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Jessica Burlew was arrested at age 16 for the accidental death of 43 year old Jason Ash in January 2014, and charged with second degree murder. The media ignored the fact that she was a child victim of a sexual predator as soon as she was arraigned as an adult, and thrust her blue-haired dazed mugshot into the public eye with headlines like “Goth Teen Killed Boyfriend During Sex…” (NYDaily News 2/5/14). Her social media accounts - including the one at Vampirefreaks.com, where Jason Ash apparently found her, were publicly dissected and commented on by heartless spectators entertained by this tragedy, and Jessie was portrayed around the world as a freakish, bloodthirsty sexual deviant who seduced and then murdered this poor dude Jason, who just wanted to hang out and have a good time with her.
In reality, Jason Ash hooked Jessie on heroin and used her addiction to sexually exploit her. He got off on “knife play” (mind you, she had run away from a group home where she was placed for self-mutilating) and erotic asphyxiation (being choked into ecstasy). He took nude photos of her in bondage. Ash basically kept Jessie as wasted as he could to use her any way he wanted, knowing full well she was a mentally disabled 16 year old - not a consenting adult. She made sure he knew her age when she tried to quit using drugs just a few weeks before the accident that killed him. But Jess thought she loved him - and she just couldn’t resist the needle again when he brought her more.
When I saw Jessie being crucified by the media upon her arrest, I decided to write her in jail and offer what support I could. I knew she’d be facing a long, difficult incarceration in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s custody before she even got to trial, and would need a friend or two out here, at the very least, to advocate for her. We began corresponding and I got my hands on the police report. I can say without doubt that this child is not the monster she’s been made out to be. She’s certainly not a murderer, either - nor is she a “hero” for taking out a sexual predator like Ash. She didn’t mean to kill him - it was an accident. Rather, she's a hero for enduring what the state has put her through thus far, and for fighting the MCSO jail's conditions of confinement for the sake of those kids who come after her. It was more hassle than help to her to have done that.
As I expected she would be, Jessie was housed in solitary confinement in the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, locked down 23 hours a day. She was fed a bag of stale sandwiches and moldy oranges for breakfast and lunch, and one hot plate of slop with rocks in it and spoiled vegetables for dinner. Jessie thought the guards were singling her out for bad treatment until we corresponded, not knowing that all prisoners were fed barley enough edible garbage to nourish themselves. Jess has been constantly deprived of mental and physical stimulation and human contact. She's had no access to TV, radio, sources of news from the outside world, or any other kind of meaningful activity to pass her time in the box. For her "education", her jailers would chain her to a desk for 1:1 algebra instruction twice a week, at the most - nothing to earn her high school credit, though, as the jail high school program for kids charged as adults isn’t certified.
Jess’ mental health was gravely neglected from the time she arrived in jail. It took her mother considerable effort to get her evaluated and on the medications she needed, even though Jess had been diagnosed as autistic and mentally ill at a young age. She sure wasn’t provided with any trauma counseling to help her deal with not only the sexual abuse she had suffered, but the tragic death of another human being at her hands.
Meanwhile, her public defender ignored her for months, assuming he would get her off on probation somehow - then questioning her competency when spring came and the state didn't sound so friendly about a plea. By then she’d been languishing in a hellhole for months, an existence which would have driven most sane people mad. The rule 11 competency proceedings did little to improve Jess' psychiatric care while setting her trial date back half a year - which guaranteed she’d spend almost two years in solitary confinement by the time she got to trial.
Until recently, Jessie was adamant that she wouldn’t accept a plea deal that would send her to prison on murder charges, because she never intended to kill Jason Ash. But she was worn down by her 20 months in solitary confinement and pressured by her attorneys to avoid trial, and ended up entering a guilty plea to 2nd degree murder this past week. That's to say, this plea appears to have been entered under extremely coercive conditions. Unless the plea is rescinded IN THE NEXT 4 WEEKS, she will be sentenced next month to 10 years in prison with no early release. She desperately needs help now. Please make this fundraiser go viral.
Jessie’s supporters (http://www.freejessieb.org) have found an attorney willing to take her case to trial for a reasonable fee - damn near for free. That is, if that's what Jessie wants to do. But we only have a few weeks to raise the funds we need to give Jess a chance in hell of being free before the year 2025. This kid deserves better than prison - she's been chained up far too long already.
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