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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Sherri Lynn Wilkins Vehicular Murder Case: Fatal Hypocrisy

     Nobody likes a hypocrite. We are particularly offended (and intrigued) when people we generally admire such as physicians, professors, clergymen, law enforcement officers, generals, teachers, certain celebrities, and counselors commit crimes or behave badly. However, because of low expectations, we are less shocked when politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, and Wall Street types break the law or act like jerks. In terms of what we expect from people, there are different standards of behavior. For example, in murder-for-hire cases, the upper-middle class mastermind is almost always considered more immoral, and criminally culpable, than the lower-class hitman. This is true even when the contract killer has murdered a complete stranger simply for the money.

     Years ago, when the head mistress of an elite New England girl's school shot and killed her lover in a fit of jealousy, this otherwise ordinary criminal homicide became a celebrated case. Ministers have gone to prison to having their wives killed, and FBI agents have been convicted of first-degree murder. On a smaller criminological scale, the public is shocked when female public school teachers are caught having affairs with their male students. I remember a case involving a high-profile gun control advocate who shot an intruder with an unregistered firearm. These cases attract media attention because they feature hypocrisy.

     In October 2012, Colin McGrattan, an anger management counselor in Stockton, California, murdered his ex-wife, her sister, and the victim's aunt before killing himself. McGrattan had recently lost a legal dispute with his former spouse. Unable to control his anger, he killed three people and himself. On matters of anger management, this man obviously wasn't able to take his own advice.

     Even though we have low expectations for politicians and bureaucrats, cases occasionally pop up that are egregious enough to, if not shock us, grab our attention. In 2007, Sheila Burgess, a Massachusetts political fund-raiser for democrat candidates, collected her reward when Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the position of State Highway Safety Director. Since this was a political appointment, it's not surprising that Burgess didn't have experience in the fields of public safety, transportation, or public administration.

     On August 24, 2012, Burgess, while driving her state-issued vehicle on a sunny, Sunday afternoon near Milton, Massachusetts, drove off the road, wrecked the car, and injured herself in the head. Although she told the police she had swerved off the highway to avoid an oncoming vehicle, she may have been texting.

     The Highway Safety Director's traffic accident prompted a newspaper inquiry into Burgess' driving history. On November 18, 2012, the day after the paper revealed that Sheila Burgess had a record of 34  traffic violations, the governor removed her from office. (Because she's a government employee, full dismissal was out of the question.) Instead of firing this woman, the governor assigned Burgess to a "different role" within the same department. As director of the agency, Burgess' annual salary had been $87,000.

Sherri Lynn Wilkins

     In the fall of 2010, 50-year-old Sherri Lynn Wilkins began counseling substance abusers at the Twin Town Treatment Center in Torrance, California. In charge of the evening group sessions, she counseled up to 50 drug and alcohol abusers at a time. It was her job to help these people either get sober or stay off drugs. While Wilkins had earned a degree in drug counseling from Loyola Marymount University, it was her background as an alcoholic and heroin addict that in the bizarre world of substance abuse counseling that qualified her for the position. While giving her street credibility, the fact she "had been there" also meant she might relapse, an event that, in my opinion, would not be in the best interests of the people she was being paid to help. (I've often wondered if it might be a better idea to employ counselors who have managed to get through life without getting hooked on drugs or booze. Maybe this would give them a different kind of credibility. But I don't know the first thing about counseling, and the only thing I'm hooked on is coffee and sugar.)

     Sherri Lynn Watkin's background, before she began her counseling career, is as follows: In 1992, a Los Angeles County judge sentenced her to 16 months in jail for petty theft. Two years later, another judge sent her away for nine years for burglary. All of her crimes were related to her substance addiction. In May 2010, the Los Angeles police arrested Wilkins for hit and run in Torrance. Because she had not been driving under the influence, the case against her was dropped. But in July 2010, the authorities in Los Angeles charged Wilkins with leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. For some reason this case was also dismissed.

     At eleven-thirty on the night of November 24, 2012, Sherri Wilkins, while speeding west on Torrance Boulevard, slammed into 31-year-old Phillip Moreno who was crossing the street near his home. The impact knocked Moreno out of his shoes and threw him up on the hood of Wilkins' car. Wilkins continued driving with the dying man lying on her hood, his body lodged into her windshield.

     At a traffic light two miles from where Moreno had been struck and thrown up onto the car, several motorists swarmed Wilkins' vehicle and grabbed her ignition key. An ambulance rushed Mr. Moreno to a local hospital where, a few hours later, he died. Los Angeles police officers took the substance abuse counselor into custody. Watkins' blood-alcohol content registered twice the legal limit for driving.

     On November 27, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Sherri Wilkins with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. She was booked into the Los Angeles County Jail under $2.25 million bond.

     In April 2014, a jury in Terrance found Sherri Wilkins guilty of second-degree murder as well as several lesser offenses including hit-and-run. Two months later, Superior Court Judge Henry Hall sentenced the 54-year-old to 55 years to life in prison. The judge said, "Ms. Wilkins demonstrated an extraordinary callousness in fleeing the scene and trying to shake Mr. Moreno's body off her car. Ms. Wilkins is not what we normally see. She's not a classic violent criminal. But you have to evaluate her history. (According to her own testimony, Wilkins' drug addiction started after she was involved in a traffic accident at the age of fifteen. Her back had been broken, and she suffered shattered bones in her ankles and legs. She began medicating herself with heroin because it was "cheaper than going to the doctor.") In justifying the stiff sentence, Judge Hall added, "She had an insatiable desire to become intoxicated."

     Wilkins' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Nan Whitfield, said she would appeal the sentence. To reporters outside the courthouse, Whitfield said, "Nobody likes a drunk driver. Because she was a drug and alcohol counselor, she's held to a higher standard."

     


3 comments:

  1. Philip 'CHUD' Moreno was a close friend of mine and lived accross the street.

    I had known him for eight years.

    I also knew Sherri, with whom was my night counselor at TT.

    This was a difficult blow at a time when I was working on my sobriety. I didn't drink over it, but it still feels ugly.

    What hasn't been mentioned is that Sherri was 2/3rds of the way to her home with the intention of covering up the crime.

    She may have planned to leave her car and report it was stolen, or something more sinister like park in her garage and dispose of his body.

    When she was stopped, she told bystanders, 'He jumped out in front of ME. I was just trying to take him to the hospital'. There is no hospital in that direction.

    She then lit a cigarette and stared at him on her car. He died from blood loss caused by severing a major artery in his groin.

    The impact was so severe he was knocked out of his shoes and shorts. Left there, in his underwear dying on the hood of her car.

    Blood was most likely pouring over her passenger side dashboard yet she pressed her luck.

    Evil is what this woman was.

    Patients and staff expressed they felt 'sorry' for HER.

    How do you justify something like this?

    Her excuse was that she 'panicked'.

    Their excuse is that she was drunk.

    Let me tell you, you sober up real quick when you have a dying man on your windshield!

    She drove through the intersection where we/he live. If I was standing in my front yard when she passed I would have saw him hanging there.

    It makes me ill when I am driving the path she took, wondering if the rain has washed away the trail of blood.

    It is inconceivable to think someone could be so cold and without remorse that they would sacrifice another human life to cover their own ass.

    I will have trouble forgiving her for what she did. She turned a terrible accident into a premeditated murder.

    It still bothers me how to two crossed paths and the devastation that occurred and how she had a choice to allow him urgent medical care or leave him to die while she tried to escape.

    Also worth noting is that she was observed swerving from side to side while driving in an attempt to extricate his body from her car.

    RIP CHUD. We miss you.

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    1. I've read all I could about this woman, and came across this article—and your comment. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. This was a horrific crime. She does not seem a bit remorseful, from what I've gathered. There's some measure of comfort in knowing that she is not in the streets.

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  2. Very well thought out and written comment, one of the best I've read on the net. Very sad, very tragic, this man deserved better. Thank you for your thoughts.

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