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Title: Trail Stabbing Story Hits Home

Source: Montgomery County Herald, 03/25/01

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Monterey County Herald
Sunday, April 1st, 2001

Trail stabbing story hits home

Back home in the eastern Washington town of Richland, Jesse Carson was known as Jesse Clarke, a smart, polite young man with award-winning artistic talent and a passion for the Marine Corps.

So his friends in Washington's high desert can hardly be blamed for their confusion when they learned that the redheaded 19-year-old now sits in a Monterey County jail cell, accused of setting out with his roommate and hunting for someone to stab to death.

Marine Lance Cpl. Carson, a Russian-language student at the prestigious Defense Language Institute in Monterey, was arrested March 15 after allegedly admitting that he and Pvt. Jason Blad, 21, were responsible for the November attack that nearly drained the life from a 20-year-old woman on the Pacific Grove Recreation  Trail.

Pacific Grove police said shortly after the arrest that the young Marines apparently just wanted to kill someone, anyone, and had their sights on other targets as well. Though authorities say Carson spelled it all out in a journal found near his barracks bunk, details are being kept under wraps by a court-imposed gag order.

Largely because of Carson's name change, news of his arrest was slow to trickle back to Richland, home of the giant Hanford nuclear complex. Carson grew up using the last name of his stepfather, Terry Clarke, who works at the nuclear plant. Carson apparently reverted to his birth name when he enlisted.

But when word of the arrest finally hit Richland, it hit hard.

"The Jesse Clarke that we know is very talented and is an all-around intelligent and stable person," said Robin Morris, his former journalism teacher at Richland High School. On a Web site profile of himself, Carson listed Morris as the teacher who has most influenced his life.

"She taught me observation skills and attention to detail," Carson wrote on the Web, where he also wrote, in apparent jest, that he was the "head lyricist for a boy band."

With Morris' encouragement, Carson drew editorial cartoons for the school newspaper, the Sand Storm, winning national awards. Even after enlisting, he thought so much of the paper that he frequently asked friends to send copies to Monterey. A student reporter interviewed him for a story about military life.

"Jesse is the type of person who wouldn't hurt anyone," Morris said last week. "I never saw anything that led me to think that he could ever, ever, do what he's accused of doing."

The teacher recalled that an FBI agent had visited her at Richland High as part of the government's background check before Carson could be accepted into the Defense Language Institute, which provides language training for the military and other government agencies. She had only good things to tell the agent.

"If he did what they say he did, he's changed into a different person from the time he left Richland," she said in a telephone interview.

Just before his senior year, Carson committed to joining the Marines. Also that summer, he went on a school-sponsored trip to Europe, where he was able to put his high school German to use. Morris and others said Carson had excelled in German classes and had scored exceptionally well on the military's language and
intelligence tests.

Proud that he was a Marine-to-be, Carson wore a Marine Corps lapel pin to his senior prom. He spent weekends with his recruiter, preparing for the challenge of boot camp. One friend said Carson had relatives in the military and talked endlessly about the Marines.

Some were surprised by his interest in the military because he was more artistic than athletic.

"He was such a slender guy, we worried that maybe it wasn't suited for him," said Greg Smith, whose son Jason accompanied Carson on the European trip. "Yet he had this seriousness about him; he was more mature for his age. With those glasses of his, he looked more like an adult than a kid."

Though news of Carson's arrest appeared in the local newspaper, the impact was muted initially by confusion over the name. Friends in Washington explained that Carson was his birth name but that he had had little contact with his biological father. He told a few friends that his father had been in prison for years and wouldn't consent to the name change. Presumably, the Marine Corps required him to use his birth name.

Smith said word of the arrest in California sent he and his wife searching for their son's high school yearbook.

"My wife was so relieved, it couldn't be him. There it was in the yearbook, no mention of the Carson name," Smith said. "But it was much too coincidental. How many young men from Richland are in Monterey right now studying languages? It's all too hard to believe. It just crushed us."

Though both Carson and Blad, his co-defendant, are known to have been involved in fantasy role-playing games in the Monterey area, Carson's Richland friends said he never hinted at any interest in Dungeons and Dragons or other fantasy games.

Blad was involved in games akin to Dungeons and Dragons while growing up in Rochester, N.Y.

Shortly after the arrests, a high-school chum in Rochester described Blad as a lonely boy who had been taunted by classmates. Blad's relatives in New York have declined to be interviewed.

Before the gag order was imposed, Pacific Grove police said they were exploring the possibility that the recreation-trail assault could have been an outgrowth of a fantasy game, but they emphasized that they had found no such link.

High school friend Jeff Rosenberry said he stayed in touch with Carson after his move to Monterey and had felt all was well.

"He never seemed lonely when he called. In fact, he was always in good spirits," Rosenberry said. "He was in new surroundings and having fun. He was doing something he dreamed about doing."

Others said Carson visited Richland for the holidays - a month after the assault - and seemed fine, for the most part.

He visited with friends and planned a reunion with other students from the European trip. He ran into Morris, his journalism teacher, at the local Wal-Mart.

"There he was standing ramrod tall, his short military haircut. I knew it was him the moment I saw the back of his head," Morris said. "I didn't sense anything different about him, other than that he was looking very good."

One friend, however, described him as "distant" during the visit and recalled that he ducked one scheduled gathering.

"Thinking back, it's kind of chilling if he did what they say he's done. If it's true, he had a pretty terrible thing he was hiding."

Carson and Blad have both pleaded not guilty. Carson's lawyer has said he will seek a psychiatric evaluation and is exploring a "mental defense."

Four months after the trail attack, Carson and Blad were arrested after a military investigation prompted a search of their barracks, turning up the journal. Police officials said they later found knives and other evidence, but they have not said publicly whether those weapons were used in the attack.

In one court document, a detective said the attackers stood over the victim, watching her bleed and wondering aloud why she wasn't dead.

The victim, whose name has not been made public, was hospitalized for weeks and underwent reconstructive surgery on her face. Police have said her throat was slashed and that she sustained several other knife wounds.

The suspects were scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Friday, but it was postponed until May 11.

M. Cristina Medina can be reached at cmedina@montereyherald.com or 646-4436.

Copyright (c) 2001, The Monterey County Herald, 8 Ragsland Drive, Monterey CA. 93940  (831) 372-3311 
A Knight Ridder Newspaper

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