Neal and Jesse Eldridge are two young men on trial. For over ten years,they suffered severe physical, emotional, and psychological abuse at the handsof their father. It ended the day they shot and killed him. Now Neal and Jesseare charged, as adults, with first degree murder; they face the possibility of lifein prison. All this because Arkansas Department of Health Services, DHS, didnothing to step in and save these young lives.
On January 24th, 1998, Rick Eldridge was supposed to take his sons, Nealand Jesse, to Buckarama, a deer hunting show at the Little Rock Expo Center. Before they left that morning, Rick caught the two teens smoking cigarettes. Hetold them they could not go to Buckarama(Neal & Jesse Eldridge: ChildAbuse Tragedy 1), then tried to suffocate them. Neal said his father pickedhim up and threw him headfirst into a wall (Haddigan 1). As he left, Rick toldNeal and Jesse that when he returned he would beat them to death. He alsogave them an impossible list of household chores to do before he returned,and said that he would kill them if they didnt. Fearing for their lives, the boys, ages 14 and 15 at the time, decided theyhad to protect their mother and sisters, as well as themselves, from the monsterthey called Dad. So the brothers loaded their .22-caliber, semi-automatic, Marlin rifles. Jesse stood behind the corner of the familys house, and Nealstood atop a shed next to the house. When Rick got out of his truck, the boysbegan to fire. Jesse shot once, but he lost his nerve and lowered his aim to hisfathers legs(Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy 1). Neal shot fourmore times aiming for Ricks head and neck. They then retreated into thewooded area near the house and unloaded their rifles(Shull 1). Neal and Jesses mother, who worked nights at Wal-mart and sleptduring the day, woke upon hearing the gunfire. She came to the porch, and sawRick lying there. Rachel, the boys sister, ran to Larry Plummer, a neighbor, forhelp. Both Mrs. Eldridge and Rachel assumed that Rick had a seizure, and hitWhen the police arrived, Neal and Jesse stepped out of the woods. Jessetold State Police Cpl. Jerry Roberts that they had killed their father because ofchild abuse(Haddigan 1). Roberts stated that both Neal and Jesse were calm,collected, very precise, and respectful to the officer. Sgt. Aaron Duvall is thePope County Sheriffs Department criminal investigator in charge of the case. He said that Neal asked if his father was dead, and then began to cry when heNeal and Jesse are now charged as adults with first degree murder. TheArkansas state prosecutor said, This was an ambush–definitely first degreemurder. This means that they could spend the rest of their lives inprison(Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy 1). An expert on family violence at the University of Pennsylvania, RichardGelles, talked about this case during a 20/20 interview. He said he wasconvinced the boys had a credible fear of their lives, and feels that the DHSfailed these boys(Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy 1). Manypsychologists agree that exposure to physical abuse causes children, especiallyboys, to become aggressive and violent. It has also been proven that 26 percentof incarcerated delinquents who had committed murder had experiencedphysical abuse; they were also more likely than those who had not sufferedabuse to have directed their violence toward members of their immediatefamily. Abused children often choose one of two options. They either fight orflee. They become involved in crime, especially violent crime. Almost half ofviolent teenage crimes occur in homes during family arguments(Fagan 1). Neal and Jesses history has been filled with traumatic abuse. They statedthat Rick was an explosive, domineering abuser who savagely beat them, theirsisters, and their mother for years(Haddigan 1). Mrs. Eldridge described herhusband as a gun toting, pot-smoking 64 brute who punished his fourchildren — including his young daughters — in bizarre ways. The first incidentJesse remembers, took place at the age of five. He said, I was holding myspoon wrong when I was eating my jelly. And he slammed me down on thefloor and stuck the handle of the spoon on my ear and it started ringing andbleeding. Rick Eldridge wrapped soiled underwear around their heads, andtook photos to humiliate them(Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy1). Rick many times carried a pistol around his waist. He beat the boys with hisfists, as well as an ammunition belt, or a stick(Haddigan 1). Many times hethreatened to pull a Ronald Gene Simmons. Simmons was convicted andexecuted for the December 1987 murders of 12 members of his family and twoother people. Rick had a book written about the case. Both Neal and Jessewere aware of what a Ronald Gene Simmons would be(Shull 1). Not only didhe torture the family through the physical abuse, he also put them throughemotional and psychological pain. Mrs. Eldridge said Rick Eldridge also killedfamily pets in the childrens presence while the children screamed inAlthough the DHS did not feel anything was wrong in the Eldridgehouse, many teachers at Hector Elementary School realized that there wassomething amiss in the home. Mrs. Honey Bewley is the clerk for the schoolsmigrant education program. She saw signs of physical abuse on Jesse. She alsosaw that Neal had a strong fear of his father. A fifth grade teacher, Pam Killings, said the brothers were good boysand she had no discipline problems with either one. Pam also said Jesse wasvery quiet and withdrawn a large part of the time.
Judy Aday, a first grade teacher, had a face-to-face confrontation withRick Eldridge in the hallway outside her classroom. She said he was a largeintimidating man and that she was afraid of him and afraid for her students. After Rick left, Aday went into her classroom and locked the door; she toldanother first grade teacher to do the same. If Rick returned she planned to getthe children out through the window.
The Hector School nurse, Sharon Bartlett, said she found extensive bruiseson one of Jesses legs. Jesse told her his father would kill him if he told abouthow he got the bruises(Shull 1). The bruises were reported to the stateDHS(Haddigan 1). Neal had cut his head at school one day. Rick cursed atyelled at his son when he arrived at the school to get Neal. Bartlett wasAnnette Henderson is the Hector Elementary principal. She corroboratedBartletts story and added that Rick was loud, abrasive, and profane towardsNeal after the playground accident. Henderson was also there during Adaysincident with Rick. She said he was very condescending and had a reputationof being physically abusive(Shull 1).
Muriel Dean Blaylock is the retired school counselor. Neal and Jesse hadboth been referred to her because of the suspected abuse(Shull 1). Jesse told herhe was afraid to go home. The state DHS was called one of manytimes(Haddigan 1). There was also a report that Rachel had been abused. Mrs.
Blaylock spoke with her, and Rachel said, I take Agatha and hide her. Agathais the youngest Eldridge(Shull 1). Rachel said her father beat her brotherssometimes. Blaylock reported this incident to the DHS as well. A few days afterMuriel Blaylock had reported these last few incidents, Rick Eldridge removedthe boys from school. He said he wanted to school them at home(HaddiganSo what do the DHS officials say about how they handled the case? During one interview they said there was never enough evidence to remove thechildren. We have concluded that we did not drop the ball as far as case work isconcerned(Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy 1). Joe Quinn, theDHS spokesman, would not detail the DHS actions. He said the agencyinvestigated abuse complaints, and a social worker visited the Eldridge homebefore the killing. He continues to insist DHS handled the case properly. Should Mrs. Eldridge have left? She tried several times. According toJesse, each time they left, Rick ended up finding us and telling us he was goingto hunt us down and kill us, and kill my moms mom(Haddigan 1). Mrs.
Eldridge told one reporter, He said we belonged to him and nobody wouldThese boys had no other option. If they had not killed their father, hewould have killed them. It was said best by Neal and Jesses attorney, TomFurth. These boys basically lost their childhood. Theyre not murderers. Theres such a thing as justifiable homicide(Haddigan 1). If justifiablehomicide does in fact exist in this country, this is the perfect example of it. Incases of women killing their abuser, some were acquitted only because theywere abused. But adult women can just pick up and go to a shelter or arelatives house. In the small backwoods town were Neal and Jesse lived, wherewere they to go? They were fourteen and fifteen. They could not just pack uptheir belongings and leave. If these women can be found not guilty, then itshould be impossible to convict these two boys of first degree murder.
Bibliography:Works CitedFagan, Patrick F. The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage,Family, and the American Community. 1999. Apr. 12, 2000. .
Haddigan, Michael. Justifiable Homicide. Nov. 26, 1999. Apr. 12, 2000. .
Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy. Feb. 17, 1999. Apr. 12, 1999. .
Shull, Laura L. The Courier. June 23, 1998. Apr. 10, 2000. .