'I did not kill anybody'
Accused double-murderer John Laurence Whitaker calls the Weekly to proclaim his innocence
By André Coleman 02/05/2009
In a telephone interview from jail last week, former Pasadena schools volunteer and accused double murderer John Laurence Whitaker proclaimed his innocence.
Saying there has been a “rush to judgment,” Whitaker, who went by the name of John Whitaker-Betances when he lived in Pasadena from 1997 to 2004, said flatly, “I did not kill anybody.”
Saying “90 percent of the facts” related to his case “are just coming out,” Whitaker said, “Trust me; they are making a big mistake.”
Whitaker has been held without bail in the Harbor Justice Center jail in Newport Beach since 2004, soon after he was arrested in Oregon, where he failed to register as a sex offender. Whitaker was wanted at the time by Orange County homicide investigators, who had linked his DNA profile to the unsolved 1983 strangling of Patricia Ann Carpenter, a prostitute, in Laguna Niguel. Whitaker was also linked though DNA evidence to another strangulation — that of Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District clerk Bodil Rasmussen in 1975 in Santa Monica.
It was also learned around that time in 2004 that Whitaker, who passed himself off as a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was really a convicted sex offender who had spent three years in prison in New York in the 1970s for raping a 14-year-old boy, and then after that 10 more years in a California prison for raping a girl of the same age.
In Thursday’s interview — conducted the day that a story appeared about his next court hearing on March 23, marking Whitaker’s 17th pretrial appearance since his arrest more than four years ago — Whitaker said he has a strong case for innocence.
“It’s not going to be the duck-shoot they thought it would be,” Whitaker said. “It’s not going to be like shooting fish in a bucket.”
Without providing specifics, Whitaker’s public defender, Lewis Clapp, maintains that Whitaker was having drinks with doctors at the time Rasmussen was being raped and murdered.
In testimony in Oregon in fall 2004, Whitaker stated that he left California for New York City the day before Carpenter was killed. Authorities from Orange County maintain that skin particles found under Carpenter’s fingernails contained Whitaker’s DNA, and witnesses say they saw her with Whitaker hours before she was killed.
Soon after being released from his second rape sentence, Whitaker moved to Pasadena, where he developed the smooth-talking Whitaker-Betances persona, in which he wore a military beret and medal-bedecked Army fatigues. He once regaled listeners at Pasadena City College, where he ran for a seat on the college board of trustees, with stories of escaping a Viet Cong POW camp by chewing through a guard’s neck.
The Army has no service record for anyone using his Social Security number.
In 2001, working closely with local school officials, Whitaker started the DADS (Dads Are Doing Something) Program, dedicated to inspiring adult males to get involved in the school district. Former PUSD Superintendent Percy Clark was so taken in — while registered as a sex offender under his real name in Pasadena, Whitaker was never subjected to a background investigation — that Clark gave him keys to a district office and access to files and computers. Clark has told PW that he was unsure how he met Whitaker, but thought it could have been through Whitaker’s then-wife Eloise Crichton, a teacher’s aide at Sierra Madre Elementary School he married while living here.
“The only way Percy Clark would have to testify on my behalf is as a character witness in a penalty phase of the trial and it won’t come to that,” Whitaker said. “We won’t need him because we won’t get there.”
During his days in Pasadena, Whitaker cut an imposing figure, standing six-feet four-inches tall and weighing about 240 pounds. Today, he has lost about 60 pounds and spends most of his days reading law books in his 8-by-12-foot cell. He is under protective custody, due to his status as a registered sex offender and the publicity that his case has generated.
“It’s like Mississippi and Arkansas in here,” Whitaker said of the racism he claims to have experienced while in jail. “This is deeper than Jim Crow. They would lynch me if they could.”
When asked if he killed either woman, Whitaker responded: “No, I did not kill anybody, but nobody seems interested in that. That’s what happens when you abuse the process.”
Whitaker, police say, claimed to be a medical student at the time of Rasmussen’s death. He would not discuss his alibi in that case or his relationship with Rasmussen.
“I never said I was a medical student,” Whitaker said. “Things get perpetrated and turned around all the time. It happens all the time in newspapers. They say I used 18 aliases. Some of that is just misspellings. My name is John Laurence Whitaker-Betances. My last name is hyphenated. That happens all the time with people of Puerto Rican descent.”
Officials say Whitaker’s legal name is not Betances, and point out that during both prison stretches his name was John Laurence Whitaker.
“The facts are what will stand the test,” Whitaker said. “It’s going to come down a lot different than what people think.”