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A silent friend, and a debate over good Samaritan laws

Anne McDermott

By Anne McDermott
CNN Correspondent

September 4, 1998
Web posted at: 1:44 p.m. EDT (1344 GMT)

In this story:

Sherrice Iverson, top, was allegedly molested and strangled by Jeremy Strohmeyer, center. David Cash, bottom, was also at the casino when the crimes occurred.  

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- If only he'd spoken up, his critics say, if only he'd yelled for help, a little girl might be alive. Maybe. We'll never know.

David Cash Jr. eventually told police he saw his best friend, Jeremy Strohmeyer, follow 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson into a women's restroom at a casino in Primm, Nevada, on May 25, 1997. But Cash didn't say anything at the time.

Cash eventually said he saw his friend and the little girl in a stall together in that restroom. But he still didn't say anything at the time.

And Cash didn't say anything to police after they found Sherrice's body sexually molested and strangled. Not at first. Not even after Strohmeyer allegedly confessed to Cash.

Strohmeyer, now 19, of Long Beach, California, went on trial this week in Las Vegas, charged in Sherrice's killing. He allegedly confessed to police, then recanted, and has pleaded innocent. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Meantime, Cash, of La Palma, California, is back at school, beginning his sophomore year at the University of California at Berkeley.

That the two are now living such different lives seems somewhat unfair to some observers, who say Cash's failure to speak up must make him guilty of something, somehow.

Legally, he isn't. But should he be? Should a witness' silence about a crime be a crime?

Distancing himself with words, or lack of them

Cash has said he didn't speak up right away when he saw the two in the stall, because, as he put it, he saw "nothing criminal." He left the bathroom, and police say they have no evidence he participated in the crimes.

One might wonder whether Cash found it odd to see his friend in a women's restroom stall, with a little girl, around 4 a.m. Maybe he did.

But Cash himself has not directly addressed this question. And it's now legally beside the point, as Las Vegas police say he broke no Nevada law.

Some students at Berkeley question Cash's right to be there   

In the eyes of many observers, though, Cash has since broken intangible laws of civility with the callous public comments he's made.

For example, when a Los Angeles radio talk-show host recently asked him why he seemed so unmoved by the little girl's death, Cash said he "didn't know her."

On the same program, he explained that he didn't immediately go to police after he came to believe Strohmeyer was involved in Sherrice's death because he "did not want to be the one that takes away my best friend's last day."

Intangible anger in absence of 'good Samaritan' law

Only a few states have so-called "good Samaritan" laws that say bystanders must notify authorities of crimes they witness.

That has enraged Sherrice's mother, Yolanda Manuel. She is leading a petition drive urging Nevada to criminalize an adult's failure to report a sexual assault on a child, and wants the measure named for her child.

Sherrice wasn't at the casino alone: her father, Manuel's estranged husband, was gambling nearby. For all intents and purposes, though, the child was on her own at the time she caught Strohmeyer's attention.

But while some observers have criticized Sherrice's father, the casino and Nevada law, much of the anger remains focused on Cash.

And since he can't be punished legally, some are trying to make life uncomfortable for him.

The Los Angeles radio talk-show hosts were so angered by Cash's comments on their program that they led a rally last week at Berkeley, hoping to get Cash kicked out. But school officials say there are no legal grounds for doing that.

Other issues in trial, but silence debate persists

This case, horrific in itself, has other components to watch.

During jury selection this week in Strohmeyer's trial, potential panelists were questioned about the death penalty.

One of the defendant's attorneys, Leslie Abramson, is a staunch foe of the death penalty. She's perhaps better known for defending another young man, Erik Menendez.

Potential jurors also were asked about race. Jeremy Strohmeyer is white and Sherrice Iverson was African-American. But a lot of observers don't see race as an issue in this case: it's not the color of the child, they say, but simply that a child is dead.

For his part, Cash told CNN last month he expected he'd be keeping quiet through the length of his friend's trial.

But Cash's keeping quiet is the one thing his critics can't forgive.

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