Longform

Case Closed

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It was a chance meeting, perhaps unavoidable, but it marked the beginning of a long struggle to escape what she describes as a mental spider web woven by Clark. They met, she said, in the jail's infirmary while she was being patched up after a fight. Clark made small talk, asked how she was doing. Later she noticed him watching her women's unit as it rehearsed for a dance contest. When they held the contest, he was there taking pictures. When they canceled the contest because of a fight, he escorted her back to her cell. She was 21 years old.

Soon little favors were sneaking her way. He placed money in her commissary account, and sent money orders to her, along with unsigned, cologne-scented cards. All the while he never asked anything in return. A couple of times he got her alone in a room and they just talked. He asked if she was getting his money and cards. At the end of one conversation he patted her rump and said he liked her. He gave her his number and asked her to call him. She still has his card, with the handwritten "Sarge" and his cell-phone number on the back. And she did call, collect from the jail's phone.

Sergeant Carter: "I have a list of calls that were made from TGK to [your] telephone number. Do you know who accepted those calls?"

Clark: "I have two sons. When she was first there my oldest son would visit her. My other son lives with me ... and he would talk to her. So that's how the phone number came about. I didn't personally give her my phone and say 'call me.' Everybody got my number."

Soon the man with the badge, who sought out her friendship in that cavernous, hostile world, was promising to get her out.

Clark wrote to her judge, Richard Margolius, extolling her virtues, how she "cheerfully obeys Corrections rules and procedures" and takes part in activities. "I am writing this letter because I strongly believe that inmate Chester wants very much to turn her young life around." He signed it: "Sergeant Walter Clark."

Pettigrew told internal affairs that in June 1997, while he was still in TGK awaiting sentencing, Clark visited him. The officer wanted to know how long the couple had been together. Then Clark went to Chester and told her he had "a premonition" that Pettigrew wasn't right for her, she recounted for investigators.

A couple of corrections officers noticed Clark spending a lot of time with the young female inmate. They took her aside to ask her about it. She told them what Clark had instructed her to say, that she was related to him.

Sergeant Carter: "Did you also talk to Ms. Chester or inmate Chester after she got out?"

Clark: "No. While she was in. While she was incarcerated."

In her sworn statement to IA investigators, Chester related that the day she was released from jail, at the end of 1997, Clark waited outside to give her a ride to her aunt's house. With family at last, she thought the whole episode, like some bad dream, was now behind her. ("I don't recall giving her a ride to her aunt's house," Clark told New Times.)

But a month later Clark stopped by and asked why she hadn't called. From the IA report: "She told him that she did not want anything to do with him, and thought that the things that happened while she was in jail did not involve her now. Sergeant Clark stated: 'You know that you're on papers [probation], and if you end up back in jail, I would be able to see you then.' She felt she had no other choice but to associate with him."

That's when his visits began. For the next seven months, she said, he'd stop by about four times a month. He represented an overwhelming mix of power, protection, and threat, and it clouded her mind. Eventually he set her up in a $285-a-month apartment in a rundown stretch of west Coconut Grove, near her mother. Clark co-signed the lease. Chester said he also paid the phone, cable, electric, and water bills. But this time it wasn't generosity, she added. This time it was for sex. He'd make her strip for him, give him oral sex, and have intercourse. He asked her to perform sex with another man so he could watch, prompting her to burst out: "You must have bumped your skull!" -- meaning: No way.

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten