Editor’s note: As the third anniversary of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising’s death approaches, interviews with the prosecutor who tried the boy’s homosexual murderers and information gleaned from Northwest Arkansas local news reports shed new light on factors that led to the tragedy. This story is graphic and not suitable for children.
While one of the convicted killers of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising appeals his guilty verdict in the case all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court and another has withdrawn his guilty plea, three years later there are few voices speaking out for the victim.
No local memorials have been held since his brutal death at the hands of two homosexual predators who confessed to using the boy as a sex toy while torturing him to death.
And even though the case received a flurry of publicity after first being brought to the attention of the nation in WorldNetDaily, the number of articles written pale in comparison to those written about the murder of Matthew Shepherd – an adult homosexual brutally murdered in Wyoming by heterosexuals. In fact, a Nexis search shows a disparity in story counts of 18-1.
Dirkhising suffocated to death during the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 1999, after being bound, drugged, gagged and brutally sodomized by Davis Don Carpenter, then 38, and Joshua Macabe Brown, then 22, at the men’s apartment in Rogers, Ark.
Earlier that summer, Jesse – with the permission of his mother and stepfather, Tina and Miles Yates – had begun spending weekends with the homosexual couple.
Carpenter, who had known Miles Yates for several years and was considered a “family friend,” made a 60-mile round trip on weekends to pick up Jesse at his trailer park home in Prairie Grove and take him back to Rogers, where he earned $45 helping to sweep the Regis Hairstylists beauty salon that Carpenter managed. Dirkhising planned to use the money to fix up a truck.
During the five-hour assault that began around midnight in the couple’s bedroom, Brown, acting on written instructions from Carpenter, bound the seventh-grader with nylon rope, placed a T-shirt blindfold over his head, and gagged his mouth with a pair of dirty underwear secured by a bandana and duct tape.
After propping pillows beneath Dirkhising’s abdomen, Brown sodomized him with three fingers, his penis, a frozen banana, and a urine enema laced with the sedative drug amitryptiline while Carpenter watched, masturbating, in the bedroom doorway.
Midway through the assault, Carpenter went to an all-night grocery store to purchase additional rape implements. A receipt later found by police, time-stamped 3:07 a.m., showed “Eckrich” sausage, cucumbers, “tape” and “deli” sandwiches.
Upon Carpenter’s return from the store, Brown continued sodomizing Jesse with the sausage and cucumber, using Vaseline. He then left the room to eat a sandwich. When he returned, the boy was no longer breathing. Frantic, he woke Carpenter who by that time had fallen asleep on the living room sofa.
After the men attempted unsuccessfully to administer CPR, Carpenter called 911. When police arrived at the apartment, they found Dirkhising naked and near death on the bedroom floor. His face was blue, there was blood in his mouth, and his body was smeared with feces.
Patrolman Ian Smith later testified, “The smell was unbearable. It was horrible. I couldn’t explain it to you.” Another detective testified that Brown had fecal matter in the web of his fingers when he was arrested.
Jesse was pronounced dead after being rushed to nearby St. Mary’s Hospital. Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Erickson later testified that the boy died as a result of “suffocation, positional asphyxiation and acute amitryptiline intoxication.”
In a post-conviction interview, Robert C. Balfe, Benton County, Ark., lead prosecutor, said, “The evidence shows the last thing that occurred to Jesse when he was alive was that he was being anally raped with the cucumber by Brown. Carpenter was so concerned over the aggressiveness of the rape, that he wrote a note to Brown telling him to back the cucumber out to 3 inches because it could cause ‘serious damage.’ They then duct taped the cucumber in Jesse’s anus and went to eat their sandwiches. I believe that this last violent act was more than Jesse could endure and he gave up and died.”
One of the most difficult aspects of trying the case, said Balfe, was proving that Jesse had struggled against his killers given the lack of evidence of anal trauma.
“Dr. Erickson actually removed [Jesse's] anus during the autopsy and we were able to view detailed photographs of it … It was normal sized, not enlarged as would normally be the case during an anal rape. There were no abrasions or bruises.”
Among the reasons why there was no trauma, said Balfe, were that “Jesse was heavily sedated. This made his rectum more elastic and less susceptible to bruising.” Also, “the defendants used Vaseline on themselves and the objects before inserting them.”
Balfe said that because the rectum returns to normal size after penetration, many times trauma will not be found in cases of anal penetration. “Even when medical experts testify why this is likely, as Dr. Erickson did in this case, the average juror still can’t seem to understand why this would not occur and often believes this indicates consent.”
Under questioning by Detective Martha Armstrong, Carpenter denied any participation in Jesse’s assault. However, a grocery clerk at the Price Cutter store where Carpenter bought the food items later testified that he “was wide awake when he came into the store” and that he was “pretty happy” about finding the duct tape on a low shelf, according to Northwest Arkansas News.
Carpenter admitted to police he had used several drugs in the hours leading up to the assault, including methamphetamine.
After his arrest, Carpenter told Benton County jail inmates that he participated in Jesse’s sodomy by “shoving pain pills” down the boy’s throat, according to a police affidavit.
In the taped interview, Carpenter also said he had “counseled” Jesse about his sexuality and drug use: “If he wanted to bring in a 28-year-old woman and screw her in the back room, I wouldn’t care. As long as he was there and he told me about it and was honest about everything I asked him about the thing he was doing.
“Just like I told him if you want to smoke pot that’s fine. You can smoke it in my house but don’t you go out there with the rest of these damn crazy kids because they’re not good people.”
“Jesse’s confused,” continued Carpenter. “Jesse is attracted to guys and … hates him, that part of himself.” He said that Jesse’s mother, Tina Yates, had mentioned Jesse’s homosexuality to him.
Carpenter admitted on tape that he left home at age 15 because of his own homosexuality: “My dad didn’t, my whole family didn’t think fags deserved to live.”
However, his father later accepted him. In an April 2001 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Davis Carpenter Sr. said that his son “came home one day and proceeded to tell me he was gay. We sat up and talked for a long time that night. I saw that I couldn’t change his mind. So I accepted it.”
Carpenter denied that he and Brown practiced any bondage in their sexual relationship. However, he told Armstrong that Brown and Dirkhising’s “play” included “mummy type stuff” where “they’ve taped each other like a mummy.”
In his police confession, Brown said he and Jesse “were just playing around.” He said they often hog-tied each other and that the teenager was a willing participant in their “games.”
Brown called Jesse his “on-the-side lover” and said that the boy had performed unsolicited oral sex on him during his first weekend visit. However, Brown insisted he had never penetrated Jesse anally until the night of the assault.
That night, Brown said, he placed candles about the bedroom of the apartment “to make a nice romantic mood” and that he had “made sensual love” to Jesse before beginning to sodomize him with the other items.
Brown said he didn’t know that the “game” would kill Jesse. In his taped confession, Brown hit the table several times with his fist in apparent remorse and said, “I just don’t believe I [expletive deleted] killed him.”
Brown also told police that “Davis gots a whole slew of videos” that are “mostly guy on guy,” but he was not sure if they had arrived yet from the couple’s previous residence in St. Petersburg, Fla.
When asked by Detective Jarod Mason if Carpenter ever fantasized about “little kids,” Brown answered, “Sometimes, yeah,” but denied that Carpenter would ever act on them.
Carpenter also “had fantasies about dogs” and would draw pictures of bondage acts, said Brown.
Later, Brown told Mason that “Jesse … really didn’t have nothing to offer except maybe sex every now and then.”
Joshua Brown was tried and convicted on charges of capital murder and rape in March 2001 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
During the trial, prosecutors called nearly 25 witnesses and presented more than 100 items of evidence, including nylon rope, petroleum jelly jars, a douche bottle, crumpled duct tape, feces- and vomit-covered shirts and underwear, prescription pill bottles, and photos of items that were used to sodomize the child, according to news reports.
Police also confiscated several notes that Carpenter wrote describing how to sedate and sodomize children.
One three-page note, addressed to “Baby,” Carpenter’s pet name for Brown, contained a graphic sexual assault fantasy about a little neighbor girl: “I saw your 10-year-old blonde whore this morning … Her bus comes by at 7:20 or 7:30.”
“Keep an eye on her to catch the first opportunity to talk to her – In the back window & whammo! Oh yeah!”
Benton County Circuit Court Judge David Clinger, who presided over Brown’s trial, called the written accounts of bondage, drugging, gagging and blindfolding “a blueprint for child rape.”
“Tina Yates, to our shock and dismay, testified on cross-examination that she was well aware that Carpenter and Brown were homosexuals and had no issue with them or homosexuality in general,” Balfe told C&F Report. “If Jesse wanted to be a homosexual, that was fine with her. In fact, a homosexual minister had married her and Jesse’s stepfather, Miles Yates. Tina considered Carpenter and Brown ‘family’ and they all spent considerable time together at each other’s residences.”
Miles Yates reiterated his wife’s testimony that he was aware that Carpenter and Brown were homosexuals and drug users but said those facts didn’t bother him “so long as it was not around the family,” and stated that he was not averse to Dirkhising using drugs “at home with me or someone you’re comfortable with.”
He also testified that he had met Carpenter about seven years prior to his stepson’s death via his own friendship with a homosexual lover of Carpenter’s and that he would allow only “a decent person – an upstanding citizen” to watch Jesse or his siblings overnight.
“This testimony was so out-of-step with any reasonable person’s views on family that it alienated [Tina], and by default, Jesse, from the jury,” said Balfe.
A 14-year-old female friend of Jesse’s also testified that Dirkhising had been seen the week prior to his death being injected with methamphetamine by a 43-year-old female neighbor of Brown’s and Carpenter’s, unsupervised by either of the men.
One family member who was not comfortable with Jesse’s friendship with the two homosexuals was his step-grandmother, Betty Yates.
In a 1999 interview with CNSNews.com, Yates said, “The parents put him in a situation he shouldn’t have been in. They knowingly let him spend weekends with the two guys knowing they were gay. Jesse was a typical 13-year-old good kid. You do not put a 13-year-old child into a situation like that. It had been going on for about two months and he had told them he did not want to go back.”
Betty Yates told CNSNews.com that some months prior to Jesse’s death, Tina Yates said she was excited that the gay couple had taken an interest in her son.
“I said, ‘Do they not have kids?’ And she said, ‘Well, they’re two guys, they’re gay.’ When they left, I said to my husband, ‘Do you know what they’re doing?’ But he’s real big on minding your own business. Now I’m sorry I didn’t pursue it. We shouldn’t have minded our own business that time. It was a horrible death that could have been prevented.”
Balfe told C&F Report, “It was extremely important to me that the jury stay focused on the real issue of the trial – the rape and murder of Jesse – and not be distracted by any side issues, such as whether this case was the subject of a conspiracy by the national media to hide homosexual hate crimes.
“Jesse was not attacked because he was heterosexual, he was attacked because he was a child. The defendants were pedophiles and had an unnatural desire to engage in the violent rape of children.”
Balfe stated, “I have my personal opinions on whether homosexuality is a sexual deviance that makes other types of sexual deviance such as pedophilia more likely to occur among homosexuals, but that is separate and apart from my prosecution of this crime.”
Balfe said that the defendants’ homosexual conduct was “self-evident” and added, “I didn’t stay away from the homosexual angle in this case to be politically correct.”
Family breakdown contributed to troubles
Teen pregnancy, divorce, fatherlessness and childhood abuse all played a part in the Dirkhising tragedy.
Both Jesse Dirkhising’s and Joshua Brown’s mothers were 17 when they gave birth to their sons. “Both mothers had their children too young, and both failed to nurture and protect,” said public defender Louis Lim. Carpenter’s parents were also divorced.
Brown’s mother, Judith Wasson of Memphis, Tenn., testified that Brown’s father had abandoned the family when Joshua was two years old.
She said that her son had been in and out of foster homes in California and Tennessee between the ages of 9 and 11 because of physical abuse and neglect at her own hands. She also stated that her brother, who had moved into their home as a “male figure” for the family, had physically abused Joshua and sexually abused his younger sister, Jessica.
When he was 20, Wasson said, her son met Carpenter in Memphis, Tenn., while on the rebound after breaking up with a girlfriend. “I did not know Josh had any homosexual tendencies until after he was arrested,” she said.
Under questioning by Detective Jarod Mason, Brown admitted he was bisexual: “I’m gay and I have a tendency to ling [perform oral sex on women].”
Defense attorney Lim said Brown was a troubled, insecure teen with drug addictions when Carpenter walked into his life in 1997.
“A successful hairstylist, Carpenter was a keynote speaker at Brown’s sister’s graduation from modeling school in Mississippi. Carpenter befriended Brown and offered him a job,” reported the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
When Carpenter saw Brown for the first time, “he said he [Brown] was so pretty he needed someone to lift him up,” Lim told jurors.
Within two months of knowing Brown, Carpenter convinced Brown to move away from his friends and family to Florida. Carpenter later manipulated Brown into a homosexual relationship by stating that four characters in the Bible (David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi) were homosexual.
As he did with Brown, Carpenter worked to isolate Jesse Dirkhising from his family, Lim said.
Co-workers from the Regis hair salon characterized Carpenter as the stronger of the two personalities in the relationship with Brown and said he tended to be domineering, condescending and sure of himself.
They generally described Brown as more like a teen-ager than a mature 22-year-old. One witness noted that Brown would generally stare at the ground in front of himself rather than looking people in the eyes, a trait evident in police transcripts and trial photographs.
Carpenter wrote housekeeping instructions to Brown and, in one note, described their relationship as “a beautiful marriage!”
In closing arguments, Prosecutor Balfe said that making a late-night run for more duct tape, picking up only two sandwiches instead of three, and leaving the child unattended all proved the Carpenter and Brown weren’t concerned about Jesse’s welfare.
Balfe also described to C&F Report the difficulty of convincing the court that Jesse’s rape was non-consensual: “I repeatedly kept telling the jury that there is no way a 13-year-old boy is going to agree to being bound, gagged with dirty underwear, and raped with numerous different objects over five hours,” he said.
“The defense’s response was essentially: ‘Well, I know it’s hard to understand, but you never know what these homosexuals are going to do.’” Balfe said that a similar comment was made in the jury room.
“If this was a 13-year-old girl, there would be absolutely no issue that it was not consensual. Yet since Jesse was a boy, this was somehow understandable. It must have been ‘kinky sex.’”
Balfe said in one interview Jesse’s disadvantaged background fueled jurors’ beliefs that the teen-ager had consented to the assault: “The defense certainly devalued the victim along [socio-economic] lines. If the 13-year-old had been the son of a Wal-Mart executive (Wal-Mart is headquartered here in Bentonville), then I believe we would have had a different outcome.
“That’s why pedophiles target children from disadvantaged homes. First, they’re more likely to be successful in luring these children because the parents aren’t as vigilant. Second, juries then punish the victim because the parents are unsympathetic.”
During the penalty phase of Brown’s trial, members of Jesse’s family made statements to the court telling how much the boy had meant to them and arguing for the maximum punishment for Joshua Brown.
According to local news reports, Jesse’s maternal grandmother, Paula McVey, fought back tears as she told jurors how much she and her remaining grandchildren missed Jesse.
McVey testified that Jesse’s little brother and sister, Chad and Renea Kidd, had been very close to their older brother. She said that Chad, then 9 years old, frequently cried out, “I want my brother!” and that Renea, 8, had become extremely dependent upon her remaining brother and broke into tears when separated from him for any length of time.
Chad wrote a statement to the court saying that he missed drawing and playing football, baseball, soccer and basketball with Jesse.
“I’m mad,” wrote Chad. “I want to hurt someone. I feel like there is a very big hole in me.” Chad added that he hoped Brown and Carpenter would get the death penalty.
Tina Yates wrote that Jesse loved to read and play football for his school’s team and that he liked camping, fishing and hunting with his siblings and going to movies with his grandmother. She said her son’s dream was to finish school, get his mechanic’s certification and make a living working on automobiles.
Brown’s mother, Judith Wasson, told the court tearfully, “We are profoundly sorry for the loss that the Yates family is having. I know in my heart that Joshua could not have intentionally killed anyone.”
Jesse’s classmates at Lincoln Middle School placed flowers on his school bus seat and memorialized his locker after his death.
Judge David Clinger rejected the contention that Brown tried to save Jesse by cutting away duct tape and trying to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Trial testimony showed that Carpenter and Brown contemplated cleaning Jesse in the shower or dumping his body somewhere else before Carpenter called 911.
“I absolutely don’t find a single shred of evidence that Mr. Carpenter ever forced you to do anything that you didn’t want to do,” Clinger said.
“You and Davis Carpenter had quite a time inflicting this on this bound and helpless young man who was barely 13. Imagining Jesse’s thought process during his slow and torturous death has sent shivers up my spine,” Clinger told Brown.
Despite Clinger’s contention that Brown willingly participated in Jesse’s assault, juror Milton Davis said, “Very often, we felt we were trying the wrong man.”
Carpenter’s trial, originally scheduled for May 2001, was averted after he pleaded guilty on April 18, 2001, to one count each of capital murder and rape in exchange for serving life in prison without possibility of parole.
At his sentencing, Carpenter admitted his culpability in Dirkhising’s death and apologized to Jesse’s mother and stepfather: “I’d like to say to Miles and Tina that I’m sorry Jesse’s gone. I tried to save him but couldn’t. Every day I pray for them and I will continue to pray for the rest of my life that the Lord will heal the hole in their heart.”
While acknowledging that Carpenter’s crimes were terrible, Judge Clinger said he found no evidence that either Carpenter or Brown intended to kill Jesse, convincing him to accept the plea bargain.
Carpenter’s father later told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that his son accepted partial blame for Jesse’s murder. “He knew the boy’s family didn’t have much money and gave him a job at the salon. But he has admitted that he probably shouldn’t have ever had the boy in that apartment.”
Brown’s case has been appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, according to reports from Northwest Arkansas News. However, the appeal is currently languishing due to personnel and workload issues within the Benton County Public Defender’s Office.
As for Carpenter, two months after his murder conviction he filed a handwritten motion to withdraw his guilty plea. On July 11, 2001, Carpenter filed another petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that his attorneys were ineffective. Exactly one year later, on July 11, 2002, Judge Clinger refused Carpenter’s requests, saying that neither request was signed and notarized as required by law.
Balfe summarized the case as follows: “I believe that this unfortunate 13-year-old boy, raised in a home with the [types of views that Miles and Tina Yates espoused], was left to be lured by these two pedophiles who could induce him with money and drugs. I believe they wanted Jesse to become addicted to drugs to make him more likely to follow their commands.”
Cards and letters may be sent to Jesse Dirkhising’s family at the following address:
c/o Benton County Prosecutor’s Office
100 NE “A” Street
Bentonville, AR 72712
Allyson Smith is a freelance reporter based in San Diego.