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Blood on the Moon

It is a Saturday, so, as she has most Saturday afternoons for the past five months, Cleotha Howard has made the 18-mile drive from her home in Burnsville to the Crystal Lake Cemetery in north Minneapolis. Climbing out of a loaner Ford sedan (she dinged her minivan in a fender bender), Howard trudges through a fresh blanket of December snow. A heavyset, asthmatic woman, she looks older than her 38 years and seems tuckered out by the time she reaches the spot where her youngest son, Steven Lawrence Temple, is buried. The grave has yet to be sodded over. It is marked only by a wooden stake and a tattered red flag, fluttering in the wind. "I'd like to get him a nice headstone. I'd like to have his picture on it, I know that," Howard says, a hint of her native Arkansas in her voice. She pauses and squints in the blinding sunshine. "My son Marcus always tries to tell me, 'Mom, he's in a better place now,'" Howard sighs. "And I always say the same thing: 'Lord, a better place would be with me.'"

Despite the frigid temperature, Howard isn't wearing a coat, just a short-sleeved polo shirt emblazoned with a photograph of her late son: a big, beefy kid who could pass for 23 by the time he was 17. His name and the dates that Howard hopes will soon be engraved on his headstone are printed beside the image: "July 18, 1983 to August 16, 2000." The date of death is a guess, Howard acknowledges. Her son may have passed away on the morning of August 16. Or he may have taken his last breath just before midnight on August 15. That was the last time anyone saw him alive. He was mortally wounded then, running as fast as he could from his assailants, passing through the maze of cul-de-sacs, side streets, and well-tended yards in a residential district of Lakeville, a burgeoning Dakota County suburb some 20 miles south of the Twin Cities. About a year and a half ago, Howard moved to nearby Burnsville from north Minneapolis because she was worried that her son might run afoul of gang bangers or street dealers if she remained. "When I moved, I honestly thought I'd gotten my kids away from the danger," she says softly. "I guess I made a poor judgment."

Howard and her family usually combine weekly visits to the cemetery with errands in north Minneapolis. A devout Pentecostal Christian, Howard still worships in her old neighborhood , at the He Is Risen Church of God in Christ. And she still gets her hair done at a local salon (stylists in Burnsville and Lakeville don't have much experience coifing black people, she chuckles). Today Howard is accompanied by her two daughters, Karen Temple, age 23, and Kimberly Terry, 14. Karen has brought along her newborn baby girl, who is named Steveniece--as in "Steven's niece"--in honor of her late uncle. Kimberly plops down besides her brother's grave, pokes a finger in the snow, and scribbles a message: "Kim loves Six." Cleotha Howard seldom refers to the fifth of her six children as anything other than Steven or Steven Lawrence. But most of his peers, and his little sister, called him "Six." After his death, some newspapers referred to "Six" as a "street name." In truth, says his mother, it was just a family nickname, one which had its origins in a sudden growth spurt Temple experienced when he was about to turn 13. "His brother used to say, 'He's six times bigger than me,'" Howard explains with a little laugh. "Then that just got shortened to 'Six' and pretty soon his friends were calling the house all the time asking, 'Is Six there? Is Six there?' I'd always say, 'Do you mean Steven?'"

After a few minutes, Howard walks back to the car to warm up. Kimberly and Karen linger by the grave. A lot of stories surrounding Steven's killing have circulated from friends to family members to the news media. And, Karen says, not all of them have been true. For instance, she heard that Steven made a panicked call for help in his final moments. But just as he was about to divulge his whereabouts, so the story goes, the time expired on his cell-phone card and the line went dead. The details of the anecdote never checked out.

If the truth about Steven Temple's final night has sometimes proved elusive, the ironies have stood out in stark relief. Nine white youths are currently awaiting trial in connection with the case, but prosecutors, police, and defense attorneys uniformly maintain that while Temple was black, his murder was not race-related. And even though some familiar with the case have characterized the defendants as wannabes--alienated suburban kids quick to strike the gangsta pose--neither law enforcement (nor Temple's family) allege the killing was a gang act. "I would hesitate to use the word gang, because that has connotations that don't apply here. But this was a group-mentality exercise of violence," contends Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. "We haven't seen a case of this magnitude involving youth and young people in the 23 years I've worked in this office."

 

Sometimes Karen Temple thinks race may have played some role in her brother's death, which began as a fight over a schoolgirl. "I think there might have been a little bit of, 'I'm not gonna let that nigger take my girl,'" she surmises. Other times she wonders whether his assailants really intended to commit murder. "Ever since I found out, I've dealt with this 12,000 times since Sunday," Temple says. "Honestly, I just don't know what to think." She doesn't come to Steven's grave to get answers, though. This is the place where she can cry unashamedly, where she can talk to her brother. And where, sometimes, memories of the night her brother died come rushing back to her. There was a full moon that night. She noticed it when she was driving home from work. It was ripe red on the horizon. The sight reminded her of an old Southern saying about blood on the moon, and it made her uneasy. "Blood on the moon means death. I just felt like something bad was going to happen."

 

According to police reports and various documents filed in Dakota County Court, at about 9:00 p.m. on August 15, around the same time Karen Temple was noticing the moon, two cars pulled into the entrance of Sunny Acres, a Burnsville mobile-home park where Steven Temple lived with his little sister Kimberly, his mother, and her fourth husband. Inside the two cars were five young men, ranging in age from 16 to 20. Members of the group lived in several south-metro suburbs, but they hung out in the neighboring community of Farmington, which is just east of Lakeville. A few of the them were old friends; the others barely knew each other. But on this night they had a common mission: to settle a score with Steven Temple. A week earlier, one of the five, 20-year-old Andrew Michael Smith of Apple Valley, had scrapped with Temple at the Dakota County Fair. The origins of the dispute are still not entirely clear. Smith came to Sunny Acres armed with a baseball bat, while another member of the group, Jason Eric Henin (known by friends as "Jay Rush") brought a handgun. "Basically, he said he didn't think he would need [the handgun] because they are Lakeville pussies. But if it came down to it, he would use it," a third passenger in the car, Jesse Bauer, later told police. According to two of the young men's attorneys (who would only speak to City Pages anonymously), Henin had his own ax to grind with Temple: a romantic rivalry over a 16-year-old Burnsville girl named Mandy Lange. "Six was hitting on Mandy, and she was Henin's girlfriend," explains one lawyer.

As it turned out, Temple had already left Sunny Acres for the night. After cruising the trailer park, the five men split up. Smith and 19-year-old Joseph "Casper" Adamson returned to Farmington in one car. Meanwhile, Henin, Bauer, and 16-year-old Joseph "Little Mo Mo" Siebenaler, the youngest in the group, hopped into Mandy Lange's purple Neon and headed for Tacoville, a fast-food restaurant in Lakeville where Lange worked. According to a transcript of testimony Siebenaler would give to a grand jury in September, Lange and a 15-year-old girlfriend (unnamed in public documents) had some surprising news: Steven Temple was on his way to Tacoville. After Temple and an unnamed friend arrived in a white 1999 Ford Escort, the girls rushed over to tell Temple his adversaries from the county fair were ready for a fight. The girls then returned to the Farmington contingent, Siebenaler testified, urging them to "get [the fight] over with." At first Temple was hesitant. "We ain't fighting. We ain't fighting," he allegedly said, and drove off. But a few minutes later Temple called one of the girls on a cell phone and proposed that the matter be settled at Antlers Park in Lakeville. Siebenaler told the grand jury that Henin then called Smith and Adamson to notify them of the plan: "We were like, cool, we'll get to fight."

Located on the southern end of Lake Marion, Antlers Park is a veritable advertisement for the suburban good life. There are rows of picnic tables, a pavilion, volleyball courts, a beach and, of course, ample parking spaces. Because it is just down the hill from Lakeville Senior High School, Antlers Park is also a natural gathering spot for kids. But at about 10:30 p.m. on August 15, the Lakeville police got their first indication that all was not well at the park. An irate resident called to complain about what he thought to be illegal fireworks--a succession of loud popping noises coming from the area. As officers were dispatched to investigate, a second call came in. Apparently there was a "suspicious person" cutting through the residential yards nearby.

 

In short order a patrol car pulled up beside "an obviously scared and agitated" teenage boy just outside the park. Identified only by the initials M.G. in public documents, the youth was one of Steven Temple's closest friends. M.G. told the officers that he and Temple had just fled the park after being shot at. He had stopped. Temple had continued running. M.G. didn't know whether Temple had been hit, but he was certain his friend was bleeding from the head. When the police returned to the parking lot, they came upon the white Escort. The back and passenger-side windows had been smashed out. And there was a bullet hole in the rear of the car.

Unable to locate Temple, the Lakeville police summoned the Minnesota State Patrol, which provided a helicopter equipped with infrared heat sensors. Around the same time, Eric Temple, Steven's 21-year-old brother, says he got an anonymous call from one of Steven's friends, saying that 'Six' was missing and might have been shot. Family members, including Eric, sister Karen--then eight months pregnant--and mother Cleotha Howard rushed to the park and joined the search. It didn't go well. The helicopter turned up no clues. Meanwhile Eric, who was riding up and down dark streets on a bicycle, wiped out going down a hill. Cleotha Howard, still worried that her son might have been shot, was forced to ferry Eric to the hospital, where he received 24 stitches. As the night wore on, she frantically dialed Steven's cell-phone number from the emergency room, to no avail. Then, a little after 7:00 the next morning, a teacher at Lakeville Senior High School (where Steven planned to attend tenth grade in fall 2000) discovered a body in her back yard. Temple had run about half a mile from the park, collapsing just a block and a half from M.G.'s house.

It didn't take Lakeville police long to begin piecing the puzzle together. At various points before and after the confrontation, there were as many as 20 kids and young adults in the park, most of whom had gotten wind of the planned rumble from either Temple or the Farmington group. After arriving at the parking lot, according to statements taken by police, Andy Smith charged up to the vehicle in which Temple was seated and began striking it with a baseball bat, breaking out the windows. Henin then emerged from the second car, and allegedly fired his gun five or six times, and everyone scattered. Temple and at least two of his friends fled by foot. The Farmington group left in the three cars.

Within 24 hours the Lakeville police, assisted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, had arrested their first three suspects. Smith has since been charged with murder in the second degree and aiding and abetting attempted murder in the first degree. Adamson and Henin have been charged with aiding and abetting murder in the second degree and aiding and abetting attempted murder in the first degree. Within a month Jesse Bauer and Joseph Siebenaler were also arrested and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting attempted first-degree murder. (Siebenaler's case is currently being handled in juvenile court, but prosecutors are seeking to try him as an adult.) Four other youths were eventually charged with aiding an offender after the fact: two juveniles, 16-year-old Mandy Lange and her unnamed 15-year-old friend; Natasha Tarbox, Smith's 18-year-old girlfriend; and Adamson's girlfriend, 18-year-old Carolyn Jean Miller.

Smith quickly confessed to investigators that he was the one who had smashed out the car windows with a baseball bat. That account was confirmed by Adamson, Lange, and Siebenaler. Henin, whom the other suspects identified as firing the gun, made no such admissions. Both young men had a motive for their candor, or lack thereof. For the first few days after the incident, the local media was reporting that Temple was the victim of a gunshot wound. As it turned out, Temple had never been shot. The Dakota County coroner concluded that fragments of glass from the shattered car window gave the illusion of a gunshot wound, but the mortal injury came from a blunt object.

 

In Lakeville, Steven Temple's killing seemed an anomaly. In the past decade, the prosperous, fast-growing suburb of 40,000 had recorded just two homicides. The use of weapons, the fact the victim was a young black male, and the number of people charged all served to give the Temple killing a gang aura. For students at Lakeville High School, the first response was that of slack-jawed disbelief. "Everybody was just freaked out," says Tony, a graduate of the class of 2000 who knew Temple casually from the party scene. "Nobody could believe anybody around here would take it that far. I mean, this is Lakeville."

 

And while kids were shocked, their parents were downright panicked, according to Lakeville Police Chief Dave Martens. "I had people calling me, saying, 'That's it, I'm taking my kid out of the public school. This is the straw that broke the camel's back,'" Martens says. To counteract those fears, the chief trumpeted the quick arrest of the three main suspects and took pains to dispel gang rumors. A former beat cop in Minneapolis, Martens remembers when former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza tried to persuade the local citizenry that the city had no gang problem back in the mid-Eighties. "Listen, I'm not gonna stick my head in the sand and say there's nothing out there. There are people in this town wearing gang colors," Martens allows. "But this was just round three of a fight at the Fairgrounds, a fight over a girl. We tried to be real liberal with the knowledge that this wasn't the Crips and the Bloods going at it because someone was on somebody else's turf, or selling in someone else's drug zone. We wanted people to know that they didn't have to be scared about walking their dog at night." Of the nine individuals charged in connection with the case, Martens points out, none had a Lakeville address or were previously known to Lakeville police.

But if the defendants arrested in the case weren't familiar to Lakeville Police Chief Martens, they were all too familiar to Dan Siebenaler, the police chief in Farmington (a distant relative of defendant Joseph Siebenaler). "We knew the names of all these people," Siebenaler explains. "Farmington is still a small town, and if you get into trouble--or if you are trouble--everybody knows who you are." Although none of the defendants has a felony conviction as an adult, Farmington police dealt with a few of them as juveniles, according to Siebenaler: "These kids came from fairly average family backgrounds, but started in their criminal conduct early. And our system to deal with them just didn't work." In recent times, the chief says, a "loose association" hung around wherever they didn't get chased out: street corners downtown, the Burger King, gas stations, and parentless houses. "They would cop an attitude when they were together, put on a show. But if you spoke to them individually, they were--how shall I put this gently--pretty meek," he continues. "I've heard the term wannabes to describe this group, but I think it misses the mark. A wannabe espouses the values of whatever group they aspire to be a member of. But I don't see any of that here. These guys just hung around each other because it was convenient."

 

It's a little after 2:00 p.m. on a December afternoon, and classes have just ended for the day at Lakeville Senior High. Jade Klanderud--a slight, lanky senior dressed in a loose-fitting winter coat, baggy jeans, and a puffy knit cap--and two juniors, Cody and Nick (who didn't want to reveal their last names), have met up at McDonald's. The fast-food restaurant is just down a hill from the school and across the street from Antlers Park. On a warmer day, the trio might hang at the park. Today they will have to go somewhere else to kill the afternoon. "Life in Lakeville is boring," Klanderud complains. "Basically, there's not a lot of hangout spots. I think it's pretty fucked up. The cops don't like us at McDonald's or Antlers Park. Maybe the city should build us a center where we could just go and chill. They've got enough money."

Piling into Nick's truck, the kids head to Klanderud's home, a townhome-style apartment complex a few blocks away. The three teens politely kick off their shoes in the foyer and take their seats around the kitchen table. Like his friends Cody and Nick, Klanderud considers himself an outsider at Lakeville High School. He says the affluent, mainstream kids that dominate the social hierarchy look down on his hip-hop-obsessed friends. In a previous generation, Klanderud and his pals might have been hippies, punks, or metalheads. Now they're wannabes. Just a loosely knit group of kids who have embraced a culture that is shocking or baffling to some of their peers and most of the adults in their lives.

 

"So you wanna know about Six?" Klanderud asks. "I got a picture of him here." The snapshot was taken last New Year. Klanderud and Temple are smiling and the words "Boyz 4 Life" are inked in with a felt tip marker. "That means we're hooked up, that we're good for life," Klanderud explains. He returns the photo to its place atop the entertainment center, where he has assembled a sort of shrine. At the center is a poem Klanderud wrote in the days after his friend's murder and read aloud at the funeral. The final lines are a mix of adolescent sentimentality and contemporary street lingo: "I love you dawg and I know you love me/and I'll never forget the memories/mourn you 'til I join you little bro/I'm sorry God chose your fate/but when I go, meet me at the golden gate/one love."

Klanderud met Temple a year ago, through his younger brother who was attending the same alternative school, Thompson Heights. Temple enrolled there following his expulsion from a mainstream junior high school in Lakeville for cutting a fellow student with a straightedge in shop class. (Karen Temple says her brother and the other boy were not fighting, but merely clowning around.) Klanderud was drawn to Temple's aura of bravado, and the two started hanging out two or three times a week. While he considered Six a close friend, he admits he knew little about his past. For the most part, he says, they hung around each other's homes, played video games, and partied. He says they only occasionally discussed more somber matters. "I once asked Six, 'Is there a lot of people that fuck with you because you're black?' And he said, 'No,'" Klanderud recalls. "And then he basically told me he didn't give a fuck what people think."

Unlike Temple, though, Klanderud and his friends seem alternately exhilarated and annoyed by the responses they provoke. "Here in Lakeville I get judged for my clothes," Cody says. "The preps and the jocks in our school say, 'You look like a thug, or a gangsta, or wannabe.' That hurts. I feel watched and I feel people are watching my friends." Asked how he would label the defendants about to go on trial for the murder of Steven Temple, Cody pauses a moment. "Gangsters? I don't think so. I group 'em as cowboys or hicks. It doesn't matter, it's just a label," he says. Klanderud shares the sentiment. "They're just a fake-ass BK clique," he says. "Trying to act all hard-ass, and intimidating people at Burger King."

 

  As Cleotha Howard pilots her minivan down I-35 in Lakeville, gospel music is pumping salvation through the speakers. She says that she enjoys all types of music ("Except for that rap crap, which I don't allow in my house") but finds that she has been listening to more gospel since Steven's death. It is early afternoon now, and Howard, who works a night shift as a quality-assurance supervisor at a telemarketing company, is just getting her day under way. First she has to pick up Kimberly from her after-school job at a Subway shop. After grabbing a tuna salad to go, she heads back home to Sunny Acres, where she moved in 1999.

Originally from rural Arkansas, Howard, her ex-husband, and six children had relocated to Minnesota in the early Nineties. A few years later, Howard--along with Steven, Karen, and Kimberly--settled in Cecil Newman Plaza, a low-rise Section 8 apartment complex in north Minneapolis. While Howard liked the home, the neighborhood made her uneasy. She wasn't the only one. As a young boy living at Cecil Newman, Steven was scared of the street, his mother says. Driving by rough corners, her son would demand she take precautions. "I'd say to him, 'Steven, these are your people.' And he'd just tell me, 'Mom, Mom, roll up the windows.'"

Struggling academically at an early age, Steven took to playing the class clown. Karen Temple says her mother did what she could to rein her little brother in. "When Steven was in seventh and eighth grade, my mom spent so much time in school with him, I'm pretty sure people thought she worked there," Temple recalls.

As he grew older, Howard had reason to worry even more. By the time Steven was 12, he was in trouble for fighting in school and routinely cutting classes. One day while playing hooky, Steven and a cousin got in trouble for "pouncing on" a row of parked cars, one of which belonged to an off-duty cop. Howard says she tried to keep her son indoors as much as possible after that. It was a parental decision which, she now suspects, contributed to his truancy. "He used to complain that I was raising him like a girl, that I was overprotective," Howard says. "When he got to be a teenager, he was getting more hardheaded. I couldn't get a handle on him. He just kept cutting school." But though Howard says her son had begun hanging around with some "shady characters," she says he never committed any serious acts of violence. And, despite the rumors that spread in Lakeville after his death, she insists he was never affiliated with any street gangs. (Art Blakey, the metro regional commander of the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, says his agency looked into Temple's past after the killing, and found no indication that Temple had any gang involvement.)

 

Shortly before his 14th birthday, Temple was sent to a group home for troubled teens in St. Peter. There he attended the local junior high school, worked at Hardee's and, according to his mother and sisters, "started to come into his own." As it turned out, Howard adds, the time spent in St. Peter had another unexpected effect: Steven became accustomed to fraternizing with white kids. "At first, he said, 'Mom, I'm surrounded by nothing but white people,'" Howard remembers, "But I guess it kind of prepared him for moving to Burnsville."

While Steven was living in St Peter, Howard, who was still living at Cecil Newman, learned of a gang killing in a nearby apartment. "I said, 'That's it. We've got to move. I can't stay in this area.' They executed a guy in front of his family. All I could think was, 'This could happen to my kid. I've got to find a way out of here,'" she says. Howard had reason to fear street violence. In 1994 her then-29-year-old brother, Kemble Carroll, was approached by an acquaintance outside his apartment in Little Rock, Arkansas. The man asked him for money and, after Carroll refused, shot him six times at close range.

In April 1999 Howard closed on her home at Sunny Acres, and the family moved. And even though Steven continued having problems in school, including expulsion from Century Junior High School for the incident in shop class, Howard says, her son quickly adjusted to life in suburbia. "In the very beginning, he didn't know anybody and he'd say it was too quiet and he hated it. Him and his sister were the only black kids around," she says. "But once he started making friends, he really got to like it. He went from being a follower in Minneapolis to a leader." He was, she says, amused by the wannabe swagger of his new peers in the suburbs. "He used to say, 'They're not tough. They wouldn't last 30 minutes on the streets of Minneapolis.' But he liked the fact that he could go out at night here and not lock the doors. He liked that freedom." For her part, Howard was pleased Steven was out of the city. "My only grievance was that he spent too much time with his friends," she says. That, she adds, seems like a long time ago.

 

The wall in Steven's old bedroom is covered with photographs of him, a copy of his birth certificate, and dozens of sympathy cards sent by friends and neighbors. The outpouring of support has made a difference, but Howard still thinks about selling her home and moving somewhere new. One neighbor, she says, had been openly hostile to the arrival of her family at Sunny Acres. "One of my other sons overheard him saying, 'It's bad enough they let the niggers in. Next they'll let in animals or apes or something.'" Then, shortly after Steven's death, the same neighbor taunted her. "He said, 'Where's your son now, lady?' My other boy wanted to break him in half and I said, 'No, no, he'll get his eventually.'"

After taking time off to tend to the funeral and burial details, Howard had returned to work, but she found it difficult to concentrate. Then one morning she awoke and emptied her mailbox. It was filled with unhappy reminders of her loss. A notice that Steven's medical insurance was canceled. A letter from the Social Security Administration. But the worst, she says, was the death certificate. "I just wasn't prepared to read that. It said he'd died of multiple blows to the head, and the words just made me think that he must have suffered gravely." As Howard headed off to work, she suddenly found herself unable to continue. If she hadn't been working two jobs, she thought, maybe she could have kept a closer eye on Steven. Howard couldn't stop thinking about her son's final, desperate run. Was he in pain? Did he know he was dying? Could he have been saved? Did he knock on a door or window for help only to be ignored?

 

She pulled the minivan over to the side of the road, then called a girlfriend on her cell phone, who recommended she see a grief counselor. "She got worried, and says, 'Where are you? Where are you?' and I just said, 'I'm not anywhere.'" Howard hung up, reached into her purse, and swallowed a handful of sleeping pills and diabetes medication.

Alarmed, the friend decided to drive to Howard's workplace. On the way, she spotted a minivan on the side of the highway. Howard was taken to a nearby hospital emergency room. She spent two days in the hospital before checking herself out and seeking out a grief counselor. "The psychiatrist wanted to stick me in a loony bin," she half-jokes now.

Sitting on her couch and picking halfheartedly at her tuna salad, Howard says she is sleeping better these days. Her grief still comes in waves, but she looks for relief in religion and family. She is girding herself for trips to the Dakota County Government Center in Hastings, and she hopes justice will be done. The first of nine separate trials, involving alleged bat wielder Andy Smith, is scheduled to begin on January 17. For the time being, though, she just hopes to make it through the holidays.

"We're Southern people. These are the days we do our cooking, the days we sit together and talk and go back over what has happened over the past year," she says, shifting in her chair. "You know, Thanksgiving started out a really good day, but it ended with everyone in the house sobbing, just crying. That presence just wasn't there. And I said, 'Lord, I don't even want to know what Christmas is gonna be like.'"


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