Web campaign targets
AM CDT on Friday, August 19, 2005
AUSTIN – The suffering of Rickey Carter's victims did
not end with his conviction. And his infamy continues
even after his banishment to prison.
Mr. Carter, who killed four girls while driving drunk
in Parker County in 1998, is back in the public domain.
A new Web site urges the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles to deny Mr. Carter's upcoming parole request –
apparently one of the first Internet campaigns to focus
on a particular offender.
Created by a Republican activist from Weatherford
with the support of the victims' families, the site
features a haunting picture of a frowning Mr. Carter
screened over the image of the crumpled car driven by
one of the girls. The home page at
www.keeprickycarterinjail.com reads: "A
Deadly Drunk Driver May Be Paroled From Jail If We Don't
The site is an approach to increasing public
awareness about a parole case, which in Texas involves a
secretive process in which board members do not even
meet to cast their votes. Janelle Shepard, the Web
site's creator, is asking visitors to write letters to
the parole board to protest Mr. Carter's application for
"It has been almost therapeutic for everyone," said
Ms. Shepard, a former chairwoman of the Parker County
GOP who also is an emergency-room nurse. "It's a story
of sadness but also one we want to talk about."
Liz Osina, the mother of one of the victims, said Ms.
Shepard's help is a blessing. Horrified by a letter that
told her Mr. Carter could be released, Ms. Osina did not
know how to warn people or get their help, she said.
So Ms. Osina wrote an e-mail to some friends, asking
that they forward it. Within a day, Ms. Shepard had
received it and offered to put together a Web site.
"It's growing every day, and the letters that are
being posted on the Web site are so kind and
reassuring," said Ms. Osina, whose 17-year-old daughter,
Lacey, was killed.
In 2000, Mr. Carter was sentenced to 20 years in
prison for intoxication manslaughter. His blood-alcohol
level was 0.16 – twice the legal limit in Texas, 0.08 –
when he slammed into a car driven by Staci Lee, 16. Also
killed were Lacey, Mandi McWhorter, 15, and Whitney
Welch, 16. All four were high school cheerleaders in the
tiny town of Brock.
Mr. Carter has spent almost five years in prison. He
was first eligible for parole three years ago, but that
request was denied. The parole board probably will vote
on his case in November, said Mike Viesca, a spokesman
for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Jerry Loftin, the attorney who represented Mr. Carter
at trial, said he does not oppose the idea of the Web
site. But he suggested that an effort to demonize Mr.
Carter was unfair.
Clockwise from top left: Mandi McWhorter, Staci Lee,
Lacey Osina and Whitney Welch.
Mr. Carter did not have any previous drunken driving
convictions and was admired in his community, Mr. Loftin
"As a practical matter, it has been a tragedy for
him, too, and they don't see that," the lawyer said. "I
understand their side of it. There is nothing you can
say that rationalizes the loss of children."
Like many other small-town residents of Parker
County, Ms. Shepard said, she felt like she lived
through the 1998 tragedy even though she didn't
personally know the families.
Through her political work, she learned how Web sites
could allow people to get out their message and press
The site has published nearly 30 letters to the
parole board or other criminal justice officials. Ms.
Shepard said that Web surfers from as far away as Idaho
and New York have visited the site.
"The power of the Internet is just amazing," Ms.
Shepard said. "This was a public trial and a very
high-profile case, so Mr. Carter certainly cannot say he
has not been in the media spotlight before."
Victim advocates have harnessed the Internet's power
for years. Many Web sites memorialize the victims of
drunken drivers, and survivors share their stories of
Mothers Against Drunk Driving sponsors a live chat on
its Web page every Monday. Experts such as doctors
answer questions from victims.
"The Internet really has done a lot to help
individuals get through the grieving process," said
Susan Bragg, the director of victim services for MADD's
North Texas office.
Some Webmasters, including Jennie Murphy-McIntosh of
Irving, post their letters to authorities opposing
parole for their assailants.
She said Web sites can help victims cope with the
recovery process and the justice system, including the
"never-ending" parole process. Some offenders, including
the driver who badly injured Ms. Murphy-McIntosh, come
up for review every year. Victims receive a notice six
months before the hearing.
"As soon as you get one done, it's back within six
months," Ms. Murphy-McIntosh said.
MADD supports survivors and families during that
process. The group plans to oppose Mr. Carter's parole,
Ms. Bragg said.
Mr. Carter probably has little chance at freedom,
said Ms. Bragg and David O'Neal, a Huntsville lawyer who
often represents prisoners asking for parole.
But Ms. Osina and Lezlie Michael, Mandi McWhorter's
mother, know they must always deal with the possibility.
"We were told from the very beginning that he would
probably only serve five years of the 20-year sentence,"
Ms. Michael said.
Even if Mr. Carter is not granted parole this time,
Ms. Shepard intends to maintain her campaign. A friend
who hosts the site was happy to donate the space, she
"He said, 'You can leave it up forever.' "