Victim's parents said the parole process 'drives us back 25 years'
May 18, 2011 8:15 AM
Eric Kane, who was killed by Jacob Wideman.
Judy Goldman Wideman testifies at the parole hearing of her son, Jacob.
Jacob Wideman in a recent photo.
Author John Edgar Wideman testifies at the parole hearing of his son, Jacob.
Jacob Wideman's 1986 yearbook photo.
Louise and Sanford Kane after parole was denied to Jacob Wideman, who killed their son, Eric, in 1986.
Louise and Sanford Kane
Jamila Wideman testifies at the parole hearing for her brother, Jacob.
By Sally Kalson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHOENIX -- Jacob Wideman has too many psychological problems that have not been adequately addressed and therefore cannot be safely released back into society after 25 years in prison.
That was the unanimous decision of the Arizona parole board Tuesday in the case of Mr. Wideman, 41, who confessed to stabbing Eric Kane in 1986, leaving him to bleed to death when they were both 16.
The hearing was the inmate's first chance for a review of his sentence, which was 25 years to life. The family of his victim insists that he should never be released. Under Arizona law, he will get another hearing in 12 months.
Mr. Wideman is the son of John Edgar Wideman, a noted author who has deep roots in Pittsburgh.
The five-member board listened to more than two hours of emotional testimony while the victim's parents, Sanford and Louise Kane of New York City, fought back tears.
After years of agonizing over Eric's death every moment of every day, Mr. Kane said, "Finally, in the last few years, we've been able to put the focus on the 16 years we had with him. Thank God for videotape. But then this process starts, and it drives us back 25 years.
"It's not fair," he said through tears. "It's just not fair. But at least we got the right outcome today."
In confessing as a teenager to killing Eric Kane in Flagstaff, Ariz., on a summer camp trip, Jacob Wideman said the crime was unprovoked and without motive.
On Tuesday, for the first time, he tried to explain what was going through his head while emphasizing it was not meant as an excuse. Mr. Wideman spoke to the parole board by speakerphone from the state prison where he is being held.
From the age of 6, he said, he'd been beset by horrific and violent images but hid them from his family and friends to avoid becoming an outcast.
"I would have archetypal images of my family lying dead at my feet, or another child lying there with an arm or, God forbid, a head cut off, and me standing over them with a knife," he told the parole board.
He said he would have these images every few weeks or multiple times a day and they came with "a tremendous amount of emotional energy, like an adrenaline rush, that needed some kind of release."
He worked so hard on suppressing the images and feelings, he said, that he couldn't relate to other people. He obsessed over girls, he said, describing one case of stalking an older girl who barely knew him.
At summer camp, he said, the other kids teased both himself and Eric for being socially awkward, but Eric bore the brunt of it, and he sometimes joined in to deflect the teasing away from himself.
"I began to associate what lived in me with him," he said, although he now realizes that was wrong.
Parole board chairman Duane Belcher asked him about Shelli Wiley, the 22-year-old college student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., 10 months before Eric Kane. Mr. Wideman confessed to killing her after he was charged in Eric's death.
Mr. Wideman had tried to kill himself in jail, he told the parole board, and the confession was another attempt at suicide. He'd wanted to fire his lawyers and ask for the death penalty to end his own self-hatred and suffering, but the judge wouldn't allow it. So, he said, he confessed to killing Ms. Wiley in hopes that the judge would change his mind.
"I remembered a few details from the newspaper," he said, but most of his story was made up and did not match the facts of the case. He was charged with that crime, but the charges were dropped when he recanted his story.
The parole board on Tuesday said it wanted more information about that case from Flagstaff authorities.
Over a period of time in prison, Mr. Wideman said, he finally came around to facing his violent images and impulses and learning to deal with them.
Through his years of mental health treatment in prison, he said, he believes his diagnosis is obsessive compulsive disorder. He said he has overcome the violent images so that they are now happening only three or four times a year and are just "thoughts like any other thoughts."
His method, he said, is "dialectical behavior therapy," which he called a "tool" that helps him "accept what's in me, create space between myself and the emotional energy and detach myself from that."
The method gives him a sense of "walking meditation" that lets him "breathe through it, observe the thoughts and emotions and choose not to act on the impulse."
That wasn't good enough for parole board member Marilyn Wilkins. She said she couldn't trust that his "tool" for keeping himself in check would be effective outside the controlled environment of prison.
His plan for life on the outside, he said, was to find a way to work with children with problems similar to his as a child and to help them avoid his own fate.
Laurie Kane, a psychiatrist and Eric's sister, said by speakerphone that if Mr. Wideman wants to help others, he should do it in prison.
In denying parole, board members noted that the prisoner is not taking any medication. He said that was because he and his doctor agreed the drugs were not working. The board also said he had not provided any medical records indicating progress. He said he didn't realize he had to release the records and that he would take care of that.
Colleen Hendricks, a social worker who was the victim advocate for the Kanes 25 years ago, said, "I don't know anyone with OCD who is a murderer."
She said she believed Mr. Wideman was trying to make some changes, but his "journey's not over yet. What would be the stresses in real life? A fight with a spouse, inability to find a job, the death of a parent. ... I don't think the safety is there."
Mr. Wideman's mother, Judy Goldman Wideman, said she ached for the Kanes every day and yet believed her son had changed.
Her older son, Daniel Wideman, reached over and squeezed her hand several times during the hearing. Jamila Wideman, Jacob's sister, said she came to support her brother and continue walking with him as she always had. John Edgar Wideman sat stoically, then spoke of his wish that the Kanes find healing and that his son find another chance.
Also speaking was Jacob Wideman's fiancée, Marta De-Soto, a clinical psychologist who has two children and who once worked at Correctional Health Services in Phoenix, which serves inmates in Maricopa County Jail but not the state prison system. If Mr. Wideman were to be released, he said, they would live together in her house.
Sanford and Louise Kane dismissed Mr. Wideman's remorse as phony and his self-control method as gobbledygook. Mr. Kane said there was nothing Mr. Wideman could ever do to convince him that he was sincere in his remorse or deserved another chance.