HOUSTON— Randy Ertman doesn’t care much for talking to reporters anymore, but now he figures he doesn’t have much choice.
"I want this man to spend the rest of his life in prison," he said, then he corrects himself. "I’m sorry I said ‘man.’ I want that piece of crap to die in prison. And I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure he stays in prison."
Ertman’s face may not be familiar, but a photograph of his smiling 14 year-old daughter seared itself into the memories of a generation of Houstonians. Jennifer Ertman and her friend Elizabeth Pena were savagely gang-raped and murdered in an hour-long horror that unfolded one night in a northwest Houston park.
The crime stunned the city, especially after trials revealed agonizing details of how the girls suffered and begged for mercy during the last hour of their lives. Almost as disturbing as the crime itself was the feral and remorseless behavior of the gang members, who boasted to friends and relatives about the girls’ blood on their clothes. Even after their arrests, they cursed and kicked as police detectives walked them into the courthouse.
Three of the gang-members have since been executed. The other attackers, who were sentenced to prison terms, periodically come up for parole.
Venancio Medellin was 14 years old when he tagged along with his older brother to the gang intiation in T.C Jester Park that night in July 1993. He testified that he participated in the rape of Ertman, but did not help kill either of the girls. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Now, Medellin is up for parole.
That’s what brought Randy Ertman to Huntsville Tuesday morning for a closed-door meeting with a member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
"It tears your heart apart," Ertman said. "It breaks your heart. But I have to do what I have to do for my daughter. I’m gonna do it."
Ertman and his wife, Sandy, spent almost an hour meeting with the parole board member, explaining why they believe Medellin should stay in prison. They were accompanied by Andy Kahan, the city’s victim rights advocate, who has known the family ever since the two girls disappeared.
"It’s absolutely gut-wrenching," Kahan said."It takes its emotional toll. It’s almost like time stops. Even though it’s been 20 years, it’s almost like we’re going back to that fatal day, June 25, 1993, when Elizabeth and Jenny turned up missing, and ultimately dead."
Ertman’s anger often boiled over after his daughter’s death. As he ran to the crime scene, he yelled and cursed at police officers who tried to keep him away. After one of the killers was sentenced to death, the judge made history by allowing a victim’s impact statement. Ertman screamed at the convicted murderer.
But his sandy hair has grayed as the years have passed. Ertman and his wife have moved away from Houston and taken up residence in Sommerville. And after Tuesday’s hearing, he made a point of personally thanking and shaking the hand of every reporter and photographer who traveled to Huntsville to cover the proceedings.
"I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or nothing, but that was our only child," he says. "And my wife, it tears her heart every day. It tears me apart every day. But I ain’t gonna be weak. I have to be strong for my wife and the people of Houston, who’ve always backed us."
Ertman, who’s now 60 years old, expects Medellin to die in prison. Nonetheless, if he serves out his sentence, he could be released when he’s in his mid-50s. That’s why the father of the girl Medellin admitted raping before her death vows to show up for every parole hearing.
"I have to fight for my daughter," he said. "I’m getting tired, but I’m going to keep going."
A decision on Medellin’s parole is expected during the next few weeks.