Friday, July 26, 2013

In Remembrance, Lily Belle Burk and Riley Ann Sawyers

Note: This reposting was published July 24th when I discovered my site was infected with adware that I have nor authorized, as I’ve never promoted any commercial activity on Joyce’s Take. I hope to remedy this soon, yet my technical skills and resources are limited. If any reader has a suggestion please leave a comment. Thank you, RJ

“I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents…. They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishments for concealed sins. And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? a monster, the norm must seem monstrous since everyone is normal to himself…. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish.” -John Steinbeck, “East of Eden” p 71

The above quotation is used to introduce the main antagonist in the novel, “East of Eden,” Cathy Ames, who despite being charming and attractive is an evil woman who manipulates and destroys people for her own amusement and profit, demonstrated by setting her family home on fire which kills both her parents, and sleeping with her brother-in-law on her wedding night.
The above quote could easily apply to republicans as well, but I'll leave that for now.
This is a sad day for us here at Joyce’s Takes, for two beautiful souls left this world on this day two years apart (some say the date of Riley’s death was the 25th of July). Lily Belle Burk was murdered not more than three blocks from where I’m sitting at right now, by an ex-con crack addict looking for some quick cash. Nothing less than a human monster could have done what he did to beautiful Lily. Two year old Riley Ann Sawyer was murdered two years before by her own mother and stepfather. The relationship to the above quote and these two is obvious.
By the way, Riley's stepfather, Royce Clyde Zeigler II, was convicted of capital murder on November 6th, 2009, and will receive an automatic life sentence without parole, just as Riley’s mother did, and just as Lily’s killer did.
For as long as I operate this site I will repost what I wrote when I first learned of these two most tragic deaths on this day. First Lily:


First Published July 28, 2009

Last Friday night, after a busy, consummated work week, I relaxed while enjoying a meal of Weenie Tots and mixed vegetables while watching the romantic comedy (chick flick) “He's Just Not That Into You,” starring Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Frangela, and my favorite contemporary actress, Jennifer Connelly. There may have been one or two male actors in the cast somewhere, or else how could the case be made that men are pigs.
My answer to the ever ongoing observation that men are pigs because they do not follow the dictates of women's evolutionary mandates, is simply this... if women were men they'd act like pigs too (or appear so for females at least)!
I must admit the only reason that I watched the film was to see Ms Connelly, in what for her was a rare appearance in a basically comedic role, her reputation (and Academy Award) being based primarily in the dramatic genre. I think she came through with flying colors, as I really enjoyed her character, and sympathized with that character's unique priorities (she gets more upset about her husband lying to her about his continued smoking, than his affair with Johansson). Her scene with contactor Luis Guzman was hilarious, and I hope she will attempt more straight forward comedy in the future.
After the film I felt the need to balance out all the hilariousness with Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. Moyers, the former Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, and a liberal commentator, explored the issue of national health care that is currently winding its way through Congress, the concensus tonight being that the medical insurance industry, and pharmaceutical industry have already received so many concessions from lawmakers that they are going to come out of this as winners no matter what congress passes, and that tax payer backed subsidies will continue to flow through their big pockets. Still, they don't want a public option as competition, and they expecially don't want single payer (universal) health care, which they have effectively lobbied off the table. Which is why, one guest surmised, we should scrap the current bill, and return to the single payer option. I tend to agree.
The second half of the show explored the possible connection between extreme right wing attack talk radio and television hosts, such as Michael Savage (Weiner), Bill O'Rielly, and Glen Beck, labeling those that disagree with them as traitors, communists, and murderers (O'Rielly repeatedly calling abortion provider, Dr. George R. Tiller, a mass murderer (who was later murdered inside his own church), and Beck stating he'd like to kill Michael Moore) etc., and actual acts of violence carried out against these targets, or those who closely... or remotely, represent them.
How could there possibly be a connection?!
At least the show was an hours respite from the ongoing controversy of a Cambridge MA, police Sargent arresting Professor Henry Gates for disorderly conduct within his own home. Granted President Obama did not help matters much by calling the action stupid, but Erin's God! This story's been on the news twenty four/seven since it happened, being labeled as a blatant case of racial profiling. I think this story has received so much twenty four hour attention simply because the cable networks run twenty four hours, and as Stephie Miller points out, describing the confrontation as more of a "man thing," or macho encounter, than racial in nature. Again, I tend to agree.
Enough already! Stop! I'm tired of hearing about it. Both of you go have a beer with Barack. There is no problem that cannot be solved with alcohol.
Anyway, the very next day, a Saturday as it turns out, Jose and I planned to visit the Griffith Observatory, located conveniently enough in Griffith Park, in the hills above Hollywood, just east of the famous "Hollywood" sign.
But first, before we left, nourishment must be procured. After transposing for a few hours, documents in the Salvation Diary series, at 7:00, I decided to stretch out for awhile, and went to the garden to water it.
I found two cats out there, suspiciously close to our garden, hurriedly running away as I approached. They may have been running away because I was trying to squirt them with the hose I happened to be holding. They disappeared into the brush on the other side of the chain-link fence that is the eastern border of our garden.
I also found two young men on the other side of the fence, which was very unusual, as I had really never seen anyone out there before. They seemed to be taking measurements of some kind, thereby obscuring their obvious tresspassing with some form of legitimacy. Still I hosed them off thoroughly, much to their surprise and consternation. Angry shouts and threats of retribution were directed, I believe, in my direction. I made a hasty retreat.
Next I made my way west on Sixth Street to Towne and waited patiently for some nice Asian people to arrive and hand out glazed donuts and Ramen noodle soup. They are connected with some church (I don't know which one as the printing on the vehicles they arrive in are written in Asian) and come every week around that time in the morning. When I got there they had not arrived yet, and I took my place in the small line that was starting. I was there for the tasty donuts.
While I waited I couldn't help but notice two Asian gentlemen playing music right across the street from where I was standing. One man playing guitar, keyboards, and providing the lead vocals. His friend was playing the drums.
They were almost impossible not to notice. They played some Credence Clear Water Revival songs, "California Dreaming" by The Mamas and the Papas, Eagles, etc. During a break the purpose of their display became apparent when the singer said we were all there celebrating God.
I was there for the donuts.
Soon the donut and noodle people came. The line had grown to over a block long. I got mine, seven donuts, and I took the soup too, then was on my way home.
Unbeknownst to me, and unknown to me until Monday morning, approximately and hour and forty five minutes before I secured my 7 donuts, the body of Lily Belle Burk, age 17, was found near the intersection of Fifth St. and Alameda, about a block from my box. She was discovered by an employee of a nearby business, presumably the same gas station where Paul and I had inflated his dolly's tires a few days previously (see, Puzzles & Bricks). She was found in her own black Volvo, in the passenger seat, apparently having been bludgeoned to death and her neck slashed. There were signs of a struggle.
She had left her home in Los Feliz the day before at about 2:30 to pick up some papers for her mother from the Southwestern University School of Law, where her mother worked as an adjunct professor. About an hour later she made calls to both of her parents asking them how she might get cash from an ATM machine using her credit card, something her card was not set up to do. Her parents state that she did not sound distressed.
She did not return Friday night and her parents contacted police and filed a missing persons report.
The next morning her body was discovered. Police estimate she had been dead from 5:00PM the day before.
That Friday at 5:30PM, Charlie Samuel, aged 50, was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia on 3rd Street. His fingerprints were discovered in Lily's Volvo and is now being held on suspicion of murder without bail. Sources said Samuel had a previous history of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and kidnaping, and if he did indeed kill that lovely young girl I am ashamed that I am against the death penalty.
From the LA Times: "The thing we want people to know about Lily is that she was a beautiful person and that she was looking forward to her life. She was funny, warm, kind and empathetic. She was deeply and widely loved," read the statement from her parents, Deborah Drooz and Gregory Burk, a Times freelancer who writes about pop music.
Burk was supposed to begin her senior year at Oakwood School in North Hollywood in the fall.
She was set to star in her high school's production of a David Mamet play and planned to volunteer helping the homeless this summer."
Dear Erin, I hope your heaven is real, and Lily now resides there.
My sincere condolences go to her parents, family, and friends.
May she rest in peace.

Update from NBC Los Angeles, May 28th 2010:

Charlie Samuel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the July 24, 2009, slaying of Lily Belle Burk. During the sentencing hearing, he apologized to the girl's family.

He pleaded guilty first-degree murder, kidnaping to commit robbery, second-degree robbery, attempted first-degree ATM robbery, car jacking and kidnaping for car jacking. He admitted special circumstance allegations of murder during a car jacking, kidnaping and robbery.

The plea deal saved him from a possible death sentence

Riley Ann

First published Sept 20 2009

It's terrifying to write this. So I won't. The following are actual excerpts from various news reports:
On Oct. 29, 2007, fisherman Robert Spinn of Bayou Vista found a storage container on an uninhabited island about a mile offshore in Galveston Bay, Texas. It contained cement and a blonde toddler wrapped in three plastic bags. "I ripped the bags (in the container) open with some fishing pliers. I saw a shoe. I knew it was a person." Sheriff’s investigators named the girl “Baby Grace” and embarked on 26-day media blitz to confirm her identity.
Nellie Zeigler heard about “Baby Grace” on a talk radio program and found an artist’s sketch of her on the Internet.
The toddler's identity was a mystery for weeks until Sheryl Sawyers of Ohio, saw an artist's sketch of the girl and told authorities in Texas she thought it was her granddaughter. The call from Sheryl Sawyers led authorities to Royce Clyde Zeigler II (24) and Kimberly Dawn Trenor (19), who had invented a story that their daughter, Riley Ann Sawyers had been taken away by child welfare officials in Ohio.
Riley was born and lived in Ohio until her mother Kimberly separated from Robert Sawyers, and took Riley to Texas last summer. Kimberly met Royce Zeigler playing the online game World of Warcraft, and had an online relationship with him.
Kimberly's defense attorney portrayed Trenor as a scared 19-year-old girl who had moved to Texas from Ohio to marry a man she met while playing an online game, and after two brief encounters. She said Riley's father, her former boyfriend, had assaulted her and Zeigler was her "knight in shining armor, her Texas cowboy."
They married June 1st, 2007, and settled in Spring, Texas.
Although Zeigler's mother Nellie, and her husband didn’t approve of “ready-made marriages,” she said the family opened their home to Trenor and Riley and quickly came to love and adore the vibrant, charismatic and intelligent toddler who brightened their lives.
Nellie Zeigler recalled going to the couple’s home in June to deliver milk and snacks, saying she knocked on the door, but it took Trenor a while to answer. "Kim had a belt wrapped around her shoulder," Nellie Zeigler testified.
The following week, Nellie Zeigler picked up Riley on Saturday morning, eventually changed
her diaper and was disgusted with what she saw.
“Her little butt was bruised, greenish, yellowish, purplish, and I got mad,” Mrs. Zeigler said. “I
let her watch cartoons, anxious for Kim and Royce to come over."
Nellie Zeigler told the couple she disapproved of the belt discipline, saying both dropped their heads."Mom. This is never going to happen again," Nellie said of how her son replied. "After that, I never saw bruises on her again."
The weekends of mall shopping and bonding ended abruptly with Riley’s death July 24, 2007, and Nellie Zeigler would spend the next four months agonizing over the whereabouts of the “sunshine of our lives.”
Nellie Zeigler eventually learned Ohio officials didn’t have Riley, and she and her husband confronted Trenor, asking her why she wouldn’t tell authorities her girl was kidnaped.“My husband said, ‘Kim. You’re lying,’ and the third time he asked, she jumped up and starts to cuss us out,” Nellie Zeigler testified. “She shot the finger at us and said ‘F---you! F---you! F---you!’”
The confrontation continued upstairs, Nellie said. "What kind of mother are you?’” Nellie Zeigler said. “‘You show no emotion. You never talk about her. You never seem to care where
she's at.' I'm crying and she's smiling at me."
The two had more heated words, when Trenor said, “You’re going to pay for this,” Nellie Zeigler testified. The couple left, she said.
Royce Zeigler worked for a company contracted to create schedules for petrochemical companies, earning $54,000 annually. The fatal beating happened after Zeigler stayed home from work to make sure his wife was following his discipline plan, the defense said.
According to Trenor's attorney, Tommy Stickler Jr., Zeigler wanted Trenor to spank Riley with a belt when she failed to say things like "please" and "yes sir" or "no sir." Zeigler didn't believe Trenor was doing it, however, because the 2-year-old's behavior wasn't changing. A list was found by authorities after the arrest of the couple for the murder of Riley, the list, called "Rules for Riley," included such things as "being polite," "behaves in public," "toys stay in her room" and "listen to mom & me." There was space for a 10th item on the list but it was left blank.
During her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kayla Allen detailed for jurors the day that she said Riley Ann died for forgetting to say "please" and "yes, sir. "Allen said that on July 24, 2007, Trenor and Zeigler disciplined Riley by whipping her with a belt, pushing her head against a pillow and holding her head under water. She said Zeigler grabbed Riley and tossed her across the room, fracturing her skull. An autopsy concluded the skull fractures caused her death. Riley died of three skull fractures she received when Zeigler, threw the child across the room, authorities said.
Riley Ann Sawyers tried to stop her mother and stepfather from beating her to death by reaching out to her mother and saying, "I love you," assistant district attorney Kayla Allen told jurors earlier in the day during her opening statement. The toddler's pleas didn't stop her mother from brutalizing her, the prosecutor said. "To the very end, Riley said, 'I love you' to her mom. She's reaching out," Allen said. "That's her lifeline, to her mother. What does Kim do after hearing her say I love you? She starts beating her."
"I said we have to get her to a hospital. (Zeigler) said, 'No we can't. We'll go to jail,' " Trenor said in the videotape, crying. "There came a point where she stopped breathing. He started doing CPR on the floor. He took her ... and handed her over to me. I could just feel her going cold."
At the defense table, Trenor's eyes teared up as she watched the videotape on a large screen.
Several jurors wiped away tears.
Galveston County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Pustilnik Testified that any one of three skull fractures he found during his autopsy could have killed Riley. He said that it would have been apparent within seconds of one of the fractures that Riley was in need of medical help. Symptoms included a change in body temperature, headache and the inability to stand up, he said, all symptoms described by Trenor in her statement to investigators. She said that Zeigler accused Riley of faking when she was unable to stand.
After Riley was killed, beaten so badly that Trenor said Zeigler complained of it making his shoulder sore, the couple bought a plastic container, partially filled it with cement, stuffed her beaten body inside and stored it in a shed for two months. They tried to bury it in a wooded area north of their home, but when that failed, they dumped it in Galveston Bay in September.
The seven-woman, five man jury took less than two hours to convict Kimberly Trenor of capital murder in the slaying of her 2-year-old daughter. Trenor will receive an automatic life sentence without parole because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty due to technical reasons peculiar to Texas law. Jury foreman Randal Rothschild said it didn't take the panel long to reach a verdict because we had all the evidence. Apparently the jury felt it was pretty cut and dried. As his eyes teared up, Rothschild added, "It was a very emotional trial."
Zeigler will be tried for capital murder in a separate trial. No date has been set yet.
The island where the toddler's body was found was officially renamed "Riley's Island." A wooden cross bearing a plaque with her name was placed there as a memorial, but Hurricane Ike washed it away on Sept. 13.
A Mr. Miller, who made that cross, said he is making a new one and hopes that he and Riley's family can place it on the island later.
"It's sad the cross is gone. But as much damage as the hurricane did, I was afraid the whole island would be wiped away," he said. "God did not want that to happen. The cross will be put there again in her honor."
In Mentor, Ohio, pink balloons were released into the wintry sky after the funeral for Riley. Some of the balloons had cards attached with her picture and an address where the finder could return it to her family in northeast Ohio. The balloon release coincided with similar releases around the world in memory of the toddler, who had been nicknamed Baby Grace.
"People all over the world adored this child. She was loved and cherished by everyone," Riley's great-uncle, Mike Nebelski, said in a eulogy.
"Let's not forget Riley. Let's not forget all the other kids out there who are missing," he said.
After the service and balloon release, the funeral procession left for Mentor Cemetery for burial of the 36-inch coffin. Inside was an urn with the girl's ashes and various other items, including a dress and a stuffed animal toy.
Riley Ann Sawyers was with us for 866 days. This site is an online memorial.

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