Shunning and shaming

The mother of murdered 7-year old Sherrice Iverson and hundreds of supporters confront do-nothing witness David Cash at UC-Berkeley.

Published August 28, 1998 6:17PM (EDT)

In her elementary school picture, 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson's almond-shaped eyes sparkle. Black braids frame her full, smooth cheeks and her shy smile reveals the gaps where baby teeth used to be. Sherrice dreamed of being a nurse or a policewoman or a dancer when she grew up. But she never got the chance. On May 25, 1997, Sherrice's body was found in the restroom of a casino arcade outside Las Vegas. Her feet were propped up in the toilet, her clothes removed and her neck snapped. A security worker and Sherrice's father tried to resuscitate her, but she was already gone.

Jeremy Strohmeyer, now 20, is set to stand trial in Nevada for the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of Sherrice Iverson. A suspect has been charged, a trial set, evidence collected. For Sherrice's parents, the only thing left to do is wait and hope a jury convicts their daughter's alleged killer.

But Yolanda Manuel and Leroy Iverson are not satisfied with just waiting. That's because David Cash is a free man. Cash, who was with Strohmeyer the night of Sherrice's murder, didn't stop his friend from assaulting Sherrice and he didn't go for help. Instead, he walked away, only to meet up with Strohmeyer later and listen to his confession. Now he is a sophomore studying nuclear engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.

On Wednesday, Manuel and upwards of 100 protesters rallied on the Berkeley campus in an effort to get Cash expelled from the school. In her mind, he helped kill her child and should not be allowed to walk free.

"I don't have my child with me no more," said Manuel, her voice angry and clear. "At this point I'm going after David Cash because he was in the bathroom at the time and he didn't do nothing about it. I'm very outraged about this. He is an accomplice to the murder."

But technically, Cash has not committed a crime. That's because Nevada -- like California -- doesn't have a Good Samaritan law, meaning citizens are not required to stop a crime in progress or report it to police. Prosecutors in the case say they believe there is insufficient evidence to charge Cash as an accessory.

According to Cash's grand jury testimony, sometime late that night Sherrice and 18-year-old Strohmeyer began throwing wet paper towels at each other and running around the arcade. Cash followed the two into the ladies' restroom and looked over the stall door as Strohmeyer allegedly threatened the girl's life and covered her mouth to stifle her screams. Then Cash walked out. He claims he thought Strohmeyer was only trying to scare the girl.

As the teenagers went to meet Cash's father, David Cash Sr., Cash said Strohmeyer told him he had sexually assaulted and then strangled Sherrice. The boys kept silent until news reports and security video from the casino surfaced almost four days later. Strohmeyer made a confession to police, but has since pleaded innocent and has tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the confession out of court. Strohmeyer could face execution if convicted.

Since the tragedy, Manuel has enlisted the help of Los Angeles Islamic community leader Najee Ali. Together they have rallied community and religious groups as diverse as the NAACP and the Jewish Defense League, as well as a Los Angeles radio station, KLSX-FM. In a controversial interview on the station's Conway-Steckler show, Cash showed little remorse for not taking action the night Sherrice was killed. "The simple fact remains that I do not know this little girl," he said. "I do not know starving children in Panama. I do not know people that die of disease in Egypt. [I feel sad only] that I lost a best friend."

It was Cash's callousness that prompted radio hosts Tim Conway Jr. and Doug Steckler to organize the rally at Berkeley.

"You don't have to know a child or a human being to save their life," Manuel said. "Get yourself together, David Cash, because you know you're wrong. You don't have no remorse for me or my family. I have people from all over the world calling and crying with me over the telephone, David, and you haven't called, your parents haven't even called."

Cash's parents, a loan officer and an office worker living in La Palma, Calif., have been silent about the call for their son's expulsion. Los Angeles attorney Mark Werksman, who represents Cash, declined to talk to Salon about the protest or the case, as did Cash. "He's said enough," Werksman said.

Several other comments Cash made to the media have enraged Manuel and her supporters, and also drawn public criticism. Cash was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that the notoriety of the case made it easier for him to meet women. He was also quoted in the Long Beach Press-Telegram as saying he planned to "get money out of this." He has since denied making both statements.

A crowd, including 45 people who took a bus from Los Angeles, thronged the steps of Sproul Plaza -- the site of many student protests over the years -- with signs telling Cash to "go home." Students who passed by the rally expressed various kinds of concern: discomfort at sharing dorms and a campus with Cash, disappointment with Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who has said he cannot dismiss Cash because the student has committed no crime. Some students felt the campaign against Cash was "not fair," since the incident occurred after he was admitted.

"Berkeley has a choice about who they accept as students, and they try to screen them really well," said Tina Rouvatis, a junior majoring in English. "In this case, they made a mistake, and now he needs to get out of here.
He needs to be held responsible," she continued, "otherwise he'll never be an adult. Somebody's got to take the first step and it should be Berkeley."

On Wednesday, Manuel, a tired-looking, small-framed woman, addressed Cash directly, even though he was not physically present. "I'm not going to give up on you, David," she said. "I'm still crying, but I told David that I'm not going to cry no more, because he's going to be the next to cry."

Surrounded by boom mikes, video cameras and at least 20 reporters, Manuel softened to receive hugs and words of support from those who had come to pay their respects to a bereaved mother. Many brought their children with them.

In addition to the protest, Manuel and her supporters have circulated a petition to put Good Samaritan laws on the books in Nevada and California. So far, 20,000 people have signed the petition. Meanwhile, Iverson has filed suit against the Primm Valley Hotel where the incident occurred, claiming that it falsely advertised itself as a family-oriented establishment and then failed to provide a safe environment.

Manuel's protest has left many students, faculty and staff at the school questioning whether Berkeley can or should take action against a student for conduct that is not illegal, but which many consider to be immoral.

Barbara Cowell, a freshman majoring in art and math, has signed the petition favoring Good Samaritan laws but doesn't believe Cash should be expelled. "I signed the petition because I think we should change the law," she said, "but I don't think David Cash should be expelled from this school, because he did not break the law." Cowell said she doesn't want to go to school with Cash and wouldn't talk to him, but "he was already admitted. You can't say, 'Oh, well, we found out that you're not as moral as we thought you were. We don't want you to come anymore.' That's not fair for students in general and at this school. There are going to be bad people everywhere."

Because Strohmeyer and Cash are white, and the victim and her family black, many people in the crowd suggested that the race of the boys has protected them. But Manuel vehemently denies that this is a racial issue.

"I feel really awful for [Manuel]," said Donna Weir, a graduate student and instructor in English, who has two children and a 7-year-old niece. "I'm appalled and I don't think this student should be at Cal. If we can expel people for plagiarism, we should be able to expel someone, who as far as I'm concerned, was an accomplice to a murder."

By Fiona Morgan

Fiona Morgan is an associate editor for Salon News.

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