With Kidnappers Like These, Who Needs Social Workers?

James and Emma Somerset came to Miami to rescue their son's girlfriend. They wound up going to jail for kidnapping.

Having arrived in Columbus, Somerset says, they went to the police station early in the morning of August 13 and met with Sgt. David Clark, a detective with the department's sexual assault unit. Clark remembers the meeting; Hollerman told him she had not been kidnapped. Clark says he checked for outstanding warrants and found none, so he let them go on their way.

Later that day, however, arrest warrants for Kenya Patterson and James and Emma Somerset were signed by a Dade judge. The warrants were based on an affidavit from Det. Barbara Kinsey of Metro's domestic crimes bureau that summarized the kidnapping-at-gunpoint story Hollerman's mother had told police. (Detective Kinsey declined to comment on the case for this story.)

Ever since the warrants were issued, Hollerman has been telling police, judges, and lawyers in Dade County and Columbus, Ohio, that she was not kidnapped, that she in fact wanted to go to Ohio, and that the Somersets picked her up at her request. But her protestations were not enough to keep the Somersets or Kenya Patterson out of jail.

Sergeant Clark remembers that Metro police faxed him the arrest warrants on August 29; on September 3, when James Somerset took Hollerman in to provide a written statement that she had not been kidnapped, he was arrested. His wife was later picked up at home. Twenty-three-year-old Kenya Patterson and his twenty-year-old half-brother Kinta Somerset also ended up in jail -- Patterson on the kidnapping charge, Somerset on a Miami charge of attempted murder.

Prosecutor Sanchez-Ledo characterizes the Metro police investigation of the case as "very thorough" and says that Hollerman's assertions notwithstanding, police were initially unable to find any witnesses who contradicted the account of her being forced into the Somersets' car at gunpoint. Sanchez-Ledo, who works in the state attorney's domestic violence unit, points out that victims of abuse often deny that a crime occurred -- out of fear or love, or both. "In dealing with domestic violence cases day in and day out, there are a lot of cases where something happens in front of witnesses -- a woman is hit or slapped -- and then she'll come back and tell me it never happened," Sanchez-Ledo says. "It's extremely common."

While Hollerman stayed with the Somersets' relatives, James Somerset says his family initially contested their extradition to Florida but later acquiesced. Kenya Patterson and Kinta Somerset (who had arrived in Columbus a week after their parents and Hollerman) were transported south by U.S. marshals on October 7, first by van to Kentucky, then on a circuitous plane flight on the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transit System, the prisoners-only air service run by the U.S. Marshals Service known colloquially as "Con Air." James and Emma Somerset were picked up at the Franklin County jail on October 8 by Metro-Dade police and flown to Miami on Northwest Airlines. Also in early October, Hollerman and her two children flew to Miami -- a flight for which the Somersets paid. They have been staying alternately with her mother and James Somerset's mother.

James Somerset remembers the experience of being transported in handcuffs and shackles as mortifying. "You're walking through the airport and you've got all these people eyeing you," he explains. "Even when you're sitting down on the flight, they're gawking at you. It was very embarrassing."

His experiences in Dade's jail system went far beyond embarrassment. Soon after his arrival, he had to be taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital because of chest pains and elevated blood pressure. (Somerset says he suffers from a severe blockage of his coronary arteries and does not work. He collects social security disability payments.)

After spending the next three weeks in jail, he was fitted with an electronic anklet and released on October 31 to house arrest at his mother's. Emma, Kenya, and Kinta remained in jail on other charges. (Emma, who had moved to Ohio from Miami to marry James in 1994, was charged with the theft of some rent-to-own merchandise she says she thought she had paid for. While being held for kidnapping, Kenya was briefly charged with attempted murder, but those charges were dropped after a few weeks. Kinta remains in custody facing the attempted-murder charge.)

If law enforcement officials were not swayed by Kristal Hollerman's insistence that she had willingly gone to Ohio, the state's principal witness was. Hollerman's mother Tangela says she told police and prosecutors that, after hearing that her daughter claimed she wasn't kidnapped and wanted to be in Ohio, she was less enthusiastic about a case against the Somersets. "I told them if my daughter says that Kenya Patterson did not kidnap her, then he did not and I don't want anything more to do with it," she says. Tangela Hollerman stresses that she isn't backing down from her account of her daughter being forced into the car at gunpoint. "No one can tell me what I seen and what I didn't," she says firmly. "I seen what I seen; I have not changed anything. But if she says he did not kidnap her, then he didn't."

Prosecutor Sanchez-Ledo says Tangela Hollerman's reticence would not have been enough to derail her case. In early November, though, she met with Kristal Hollerman and another witness to the incident -- one whose account differed from Tangela's. "After speaking with Kristal and another witness, I felt I didn't have enough evidence at that time to go forward," Sanchez-Ledo explains. "The case was no-actioned because, technically, I couldn't prove it," says Sanchez-Ledo, "not because deep in my heart I didn't think it happened."

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