Clemency sought for first-time offender sentenced at age 15 to life in prison without parole.
Rebecca Lee Falcon was 14 years old when her family moved from the small "country" town of Tonganoxie, Kansas to an overpopulated, inner-city area of Leavenworth, Kansas. The move was made to be closer to her father’s job with the Bureau of Prisons.
Rebecca had just finished her last year in junior high school. She had many friends, was in drama classes, and sang in the choir. She enjoyed swimming, bike riding, reading, and drawing. She was considered very creative by her teachers, and they wanted to have her tested for the gifted program.
The new school that Rebecca would be attending was Leavenworth High School. It was known as a very rough place where drugs, gangs, and fights were rampant. Rebecca was not used to that type of school environment. Her mother feared for what might happen to her daughter and what types of things that might influence her. Rebecca was described as “sweet and bright;” she was also “immature for her age and overly gullible.”
Rebecca’s mother, concerned about this environment, attempted to enroll her daughter in a local Catholic school. However, even with membership discounts, the family of six (Rebecca had three younger brothers) simply could not afford the school. So, despite her mother’s better judgment, Rebecca was enrolled in Leavenworth High School.
In the beginning of the year, all seemed to be going well. Rebecca was very enthusiastic and enrolled in the same courses she enjoyed at Tonganoxie: drama and choir. She also elected Spanish, a language she had always wanted to learn. Her mother would pick Rebecca up at school and ask her about her day and if she had met any friends. Although she talked to people here and there, she gave the impression that she was having a hard time fitting in.
The previous year, in Tonganoxie, Rebecca was always occupied after school with friends and activities. However, in Leavenworth she spent most of her time alone in her room. Her mother began to wish that they had never taken her away from her school and all her friends. Rebecca’s mother would later say “I realize now Rebecca was going through a depression brought on by such a major change in her life.”
Rebecca began making such statements as "I feel like such a geek" and "I'll never have a boyfriend because I'm so ugly." Her mother tried to remain positive and gave her daughter lots of praise. Rebecca’s mom understood that “…at 14 years-old, praise from a mother is a lot different from praise from a friend or a boy.”
Then, Rebecca took her mother by surprise by asking if she could receive calls from a boy at school. The boy, however, was black and Rebecca is white. "At first we said no, but then relented and said as long as it stays platonic--nothing more than friends."
From that point on, Rebecca seemed to regain some sort of social life, although not exactly what I had in mind, and certainly nothing like before. Soon she met a couple of girlfriends--who were either black or going out with black boys. Her mother “…had a very hard time drawing the line as to who she hung out with, because, although I am not prejudice, Rebecca had never had black friends before and this was new to me as well.”
About halfway through the school year, Rebecca's grades began to drop and she lost interest in the classes she once loved (drama and choir). Although she loved to swim and was an avid swimmer, she no longer wanted to do that either.
Then, on an outing with one of her friends, Rebecca, now 15, was introduced to a 20-year old man. He gave her lots of attention, told her she was beautiful, and sent her flowers everyday at school. Rebecca’s family thought that this man was not only too old for Rebecca, but was a bad influence for her. However, Rebecca thought he was the greatest thing on earth, and she was convinced that he loved her.
Rebecca’s parents diligently tried to prevent this adult from seeing Rebecca. They went to the police department, tried to get a restraining order, and gave the man direct orders not to call the house or go near their daughter. Nevertheless, he would show up at her school, meet up with her when she was visiting a friend, and continued to call the house.
Despite all of their efforts, “We couldn't keep him away from Rebecca. Rebecca thought he was the love of her life and was angry at us for tearing them apart.” Finally, the decision was made to send Rebecca to live with her grandmother in Panama City, Florida. They hoped the change would help Rebecca get over this man, but even though they were miles apart, she “still continued to grieve for him.”
In Panama City, Rebecca began 10th grade at Rutherford High School. She met a few friends and seemed to be doing okay, but not as well as her family had hoped. Before Rebecca left Kansas, her mother had made an appointment for Rebecca to see a psychologist because “I was worried over her attachment to this boy, and also because she was emotional and crying all the time.”
Because of her relocation to Florida she missed her appointment. Her mother then asked Rebecca’s grandmother to make her an appointment to see a psychologist in Panama City. The appointment was made and Rebecca was scheduled to see the doctor the first week of December 1997.
However, Rebecca would also miss that appointment, for on the night of Wednesday, November 19, 1997, something would happen which would change Rebecca's life forever.
For the first two months after Rebecca relocated to Panama City, everything seemed to going well. Rebecca was attending 10th grade, and her grandmother was teaching her to drive. However, one night Rebecca got a call from a friend in Kansas, who informed Rebecca her boyfriend was seeing another girl.
It was a school night. Rebecca became very depressed and got into her grandfather's liquor cabinet. She drank almost a quart of whiskey; then she received a call from a 14 year-old friend from school. He asked her to come outside for a little while and said he would meet her in the front of the house.
When Rebecca saw him arrive, she finished off the whiskey and went outside through her bedroom window. The boy was accompanied by his 18 year-old cousin, Clifton, and the three of them walked around the neighborhood.
Shortly after their walk, Clifton said he knew where there was a party. So they hailed a cab. The 14 year old friend had his bike so he could not take the cab. That is when Rebecca joined the 18 year-old in the back-seat of the cab and the younger friend left.
Clifton, the 18 year-old, was known to walk around armed and had his gun with him this night. During the ride, Clifton directed the cabdriver to a deserted street, pulled out a gun, and asked him for money. When the cabdriver began making defensive movements, the gun went off, wounding the cabdriver. He died six days later. Rebecca ran from the scene to her grandmother’s house.
Rebecca's mother remembers "Rebecca called me the next day upset and crying. She told me she had seen a man shot. I immediately flew to Florida and, together, we to the police. However, Rebecca would not give police Clifton's name. She said she had promised him and the 14 year-old friend she wouldn't give police their names. The detectives told us if she didn't name him, they would find him themselves, and they assured us he would implicate Rebecca."
Detectives found Clifton and told him Rebecca blamed everything on him. He turned around and blamed everything on her. Subsequently, they were both indicted as adults and charged with 1st degree murder and armed robbery. They were tried separately by the same prosecutor, Jim Appleman. In April 1999, Rebecca was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole (the only option for 1st degree murder in the state of Florida). Rebecca had not yet turned 16. She now resides at Lowell Women's Prison.
Before being adjudicated as an adult, Rebecca was sent to a juvenile detention facility where she responded very well. She attended classes on her grade level, went to group and private counseling sessions, and attended bible classes and church services. However, once she was indicted as an adult, she was put in an isolation cell at the Bay County Jail Annex.
Because this facility was not set up to house female juveniles, Rebecca did without education, church services, and fresh air for 17 months prior to her trial. Because she did not receive proper nutrition for a developing female, (no fresh fruits or vegetables) she became weak and her hair began falling out in clumps. She became pale and sickly from doing without fresh air and sunshine for many months.
Then, her appendix ruptured, and despite her screams of pains and begging for her "mommy" she was ignored until she finally passed out. When she was finally seen by a doctor, she was rushed in for an emergency operation. Considering her condition, the surgeon was surprised she was still alive.
Along with the physical pain, she also endured much emotional suffering during her stay at the county jail. Although the law specifically forbids adults to be within sight or sound of juveniles, jail staff repeatedly ignored the law by throwing disruptive and/or psychotic adult inmates in cells next to Rebecca because they had nowhere else to put them.
These adults would use Rebecca as their target and scream filthy and horrible names at her, beg her to perform perverse sexual acts on them, and flash themselves at her. They would keep her up all night by screaming at her and harassing her.
Once, Rebecca was found on the floor, rocking back and forth and sobbing uncontrollably, because an older lady kept hollering and cussing at Rebecca, and Rebecca couldn't take it anymore. When her mother called to beg the staff to remove this woman from her daughter's cell, she was told by a female staff sergeant, "She's in with the big girls now, so she's gonna have to learn to get used to it."
Hence, jail staff did nothing to stop this abuse. They didn't care about Rebecca or what she was going through emotionally, physically, or otherwise. She was like a "thing" whose life meant nothing. Although the night of the shooting was very traumatic for Rebecca, she has never been provided with counseling, except during her brief stay at juvenile detention.
Under Florida's current law, the judge had no choice but to give her the maximum sentence. Rebecca had never been in trouble before, and she had planned to go to college to be a psychologist. Now, she is in a hard-core prison for women learning things she doesn't need to know. There are no opportunities for growth, so she just exists--nothing else.
Rebecca’s mother says:
Rebecca's mother relates the following:
None of that mattered, and Rebecca didn't matter —just the nature of the crime mattered. What happened that night will stay with Rebecca and haunt her for the rest of her life— whether she is in prison or out of prison. But there has to be a more humane form of justice than sending a 15-year-old girl, who had never been in trouble before, away to prison for the rest of her life, without any chance at parole.
What kind of nation do we want to be: A land of redemption or one of retribution? When we condemn a 15 year-old girl to life in prison with out parole and execute a 17 year-old murderer, then we see America's children through the dark lens of revenge.
To contact Rebecca's mother:
September 09, 2003
Sorry, but the justice4kids site ignored the real victim of
this crime; the cab driver.
Reply from Kathy, Karen Kaneer's stepsister and Rebecca Falcon's aunt
September 09, 2003
My Name is Kathy, Karen's sister and Rebecca's Aunt. I am also the Mother of a 20 year old son who was murdered by a 63 year old man who is not in prison for my sons murder but he is in there for fraud.There was just circumstantial evidence so they would not take him to trial. Walter was also Karen's nephew and Rebecca's cousin, she was just ten when he was killed and I remember her pain and asking how anyone could do that.
Sir, we do not forget the victim of this crime, Becky doesn't, our family knows their pain first hand. But the facts of the case are Becky did not shoot this young man and I would not want the wrong person in jail for killing my child. If you could read the court papers the evidence was all circumstantial, there was no blood on Becky, Becky was in shock, Becky;s Mother was the one who took her to the police, they had no evidence as to who she even was!!
I remember when I was 15, I am 48 now, at 15, it was cool to rebel, I had four teenagers, and I am a good Mother just like Karen, I had my rough times with them, I don't know any of my friends who didn't have a hard time with teenagers and them trying to push the line between right and wrong while trying to "fit in" with friends.
There by the Grace of God could be one of my children. or yours, My son was walking back to his dorm room after attending church services and was shot and killed. Do you think he knew he was in the wrong place? Becky went out that night and got drunk, she wanted to fit in, these kids were cool, she got in the taxi with them to go to a party, She has been in prison ever since. Want to think about every young girl who gets in that situation, thinks she's going to party?
I have known Becky all her life, She is a deeply religious girl, even now she counsels young people on learning from her mistake. And I say mistake, Jerry, because that is the only mistake that young girl ever made, she left that house that night.
I worry about an American Culture that is so quick to throw away our children, In Florida, the youth services can't even keep track of where the foster children are, the system to help the children is broken down. And then they want to take a child, not just Becky, look at all the cases and throw those children away, no rehab, no second chance, just lock them up. Whets wrong with us? And what is wrong with us as people that we can write a grieving mother a letter like the one you sent?