The stories of Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky — and the dead girls’ mothers evolving friendship — are compelling and deeply touching, and they certainly deserve the cascade of column inches The Star has dedicated to the cases in recent days.
But two other old, unsolved murder cases involving attractive young women continue to not only get short shrift from from The Star but also be badly mishandled.
I’m talking about the strange and tragic murders of 18-year-old Sarah DeLeon in 1989 and the 1994 slaying of 26-year-old Diana Ault.
The Star’s “centerpiece” story on Sunday was another re-examination of the Runions-Kopetsky cases, with no new information being disclosed.
Buried inside, meanwhile, on Page 4A, was a story under the two-column headline “Attorney: Client is relieved after murder charge is ’89 case dropped”
Unlike the Runions-Kopetsky story, the 4A story contained startling news: A first-degree murder charge pending against 48-year-old Carolyn J. Heckert in the DeLeon case was dropped Friday, and Heckert was released from custody.
…It was one of the oddest crime reports I’ve ever read. It started like this:
“An attorney for a women accused of killing a teenager nearly 30 years ago said his client is relieved to be home after nearly seven months in jail.”
Well, what a surprise. A woman who may have gotten away with murder is happy to be home! Gee, KC Star, thanks for sharing that wonderful news with us!
The story attributed reports of the dismissal to Heckert’s attorney. The reporter, Toriano Porter, a young and relatively new hand at The Star, went on to inform the readers that he had not been able to reach any members of DeLeon’s family and that the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s office declined to comment, other than to confirm the case had been dismissed.
As best I could tell from looking at local TV stations’ websites today, the judge dismissed the charge after a preliminary hearing, at which prosecutors were unable to present enough evidence to warrant binding the case over for trial. I believe all four local TV stations had the story Friday evening, and one or two had video of Heckert leaving the courthouse with an unidentified man. (See photo below.)
What happened, obviously, is The Star got beat on the story. It’s very possible The Star had lost track of the case and didn’t realize a hearing was coming up Friday. My guess is one or more Star editors and/or reporters saw the development on the Friday afternoon TV news, and Porter was quickly assigned to the story. He was only able to get part of the story, though, and slapped together the weird report that appeared online at 7:48 p.m. Friday and then ran in today’s printed edition.
It was big news back in October when Heckert, a longtime real estate agent who lives in Smithville, was arrested on the basis of new DNA collection and testing technology. But even then, as I reported in an October 21 blog post, not one news outlet, including The Star, had a story that adequately and clearly explained the story — which, in short, is that Heckert may have regarded DeLeon and Alt as romantic rivals. Heckert had dated Ault’s husband after he and Ault had separated, and Heckert had also dated DeLeon’s boyfriend when DeLeon and her boyfriend were broken up. The DeLeon-Ault story is one with chilling and possibly fatal overtones, and no local reporter has done it justice.
My immediate beef, however, is the approach Porter took in Sunday’s story. Armed with a thimble full of information, he tried to compensate by writing a disproportionately large story. He was trying to go beyond a “murder-charge-was-dropped-yesterday” story, but he had only one side of the story — the one Heckert’s attorney gave him — and it came out trite and silly.
What the readers were left with was a 14-inch story that told them virtually nothing more than that the charge was dismissed, but possibly could be refiled later.
Having been beaten on the story — which happens — Porter should have put his tail between his legs and written it straight — “Murder charge dismissed yesterday” — and not tried to gloss over his paucity of facts.
Porter left us with this quote from the attorney:
“I’m very pleased for my client (Heckert) and very happy she can go home and be with her children. Hopefully this is behind her.”
Galling, absolutely galling.
Tomorrow morning, I hope, The Star will do the right thing and shove Toriano Porter back into the story to find out how the DeLeon and Ault families feel about this latest development…That is what the readers want to know. The hell with Heckert.