Justice isn't a word in Rhode Island
By Ken Campbell, Collegian Columnist
March 04, 2002
When I reached middle school, the powers that be split us kids up alphabetically into different homerooms. Jason Burgeson sat in front of me for four years of middle school and four years of high school. Jason was a fun loving guy who relished hanging out with his friends, playing hockey, writing, acting and a slew of other activities. Jason and I starred in several plays and he graduated with me from Apponequet Regional High School in 1998, and decided to attend St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. In June of 2000, Jason returned home to Lakeville, Mass. for summer vacation. On June 8, Burgeson and his friend, 21 year-old Amy Shute from Coventry, RI, went to a club in Providence.
After the club closed in the early hours of June 9, Jason and Amy drove two friends to a nearby bar in Jason's Ford Explorer. Jason and Amy were standing by the truck when Gregory Floyd, 19; Harry Burdick, 21; Sammie Sanchez, 20; Raymond Anderson, 19, and allegedly Kenneth Day, 21, approached the car. Floyd and Burdick pulled a stolen gun on the two students and forced them into the Explorer. They took 18 dollars from them. The Explorer then drove off, followed by a car with Anderson, Sanchez and allegedly Day. They drove to a golf course, then under construction, in Johnston, RI.
There, four men and one alleged man got out and forced Jason and Amy onto the ground. Jason and Amy were told to kneel. Amy knelt behind Jason and wrapped her arms around him. The carjackers/kidnappers and allegedly Day then argued about what to do. Floyd held the gun. Anderson took Amy's jewelry, except for a ring that her mother had given her. Allegedly, Day suggested the men should rape Amy. Floyd argued against it. Day then allegedly told Floyd to shoot the two kids, huddled together on the ground, crying. Day then allegedly told Floyd that Jason and Amy had seen their faces, and they would have to kill them. At point-blank range Floyd aimed for their heads and fired twice. Jason and Amy were killed instantly. Floyd then handed the gun to another accomplice, who shot Jason again in the head.
Providence Patrolman Stephen Gencarella spotted Jason's truck around 9 p.m., about eight hours after the bodies were discovered. Floyd was driving the car. Gencarella arrested him. Floyd rolled on the others, telling the police everything. Within hours of the bodies being discovered all four carjackers and Kenneth Day were in custody.
On June 14, 2000 I walked across the Dahlborg-MacNevin Funeral Home's parking lot to a small knot of people that had been my closest friends in high school. We just kind of looked at each other.
"We always thought you'd be the first to go," my friend Adam told me. I started crying for the first time in years. We all did. We all hugged.
I couldn't go to the cemetery. I won't go into too much detail about the funeral - I'm sorry, it still hurts. I kept thinking about how he died. The waiting was probably the worst. I don't think I could have kept a stiff upper lip in that case. I kept seeing Jay. He was there, laying there, right there at the front of the chapel. The place was packed with people I hadn't seen in years, many of them crying. Even sitting there in the chapel I didn't believe. Not denial, but denying denial - he's there. He's dead. I know that on some level. But it didn't click.
I mean, life does go on, but only if you're breathing. My friend was dead. I had to move on. I keep telling myself that. I loaded the pistol anyway. I do it in secret. Anybody watching would have thought it was suicidal.
Maybe it was.
I left one chamber empty, tossed it under my pillow. The first night, the hammer dug into the back of my neck; I piled pillows up until I couldn't feel it. Each sweltering summer night I lay awake until I slipped my hand around the grip. Security blanket - who needs it when you got a Colt under your head?
It's a really raw deal. Once you're dead, your worries are basically over. But everyone left has to deal with it.
I slept with that gun under my pillow that summer. It was the only thing that kept the dreams at bay.
In the following weeks, Rhode Island turned the case over to federal prosecutors, in the hopes of getting the death penalty for the five men that, excuse me as I choke, allegedly killed my friend. The thought of a needle proved that there is no honor among thieves, and Burdick and Anderson agreed to testify in exchange for life sentences (maybe) in federal prison. A month after the one-year anniversary of Jason's slaying, Sanchez pleaded guilty. Floyd then admitted that he was the triggerman, and pleaded guilty in return for a non-death penalty.
Now, nearly two years later, Day remained, charged with aiding and abetting a carjacking, death resulting and conspiring to carjack, resulting in death. Eight days of grisly testimony, eight days of graphic photos and forensic evidence in federal court.
And then last week, on Feb. 27, it was over.
No, justice was not served. U.S. District Judge Ronald R. Lagueux said that the prosecution did not have a case against Day, despite testimony from admitted accomplices and a mountain of forensic evidence. Lagueux said that the federal prosecutors didn't have the evidence necessary to prove that Day was intending to kill someone on the night of June 8, 2000.
Even the jury was stunned at the announcement.
Fortunately, Day is not free. A previous alleged - God, I hate that word - victim came forward and said Day was the guy who robbed them before the murders. He's in jail on these unrelated robbery charges.
The state of Rhode Island says that they're going to file charges against Day.
Until then, Jason and Amy's families will have to relive the nightmare that has been going on for nearly two years. While Day sits in a cell in the Adult Correctional Institute in Cranston, RI, Jason lies in the Precinct Cemetery. Jason will never hear music again, something he loved. He'll never write poetry again. He'll never take the stage, kiss a girl, take a drink, laugh, joke, confide, advise, comfort, or be there again.
It is a social injustice of the worst degree that the man who allegedly ordered his death gets to do all those things. Granted, Day'll do them in a cell. But Day will still draw breath. Day will still see sunlight. He will still hear the rain, watch birds, wonder, think - all the things that my friend can never do. And that, gentle reader, is wrong. It is reprehensibly wrong that the Burgeson and Shute families will have to suffer through another round of pre-trial legal wrangling and cajoling.
It is inhuman that Day won't be brought to justice swiftly. I'm not really sure what I want. That's not really true. I know what I want. I want my hurting to stop.
My only comfort is in Jason's words. Jason, who told me once that writing was the only way to truly, honestly represent one's self, wrote these words years before his brutal murder.
"If I had to give you one piece of advice, it would be to look into the future, for the past hurts too much."
Sleep well, Jason.
Back to Poems and Essays Page