine  18:43

Then like whole police departments in my house because he was in the backyard. And that was literally the last time I ever spoke to him.

Liz Flock  18:54

After that night, John decided to leave for Alabama. And Devon made the decision to join him. When Christine learned they were going to Calera she wasn’t opposed to it. Despite her own history with Henry.

Christine  19:11

If you’re not traumatized, or you have not like bad horrific feelings about your dad and you want to meet him, that’s totally up to you. Because so many years went by, I’m thinking it would be okay. For him to be around his father. So we did have a couple of interactions. And I was like, sure John come down.

Liz Flock  19:37

By leaving Henry when John was young, Christine said she wanted to ensure her kids wouldn’t grow up thinking that kind of violence was okay. But John was already old enough to remember what he had seen. And after Henry John witnessed more abuse at home with Christine’s new partners. So the violence was imprinted on John and it would stay with him as he journeyed with Deven down to Calera.

Ethan Powell  20:22

Everybody call them J The Phone Guy.

Liz Flock  20:24

What did he do fixing phones just like if you broke?

Ethan Powell  20:27

Screens, hardware repair batteries, software, he’d reset phones jailbreak them, root them. Whatever you wanted.

Liz Flock  20:39

Jay The Phone Guy, in Calera that was John’s new identity. He needed money to support him in Devon. So we started fixing phones out of a gas station. That’s where he met his friend Ethan. Ethan says John would sometimes hit him up about working odd jobs together.

Ethan Powell  20:56

If he was calling you, you didn’t know if it was to be like, hey, what’s up, come hang out, or like, hey, yo, we’re gonna make two grand off of this deal. I’m gonna get I’m gonna get a pallet of electronics from eBay. And, you know, there’s there really was no […]

Liz Flock  21:11

Ethan says John also made a living that way by broken electronics locally and fixing them up to resell on eBay. As John was making a new identity for himself during those early Calera days, Devin says he was also always looking over his shoulder. He was paranoid, the police were after him for the crimes he’d committed in New York. So we started carrying a stolen ID that read the name, Barry Walsh, he kind of resembled the man in the picture. And Devin says, Christine was one of the few people from back home that John and Devin talk to during those years in Alabama, checking in regularly over the phone. And from the start in 2013, Deven was open with her about what was going on. So when she called you and said that he was being abusive, like what was your reaction to that?

Christine  21:57

Get out. Always get out, always get out. We talked about the fact that I lived on the same land 30 years ago with his father, and how I was treated there, but also the difference. And I’ll keep saying it. I did not have a phone, I had no access to a phone. I did not have familial support from either side.

Liz Flock  22:24

When Christina and Henry were together and clear in the late 80s and early 90s. There was no internet, no cell phones and no one else lived on the land.

Christine  22:33

There was no phone. I didn’t have access to a vehicle. It was a very hidden spot. They didn’t even have a mailbox. They wouldn’t get a mailbox. She had to go to the post office to get mail. It was secluded, very secluded.

Liz Flock  22:47

But even in 2013 Deven says John limited her access to the phone. She didn’t have a car and she couldn’t rely on the Vance family for support. John’s dad Henry told police he turned the TV up when he heard the couple fight. And aunt Sheila said she didn’t ask questions. And as you know from the last episode, definitely had contact with her own family for a few brief moments. Christina and I have talked on the phone a dozen times over the last year and she’s told me different things at different times about whether John was abusive to Deven. Sometimes she says that John never beat her.

Christine  23:24

This bullshit would hurt. getting beat up is just absolute crap.

Liz Flock  23:30

Other times she says she isn’t sure.

Christine  23:32

I will never say that my son didn’t put his hands on her. But I will always say that I didn’t see him.

Liz Flock  23:39

And when we met in person, she put the responsibility all on Deven.

Christine  23:43

If it is at the point that my son is putting his hands on you, get the fuck out of there.

Liz Flock  23:48

Get the fuck out of there. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for Christine to reckon with all of this. Here’s another woman who dealt with severe abuse from her partner, but not connecting at all with what Devin went through. Christine thinks that even if there was abuse Devin could have left. Just like she left Henry, running away from Alabama with her two small children. She thinks if she had the strength to do it, Deven should have it too. Even though Christine’s kids were older than Devon’s daughter, and even though it took Christine many years and multiple attempts to leave Henry it’s a theme I’ve noticed throughout my reporting on domestic violence, women who have experienced it are sometimes quick to criticize other women in similar situations. Things were about to get way more complicated for both John and Devin because the local police were now after John, not for his pending charges up north, but for a new charge in Alabama. In March 2015, two officers pulled up to the Vance property. It had been almost three years since John and Deb then arrived and Clara. The police were struck by the strangeness of the property.

Shane  25:05

There was pieces of phones, pieces of cell phones, like circuit boards and pieces just all over the ground all over everything around the camper knocked on the door. could hear movement. You know now sheriff’s office asked somebody to come in the door come out probably for 10 or 15 minutes, no one would come out.

Liz Flock  25:24

This new charge was more serious than any of John’s alleged crimes in New York. Here in Alabama. He was wanted on a charge of rape. A few months prior Ethan had thrown a party at his house, and he says John was pretty drunk. John met a 17 year old girl at the party. He was 28 at the time. Amid all the drinking and partying John and the underage girl went into the wooded area behind Ethan’s home. That’s where John allegedly raped her. Another man from the party told police he stumbled across the encounter as it was happening. Shane Mayfield was the agent assigned to the case. According to him, the girl’s allegation was highly credible, because of her testimony. And because of the third party witness.

Shane  26:10

I was confident enough to believe her story that that have charged him with those two very serious crimes. And I don’t do that unless I’m confident I’ve got the right person.

Liz Flock  26:21

But John told Deven, he didn’t do it. And she believed him. She still does.

Christine  26:27

She was very young. And her story just didn’t make any sense because to be John’s, John’s not gonna chain you into the woods. And then the way that she was explaining how he was attacking her, it really didn’t make any sense.

Liz Flock  26:49

In some ways, Deven is still caught up in John’s worlds believing the things he’s told her. Also by the time the rape allegedly happened. John was so drunk at the party that Devon thought he would have been passed out. But like I said, the police believed the Rape Allegation had serious merit. And that’s how Mayfield and Chilton County Sheriff John Sheeran found themselves standing outside of John and Devon’s trailer, they could hear someone was inside, but no one would come to the door, about 10 or 15 minutes past that’s when John appeared with a semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.

Shane  27:26

So of course, that’s an oh crap moment when that happens.

Liz Flock  27:32

The officers told me John was obviously intoxicated, he moved on steadily and slurred his words. Despite their commands, John wouldn’t put the rifle down. Mayfield and Sharon had their guns drawn in a standoff with John as half a dozen other reinforcements arrived.

Sharon  28:05

There’s almost like he just wounded die that day they die or kill us one or the other. And you know, he just kind of got out of hand.

Liz Flock  28:14

The officers weren’t the only ones trying to deescalate the situation. So was Deven.

Sharon  28:19

oh, she was trying to calm him down and trying to get him to put the gun down. I do remember that. That didn’t really didn’t have an effect on him. I mean, just seemed like he’s getting more and more agitated.

Liz Flock  28:35

Sharon says they ordered Deven back in the trailer. They didn’t want anyone else getting hurt or taken hostage. The standoff lasted nearly 45 minutes. Finally Mayfield says the officers caught a break.

Shane  28:48

Because of his intoxicated state. The rifle just slipped off his shoulder and when it slipped that gave us since clear officers opportunity to try to take him in custody without shooting him.

Liz Flock  28:58

John didn’t go down without a fight. Mayfield says he wanted to be a quote, knucklehead by resisting arrest. Still, the police were cautious and using force on John, which was surprising given how quickly and violently police in this country wield force against black men. It’s almost like they didn’t take John’s threat seriously. Maybe because he was drunk or maybe because he was white. I asked Sharon if they might have done something different if John was black.

Shane  29:26

That pisses me off right there. I don’t care who’s listening or who will be listening. You know? It don’t matter what color anybody is. Because we don’t look at color. We just we deal with what people do we have to react to what people do with us. And that’s what we have to deal with. If somebody points a gun at us. They’re gonna be shot and it got a little it got a little touchy there. It really did. I mean, if it had come to that he probably would have been, plain and simple. But color has nothing to do with this.

Liz Flock  30:00

Sharon says John pointed the gun at them but not in a, quote, aggressive manner. Eventually the officers were able to tackle John and take him to the police station. He was later charged with making terrorist threats, resisting arrest and menacing for his behavior with the officers. John’s rifle was confiscated and he was taken to jail under the name Barry Walsh. That’s because Deven handed one of the officers John’s stolen ID as they took him away. And that’s how his arrest didn’t flag the authorities up in New York. We’re looking for him under his real name. Alabama police only discovered his name was John Vance later, as of 2015, John or Jay The Phone Guy or Barry Walsh, was still eluding everybody. After so many years of isolation and abuse, and that little camper, John’s arrest could have been an opportunity for intervention. John was obviously unstable and wielding a semi-automatic rifle. Deven was unable to calm him down. They both needed help. In some states, police can step in and take firearms away from people who are a threat to themselves or others. These states have what’s called Red Flag laws. But Alabama doesn’t have anything like that on the books. If they did, it’s possible the police could have confiscated the rifle. John was pointing that day. And also the pistol Deven later used to kill him. But Sharon insists those laws would never work.

Sharon  31:41

I mean, a lot of people want to do the red flag laws, they want to criminalize these guns, that those guns to take them away from people stuff like that. As long as there’s bad people out there, you’re gonna always have bad guns in people’s hands. I mean, you’re not gonna be able to stop that all you’re doing is taking guns away from good people that can protect themselves in the criminal is going to have him regardless.

Liz Flock  32:11

He also argues there’s little the police could have done to intervene that day, because they didn’t know John was abusing Deven. Simply put, they were just there to arrest him on the rape charge not to scrutinize the situation for signs of domestic violence. Sharon says Deven would have had to pull an officer aside and report the abuse directly for that to happen.

Shane  32:33

Most of those situations, the victim was gonna have to come forward. So you know, we can’t, we can’t deal with that, you know, less, like, come forward with it.

Liz Flock  32:45

The more I’ve covered domestic violence, the more I’ve realized that police are not well trained to handle it. They often don’t recognize the signs. Around the country, some cities and towns are starting to offer training for police officers to identify when a person is living in a potentially lethal situation. Some places are even sending social workers out along with police. That change is the result of years of organizing and advocacy. Because social workers are trained to spot signs of domestic abuse, and can provide survivors with counseling, shelter, placement and resources. Some advocates believe police shouldn’t handle domestic violence situations at all, at least not alone. But in Calera, that’s all John and Deven got.

Sharon  33:32

You know, we’re trying to get a domestic violence advocate here. And that’s my point, you know, is that you know, you have so many domestic top situations that you know, if we have somebody they happen, deal with it on the phone front, and maybe those things will happen, get the woman out, get her some payout and stuff like that it will happen. But you know, right now for a budget, that probably will happen this year. But you know, it’s a great thing to be able to do so, but don’t have the money to do it don’t have the money to do it.

Liz Flock  34:04

According to the CDC, alcoholism, trauma and financial instability are all risk factors for domestic abuse. John struggled with all three. If a social worker had been present, they could have intervened with hell for him to but instead, the cops just locked him up. John was put in Shelby County Jail under his fake name, Barry Walsh. Even there, John got away with concealing his true identity. The authorities had no idea who he really was. But John was only in there for a few days because Devon bonded him out with some money they’d saved. She says she wanted to leave him. But he was her world.

Christine  34:48

I should have run like to Alaska with a mile head at the time. I just, I didn’t I just don’t I don’t know where like If I felt like you know if I say that prove that I’ve loyal and faithful when he gets out let me die see.

Liz Flock  35:12

Immediately after bonding out on the charges from the standoff, John was arrested for the rape, he was taken to jail again on a higher bail to await trial. from jail John sent handwritten letters to the judge on the case. He wrote that he didn’t rape anyone and had the evidence to prove it. He also wrote, my family and livelihood continue to suffer. John signed each letter with his alias Barry Walsh. During this time, Deven was alone taking care of their one year old baby. She was just 23 years old.

Christine  35:49

So she was bringing my brand new and I first time mom, you know, and it had anybody I had nobody in Alabama. So it was kind of just stuck. And I felt stuck.

Liz Flock  36:05

John spent eight months in jail. Ultimately, the state dropped the rape case because the material witness never showed up. So John was released. I tried to reach out to the rape victim but couldn’t get in touch. And John never ended up going to trial for the terrorist threats because he died before that could happen. I my first phone call with Christine. She told me she knew her son wasn’t perfect.

Christine  36:32

I will not ever say and I stupid phrase that my son was an angel. Yeah, he had to share shit that he did. But he always owned up to it. He always owned up to anything he’s ever done.

Liz Flock  36:48

But others saw it as more black and white. They saw John as an angel or a monster. In reality, he was somewhere in the middle of those extremes, a tangle of contradictions. And that’s why Devin stayed with him. He could be kind, protective. And Devin wasn’t the only person who saw that in him. As things became uglier between John and Devon, he started to show his sweet side to another person. Alexis Bernstein, his girlfriend on the side. The relationship didn’t sit well with John’s friend Ethan. He was skeptical of Alexis from the start.

Ethan Powell  37:27

I didn’t like Alexis, to be honest with you apart at a personal level. I don’t know work. But I don’t trust her. And I got that vibe. Pretty quick. The vibes off the way that she instantly was lucky had this attraction for Jay.

Liz Flock  37:53

Next time on blind plea. How Alexis got wrapped up with John and this criminal case.

CREDITS  37:59

There’s more Blind Plea with Lemonada Premium, subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content. Like an interview with John’s dad, Henry and more excerpts from Deven’s detective interview the night of the shooting. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Blind Plea is production of Lemonada Media. I’m your host Liz Flock. This episode was produced by Kristin Lapore, […] Evans and Tony Williams, Hannah Boomershine and Rachel Pilgrim are also our producers. Story editing by Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Mix music and sound design by Andrea Kristinsdóttir  with additional mixing and engineering from Ivan Kuraev. Naomi Barr is our fact checker. Jayla Everett is our production intern. Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, evoked media, Sabrina Merage Naim and myself, Liz Flock. This series is presented by Marguerite Casey Foundation. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow me at @LizFlock. And for more stories of women and self-defense, check out my book The Furies from Harper books available for preorder now. Find Lemonada at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, and follow Blind Plea wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership. Thanks so much for listening.

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