By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
James and Emma Somerset say they were just trying to help their son and his girlfriend escape the dangers of Liberty City and begin a new life in Columbus, Ohio. Their August excursion to Miami to pick up the girlfriend and her children began as an errand of mercy, but it ended as a hellish ordeal. The Somersets were arrested, jailed for more than two months, and extradited from Ohio to Florida to stand trial on charges of kidnapping. But the alleged victim, Kristal Hollerman, has insisted from the outset that she asked the Somersets to take her to Ohio.
The Dade State Attorney's Office dropped the kidnapping charges against the Somersets and Emma's son Kenya Patterson (Hollerman's boyfriend) on November 10, three months after Hollerman and two of her three children embarked for Columbus from the Lincoln Field housing project on 65th Street in Liberty City. But being freed by prosecutors has not ended the Somersets' troubles. They have no idea how they're going to pay their way back to Columbus, and the life that awaits them there appears to be in shambles.
"It cost me my apartment, my van. The van, in April it would have been paid off," says 49-year-old James Somerset. "Not only that, we lost custody of our three grandkids [in Ohio]."
"This situation has torn up our family," laments 51-year-old Emma Somerset. "We're just in limbo."
Kenya Patterson and Kristal Hollerman both say they asked the Somersets to come to Miami and drive them back to Columbus. "We got what little bit of money we had together and told them we were coming down, because they said eight of their friends had been shot within a week," James Somerset recounts, referring to the well-publicized slew of drive-by shootings this past August in Liberty City. "We'd get them out of that area and give them a chance to turn their lives around."
James points to himself as an example of that turnaround. He had run-ins with the criminal justice system in Dade County between 1969 and 1985, including charges of grand theft, robbery, arson, petty larceny, and auto theft. Twice he was convicted: once for petty larceny in 1974, for which he received probation; and once for grand theft in 1984, for which he served fourteen months in state prison. The same month he was released -- March 1985 -- he relocated to Ohio and says he's been in no serious trouble since. (Franklin County jail records show he did serve nine days in 1993 for procuring prostitution, a misdemeanor.)
Though Hollerman and the Somersets insist that her move to Ohio was voluntary, Metro-Dade police heard a different version of the events of August 11 at Lincoln Field -- a version told by Kristal's mother Tangela Hollerman and another woman, who say they saw Kenya Patterson force the young woman into the Somersets' car at gunpoint.
Hollerman maintains that her mother made these allegations simply because she didn't want her to leave town. Still, her mother's account was substantive enough for Metro police to begin a search for James Somerset that quickly led them to the Opa-locka home of his mother. When Somerset telephoned her the morning of August 12 from a rest stop on Interstate 75 in north Florida to check in, police were there awaiting the call. They told him he'd been accused of kidnapping Hollerman.
"I explained to them, 'Look, this young lady wanted to move to Ohio, so we came down and picked her up. There was no kidnapping,'" Somerset recalls. Understandably, the officers wanted to speak to Hollerman herself.
"He asked me how was I doing, I told him all right," Hollerman says. "He asked me how old was I. I told him 21. Then he asked me, 'Does any one of them have a gun?' I said no. He said, 'Are you sure they're not forcing you to say this here?' and I said, 'No, they're not.'"
Somerset remembers that he got back on the phone with an officer who told him he needed to bring Hollerman and her children back to Miami. "I said, 'Look, I don't have enough money to come all the way back to Miami. I just have enough money to get back to Ohio,'" he recounts, adding that the care of his three small grandchildren in Columbus, one of whom, he says, was born HIV-positive, made their return imperative.
Somerset knew he couldn't ignore a possible felony charge, so he told police he would take Hollerman straight to police headquarters in Columbus upon their arrival; she could assure authorities in person that she had not been kidnapped.
Ivonne Sanchez-Ledo, the assistant state attorney assigned to the case, views Somerset's refusal to return to Miami immediately as a crucial mistake. "If they had stopped when police contacted them, I think this could have been resolved," she says. "It wouldn't have been such an emergency-type situation."
But he didn't turn around, nor did he stay put and wait for state troopers to meet them, as Metro-Dade police also asked them to do. An officer close to the investigation who did not want to be identified says state police agencies along I-75 were advised to look for the Somersets, but none stopped the car.