Left For Dead

Tracey Deel was shot a dozen times by two teens who wanted her car. She dragged herself the length of three football fields determined not to be just another homocide statistic.

The jury sentenced Robert to 75 years. "He won't last very long in prison," Rick said. "They don't like child abusers or people who shoot women."

A week after Robert's trial, Tracey spent an hour sitting in the hammock in her backyard. Guarded by Odie, the Deels' German shepherd-chow mix, and a six-foot fence, Tracey still couldn't relax. She was going crazy locked both in the house and in her memory. Her mind was always full; there wasn't a minute that she didn't think about the shooting. "It's never not on my mind," she said. "Never."

Tracey's father, determined that she never see the Honda again, turned it in to the dealership to be auctioned. Tracey bought a new white truck and spent a lot of time in the garage polishing it. She had it a week before she drove it alone; Kevin hadn't been convicted yet, so she was still worried.

As a former paramedic, Rick Deel knew what a gunshot victim's chances were.
Deron Neblett
As a former paramedic, Rick Deel knew what a gunshot victim's chances were.

On Wednesday afternoon, July 5, Tracey arrived at the criminal courthouse wearing a hot-pink dress. "I'm feeling sassy," Tracey said, psyching herself up. Her family and friends wore black.

Kevin's family didn't watch him plead not guilty. It wasn't his first court date; the FBI had Kevin's fingerprints on file for shoplifting, evading arrest and making terroristic threats. The 18-year-old was serving probation as a sophomore at the Community Education Partnership, a school for students with criminal records and behavior problems. Kevin failed the first and fourth grades; he plays chess and says he wants to study electrical engineering at Yale. He sings at 15-year-old girls' birthday parties and wants to be the next Ricky Martin. Kevin quit his job at Burger King, but he told his mother he was saving to buy her a $100,000 house.

In the courtroom, Kevin held his head up and looked remarkably calm as he leaned back in his leather chair. Assistant District Attorney Vic Wisner played a video slowly following Tracey's blood trail step by step. Every few feet the camera pans from the ground to the faraway apartments. Next, Wisner showed the jury pictures of Tracey covered in blood; the photographs were so gory one of the eight female jurors couldn't look. Tracey sat by the window outside the courtroom with Dani Hochleutner, the woman she's dating. "Everybody looks pale when they come out," Tracey said. "Aged."

That night Tracey dreamed she was driving her new white truck through a hilly underground "doom cave" filled with smoke and fire. She couldn't navigate the terrain; it was too rough. The dream switched as she jumped into a field of multicolored sleeping snakes. Kevin stood in the field talking to Tracey, trying to make her feel sorry for him; as he spoke, a boa constrictor closed around Tracey's neck.

In court Thursday morning, Kevin's attorney, Mac Arnold, constantly objected. He even made "anticipatory objections" when he thought a witness might say something that was hearsay. Judge Mike Anderson overruled almost everything. Kevin looked at the ceiling, shrugged his shoulders and sighed.

Arnold asked HPD's fingerprint expert to explain all 15 lines in the fingerprint identified as Kevin's. Tracey's father laid his head on the bench in front of him. Kevin stared at the ceiling, his hands clasped together so tightly the blood drained from his flesh; his fingernail beds turned dark red.

Sergeant L.B. Smith testified that on Tuesday, December 21, officers kicked in Kevin's front door and Smith arrested Kevin. On the way to the station Kevin said, "I don't know anything, I didn't do anything." After two hours and 21 minutes of interrogation, Kevin confessed to the shooting. His videotaped statement was played for the jury.

On the screen Kevin slumps in a chair, both of his legs spread and shaking. He wipes a sweaty palm on his left leg.

"It's all right," Smith tells him. "Take a deep breath and let it out."

Kevin says Robert engineered the whole thing. He describes following Tracey home and taking her to the field, then the bank, then back to the field. Kevin says he told Tracey he didn't want to hurt her, and claims he was as scared as she was. He says he gave his mask to Robert and that Robert was the one who walked into the field and shot her. "I didn't hear," Kevin says. "The car had good insulation."

When Robert handed him the gun, Kevin says, he fired into the ground. Smith interjects on the tape, reminding Kevin that a few minutes ago he had admitted to shooting Tracey. "Yeah," Kevin says. "I shot her." He prayed for God to forgive him as he fired a bullet into her back. "If you want God to forgive you," Smith says, "don't twist the truth."

Kevin says he shot her only once and then went to the car while Robert emptied the clip. Kevin says he wants to watch his three-month-old baby grow up; he lays his head on the table and sobs. That's where the tape stops.

Tracey's mother whispered under her breath, "He deserves to die." Tracey's stepmother wiped tears from her eyes. Kevin cracked his knuckles. "He has a human form," Tracey's dad said. "But he's not human."

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