Sisters Confront Stepfather Who Murdered Their Mother in 1988
By SCOTT FARWELL
The Dallas Morning News Staff Writer
Published: 07 January 2012 11:27 PM
Twenty-three years is a long time to hold on to questions, especially when you’re terrified of the answers.
But there they were, three sisters from California, facing their fears — confronting the man who murdered their mother in 1988 in Coppell. Amanda Whitis, 35, said her heart raced as she and her sisters walked up to the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville last month. It would be the first time she had spoken to her stepfather, Bob Jag, since he was sentenced to 75 years in prison for shooting his wife, Linda, during a jealous rage.
“It was intimidating, but I was also excited to be there after 23 years and to finally face it,” she said. “I just wanted to feel the bravery and courage it took to face the biggest nightmare of our lives.”
By the end of the daylong mediation, the women said they felt a measure of peace and the hope of new healing. But they also felt revictimized by what they described as the bureaucracy of the Texas prison system and betrayal by public officials who questioned their sincerity.
The sisters, who run a movie production company in Hollywood called Moirai Media, had hoped to film the mediation to inspire other crime victims. But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice rejected the request. Prison officials said that for mediations to work, they must be kept private.
Whitis and her sisters, Kelley Whitis and Summer Harlow, said they could not discuss the specifics of what happened during the face-to-face meeting with Jag because they were required by the TDCJ to sign a confidentiality agreement.
The prison system also denied a request by The Dallas Morning News to interview Jag.
Kelley Whitis, 39, described the mediation this way on Tumblr, a social-media website:
“I went in without any expectations and I’m glad I did. Because had I gone in expecting an apology, I would have been let down. He did not once say he was sorry. Two simple words and he never managed to get those out.”
But instead of anger, over the course of the mediation Kelley Whitis said she began to feel empathy.
“I saw a lonely and scared 12-year-old. I saw a little boy who had been lied to and manipulated by women … since he was a child,” she wrote. “Because of this, he assumed all women would lie and cheat.
“He reached his wits end with my mother. Because she wanted to leave him, he decided no woman would ever leave him again.”
The mediation unearthed the brutality of that Sunday night in Coppell — how Jag shot their mother six times in the face at close range.
The sisters were reminded of their stepfather’s controlling nature, how he bought his wife a bumper sticker that read, “I (heart) my husband” and how he refused to let her wear a bikini.
They also were reminded of the anger they felt toward their mother, for choosing a man like that, for needing his financial security and failing to speak up when things started to go wrong.
Amanda Whitis said that’s why she and her sisters wanted to videotape the mediation and broadcast it to the world. Maybe it would inspire women to confront the fear.
“We wanted to help other victims face the demons of their past,” she said. “And we were willing to be vulnerable and have that filmed.”
In August, the 69-year-old Jag pulled out of the mediation after a representative of the sisters contacted The Dallas Morning News to promote the documentary they were producing. In December, he changed his mind and went through with the meeting.
“In my opinion, the offender’s rights are more looked after and protected than the victim’s rights,” said Harlow, 32. “In a way, this was our parole hearing, and the sensitivity to our emotions wasn’t there. “After we expressed everything we were going through, it felt like they [prison officials] weren’t listening to us. It felt very robotic.”
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, said the women pressed prison officials to allow the Oprah Winfrey Network to film the mediation.
A video on YouTube titled “Just Us Sisters, Sizzle Reel” also promoted a prospective 10-part documentary, based in part on the women’s mediation with their stepfather. They said the project has been canceled.
“There is a healthy skepticism about have they gone from being crime victims looking to put closure to their horrible experience to trying to commercialize it and make it a media event,” Whitmire said.
“Since I’ve gotten involved, the prison system has been very responsive, and they’ve made a lot of sense to me about the controls they have in place.”
Whitmire said he invited Amanda Whitis to air her grievances against TDCJ at one of the Senate’s criminal-justice meetings this spring. He said he does not think the sisters were mistreated. “I told her I would give her an opportunity to have a forum,” Whitmire said. “How could I reject her? I mean I’ve heard the prison guys’ version, and you know, the truth of the matter is probably somewhere in between.”
The sisters said Bryan Collier, TDCJ’s deputy executive director, told them last year, “It’s too bad you only want to do this [mediation] to be on television.”
They also said Angela McCown, director of the prison system’s victims-services division, suggested they “don’t put your lives on hold” while waiting for the mediation to be scheduled.
Amanda Whitis said both comments were insensitive.
“I got pulled through the ringer with this process,” she said. “Our character was insulted, our integrity was insulted, all because we were trying to help other women.”
Prison officials would not comment on the case because everyone involved agreed not to speak to the media. But McCown did answer questions about the program’s policies and her philosophy.
She said confidentiality agreements are necessary to make sure mediations are a safe environment — similar to counseling sessions — and both sides believe shared information will remain private.
“What I can say is that victims are human beings and we may or may not be able to provide everything to them in the manner in which they are asking for it,” McCown said. “That [filming] is simply not something we allow. Historically, most people have respected that and understood why we may not allow it.”
The sisters said they are happy they went through with the mediation, even though they feel like TDCJ silenced their voices.
They plan to continue to raise money for a film project called “In The Nest,” a documentary about gender inequality in Kenya.
And this spring, they hope to launch a foundation in Dallas aboard a luxury charter jet owned by Mark Cuban and Martin Woodall.
The goal is to support victims’ advocates, they said. Woodall described the event as conceptual.
“In the nonprofit world, you have your grand plan and then you have the plan that gets funded,” he said. “So, yes, we’re contributing the aircraft. We’re not contributing the cost of operating the aircraft. That will need to come from other donors.”
If the plan comes together, his nonprofit, the Woodall Foundation, would share in proceeds along with potentially several other foundations, he said.
But, he added, “We have to raise the money before we can give it out.”
After the mediation with their stepfather, the sisters said, they are more committed to their cause than ever. The goal, Harlow said, is to give her mother a voice.
“It’s important to be able to turn something tragic into something that will help other people,” she said. “The more we put our story out there, the more people won’t live their lives as victims.
“You don’t have to stay stuck in grief. It’s an everyday battle, but you don’t have to let it rule your life.”
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