Jennifer’s story

Sometimes listening to an individual’s desperate story isn’t enough.

Being a journalist is sometimes like being a public psychotherapist—on call whenever you’re sitting by a phone. Some stories are fascinating. Others are worth listening to just to let frustrated individuals vent—to help them feel as if Someone Out There is listening. There’s a progression of desperation that begins with, maybe, cussing at automated phone answering systems and ends with automatic weapons in, say, a post office.

Or with helping your boyfriend break out of jail.

Jennifer McElroy, 26, a mother of two, called me on and off this spring to tell me how she and her boyfriend had been abused by the system. You might remember Jennifer’s name from recent news stories. She and Washoe County Jail escapee Milton David Plummer were nabbed in San Leandro, Calif., last week after a five-day hunt by cops.

I remembered Jennifer’s name right away. During her infrequent calls, I recorded some of her story, from her boyfriend’s screwing up his parole by driving to Reno to a bogus (she said) rape charge to a vindictive ex-wife who called authorities in a fit of jealousy alerting police to Plummer’s record and felon status.

Plummer didn’t do it, Jennifer told me. He didn’t rob any stores in Reno. She didn’t serve as his lookout. She has no criminal record at all and just recently lost her job as a national business ordering representative for AT&T West, she said.

Her boyfriend’s biggest crime was absconding on his parole by leaving California—and carrying a weapon. The authorities in Reno, she said, were trying to unload a mess of unsolved robberies on her boyfriend. Jennifer was arrested, she said, after authorities had promised not to arrest her. Her apartment was searched without a warrant, she said, and when police found a stolen backpack, that was all authorities needed to connect Plummer to 12 crimes.

The two cases were then turned over to conflict attorneys.

“Conflict attorneys don’t give a crap about what happens to you,” Jennifer said. “They have a heavy caseload because they’re private attorneys as well. If a private client is paying you a few thousand and the state is paying just a few hundred, who are you going to care about? [One of my lawyers] told me, ‘This is what you’re paying for.’ He told me over the phone that I was a liar and that there was nothing to defend. He treated me like crap.”

Jennifer didn’t want to take any of the deals offered by the District Attorney’s Office.

“They told me they’d give David eight to 40 years and I could walk if I’d testify,” she said. “And I told them to shove it up their ass. They finally threw me in the shoe—solitary confinement.”

Jennifer soon tired of living in jail and decided to plead guilty to be with her two sons, ages 3 and 2. Her lawyer advised her to “do what the DA wants.” She signed a paper she didn’t understand, she said, a paper that the lawyers were “writing stuff on” after she’d signed it. “I didn’t know I was signing away my rights,” she said.

I didn’t work on Jennifer’s story back in May. I didn’t make it to court when her June 7 hearing was delayed to June 21. I didn’t make the June 21 hearing.

Then Jennifer stopped calling.