By Lois Henry
Three Wasco State Prison inmates were recently convicted in the brutal 2009 death of a fellow inmate named Jerry Crook.
Ryan Cupelli and Gilbert Newsome were both convicted of second-degree murder April 5. Cupelli, who already had one strike, is looking at 30 years to life. Newsome will face 15 years to life. And Jacob Lee, who was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, could get up to 12 years.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 20.
So, three inmates got longer sentences and a career burglar, ironically named Crook, is dead.
Some of you might think of this as poetic justice — the trash taking out the trash. Wrong. Jerry Crook, who I knew as David Jacobson, wasn’t trash. He wasn't a Boy Scout by any stretch of the imagination. But he wasn't trash. He was a kind, gentle person who didn't deserve to die as he did.
Don’t worry, this isn't a "hug a thug" diatribe. It’s just a reminder that good people can sometimes come in very flawed packages.
I first met Jacobson in early 2008. He’d just gotten out of prison and was concerned with how Kern County sheriff’s officials were treating feral cats at Lerdo jail. I was impressed by how this soft-spoken career criminal had immersed himself in learning about best practices of cat colony care.
I thought he made a good case for trap/neuter/release being both more cost-effective and humane than periodic mass roundups ending in mass euthanasia.
He’d even enlisted the aid of Alley Cat Allies and Little Lotus Hearts, a Buddhist organization in New York focused on animal rights, and persuaded them to contact the Sheriff’s Office to plead for better treatment of the jail cats.
He was not your usual drug addict-thief.
After the story ran in March 2008, Jacobson stopped by my office maybe three or four times to say hello and let me know how his life was going. He was never pushy or threatening. He was friendly and kind of sad. I knew he’d spent much of his adult life in prison and figured I was one of the only people he knew in the “straight” world.
He’d also maintained a friendship with attorney Arturo Revelo, who’d represented him on a drug case in 2006. Revelo helped Jacobson get into a rehab program, where he became a cook.
“He was doing great. He’d gained weight, he bought a monocycle and he had a little Chihuahua named Taco.”
The two would go to lunch every once in a while and, sometimes Jacobson even paid, Revelo said.
Then the economy tanked, money for the rehab dried up and Jacobson was in the cold. He developed emphysema, Revelo said. It was so bad, he broke several ribs in coughing fits. Revelo would sometimes give him money.
Then he learned Jacobson had reverted to his old ways and burglarized a building. He got six years in prison.
“I was really pissed at the time and frustrated,” Revelo said. “I didn’t go see him.”
Jacobson’s first day in Wasco was July 31, 2009. It was also his last.
As Jacobson, by now very frail, was carrying his bedroll, Lee attacked him from behind, knocking him down.
Cupelli and Newsome took over from there, kicking and stomping Jacobson. Grisly photos show a boot sole imprinted on the side of Jacobson’s bloody head.
Witnesses said Jacobson put up his hand and begged, “Please don’t! I don’t even know you guys!”
Jacobson’s skull was crushed and his back broken in four places, said Deputy District Attorney David Wolf, who won convictions against all three.
Jacobson went into a coma and died Oct. 3, 2009.
Wolf couldn’t prove motive, but rumor was the assailants, drunk on “pruno,” thought he was someone else, a snitch.
It was a tragedy all around.
For a very brief time, though, life had warmed a little for Jacobson.
After my 2008 article was published, his sister, Barbara Abell, of Maryland, tracked him down. She’d been looking for him for more than 20 years after a falling out they’d had when he stole her car and her wedding rings.
They reconnected and Abell at last had a chance to tell him she didn’t care about those things, she just wanted her little brother back in her life.
“He was an adorable child,” Abell recalled. “And so easy with people. But he was always sad. A sad little charmer.”
There were four siblings in all. Abell said her mother gave the oldest three to foster care when Jacobson was about 10 in order to care for the youngest, who was disabled.
Jacobson was a gentle boy who always loved animals, she recalled. “He just couldn’t keep his hands off other people’s things. He was missing something.”
Then, whatever he stole he’d either give away or sell to buy food for stray animals.
The last conversation she had with him was 4th of July 2009. Then nothing until she learned of his death in early 2010.
She understood that Jacobson’s crimes were what landed him in the path of Cupelli, Newsome and Lee, and she didn’t make excuses for him.
“But he didn’t deserve what he got, not if you added up everything he ever stole, he didn’t deserve that.”
Jacobson once told me why he cared so much about the Lerdo cats.
"You can't turn your back on them, not if you're human at all,” he said back in 2008.
I’d say the same goes for him.
Contact Californian columnist Lois Henry at 395-7373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her work appears on Sundays and Wednesdays; the views expressed are her own.