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.

It was Saturday night, and 17-year-old Kevin Rivas and his best friend, Robert Hidalgo, were cruising southeast Houston. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1999, and the two high school students randomly decided to steal a white Honda from a woman. Kevin drove his mother's Mazda MPV around the cove for about five hours before he and Robert found a car they wanted.

At 4 a.m. Kevin spotted a dark-haired woman driving a four-door Accord down Almeda-Genoa Road. She turned left into the Windmill Lakes subdivision, and the silver van followed her through the gates of The Breakers apartment complex. The woman parked the car, but when she didn't get out, the boys thought she'd fallen asleep behind the wheel. She was an easy target.

Tracey Lynn Deel, 31, sat in her car listening to the radio the way she always does when she gets home. Suddenly, her driver's-side door opened and a teenage boy told her to scoot over. When another guy, his face covered with a gray sweatshirt, pointed a pistol at her head, she jumped over the gearshift.

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.
A Ben Taub trauma nurse told Linda Deel that Tracey had been in a carjacking.
Deron Neblett
A Ben Taub trauma nurse told Linda Deel that Tracey had been in a carjacking.
Tracey's mother, Karen Bryant, took half-days off work to be with her daughter.
Deron Neblett
Tracey's mother, Karen Bryant, took half-days off work to be with her daughter.
Tracey was more of a listener than a talker at Chances bar.
Tracey was more of a listener than a talker at Chances bar.
Kevin Rivas (top) and Robert Hidalgo got caught after a shoplifting spree.
Deron Neblett
Kevin Rivas (top) and Robert Hidalgo got caught after a shoplifting spree.
Dani sees Tracey as a soft, honest, straightforward person.
Dani sees Tracey as a soft, honest, straightforward person.

The driver steered the car down Windmill Lakes, a road that curves past three safe-looking apartment complexes. After less than a mile, the road dead-ends into a wall of trees on East Haven Drive. The driver parked the car and ordered Tracey into the woods. Ten steps from the curb, Tracey turned and begged the boys not to shoot her. She told them she was a good person and she'd give them anything they wanted. "Let me go," she said. "You've got the car. Let me go." She pulled out her ATM card and said she'd give them all the cash she had.

Mentioning money worked; they drove to a nearby Wells Fargo. Tracey tried to reason with them, but the driver told her to shut up. He said she was a "good bitch" because her gas tank was full. The boys argued in Spanish; Tracey wished she knew the language. At the pulse machine Tracey handed over her Chase MasterCard and her PIN: 6241. Nervous, the driver typed it in wrong and the machine spat out the card; spotting the ATM's camera, he freaked and drove off. A white truck was behind them. Seeing her chance, Tracey opened the door to jump out, but one of the boys yanked her back inside. During the five-minute drive back to the field, the guy in the back pressed the pistol to her head. Tracey suggested they try the cash machine at the corner Stop N Go. When the boys nixed that idea, she said her dad lived only four miles away and he had money.

"No," the driver said. "No more money. This is it."

He stopped the car and ordered Tracey into the field. Repeatedly, she told the boys not to shoot her. "It doesn't have to be this way," she said. "Let me live." She didn't believe they would actually do it; she was sure they were going to take her car, and she was irritated that they were going to steal the breakfast burritos she'd bought, but she didn't think they were going to kill her.

"On your knees," the gunman yelled. "Get down."

Tracey stayed standing. "Don't do this," she begged. "Don't."

"ON YOUR KNEES," he repeated.

If she was going to get shot, she was going to get shot standing. The driver got out of the car and gave the gunman an order Tracey couldn't hear. A second later she saw the flick of fire as the first bullet left the gun. The shot hit Tracey below her right eye, knocking off her custom-made Jean-Paul Gaultier goggle glasses. She thought her head had exploded as half her world went black. "Holy shit, they blew my head off," she thought. The second bullet went into her mouth, knocked out seven teeth and sliced her tongue before she swallowed the bullet. What felt like gallons of warm blood filled her mouth.

Linda Deel had let her dogs, Snoopy and Sam, outside and crawled back into bed when the phone rang. She glanced at the clock; it was 5:40 a.m. Her husband is an emergency response manager for Lubrizol, so Linda thought it was just another early-morning office emergency. Instead it was a woman wanting to verify Tracey's social security number. As Linda tried to understand what the caller was saying, her husband asked what was going on and told her not to give out any information until he checked the caller ID box. It read Ben Taub Hospital. The trauma nurse said Linda's stepdaughter had been in a carjacking. Linda told her they were on their way. She and her husband jumped out of bed and began throwing on their clothes.

The phone rang again while Linda was in the bathroom; a police officer told Rick that his daughter had been shot at least three times in the head and chest. Rick collects guns (he has a .357 magnum stored on Linda's side of the bed, a .38-caliber pistol, and six rifles Rick inherited from his father and grandfather) and knows the damage they can do. As a former paramedic Rick has seen several people with gunshot wounds, some he could save and some he couldn't; others ended up living half-lives hooked to machines. "I thought if she'd been shot that many times maybe it'd be better for God to take her," Rick says. "I didn't think she would make it, or have much to make it for."

Rick told Linda that Tracey had been shot, but he didn't tell her how many times, or how bad he thought it was. Rick didn't want her mind to start racing; he's trained to be emotion-free in emergencies, and she isn't. Rick called Tracey's mother, Karen Bryant, said Tracey was hurt and told her to meet him at the hospital.

Waiting for them in the ER hallway were a trauma nurse, two doctors, a hospital public relations person and a chaplain. "We need to talk," a doctor said, and led the Deels into a small room. The doctors started listing Tracey's injuries. She had been shot 12 times; three bullets had torn through her flesh twice, so there were 15 entry wounds.

"Time out," Rick interrupted, making a T with his hands. "Stop. Is she alive, or is she dead?"

She's alive, the doctor said, and she was doing pretty well, considering. A .22-caliber handgun can do a lot of damage, but the bullets had missed Tracey's major organs and landed in soft tissue.

"Okay," Rick said. "Now I'm listening. Now you can talk."

When Tracey entered the ER, her pale skin was cool, and she was barely breathing. Of the 12 bullets, one was under her swollen right eye, one above her lip, two in the back of her head, two in the back of her neck, two in her chest, three in her left hand and one in her right. Linda wanted to see her, but the doctors were still searching for bullet holes.

Tracey's parents, her stepmother, her stepbrother J.T. Deel and her boss at River Oaks Imaging sat with the chaplain in a room behind the nurses' station. A nurse brought in Tracey's blood-soaked Luscious Jackson T-shirt and shorts for identification. Hours later, the family walked with Tracey as she was wheeled to the operating room. Her thick brown hair was matted with dried, clotted blood, her eye was loosely bandaged, and her shot-up mouth was uncovered. Her parents kissed her, touched her arm and told her they loved her. After nine hours of surgery, the doctors gave Tracey four milligrams of morphine and decided she needed more surgery.

"I didn't know if I was going to live or die," Tracey says. "I didn't ask, and they didn't tell me."

Last summer Tracey bought a Bible and started reading books about the Rapture. She wasn't happy. She wanted to be out of debt, she wanted a girlfriend, and she wanted a job that would let her spend more time with her music (she didn't get to rock as an X-ray technician). Tracey screened her calls and rarely returned messages. She had always been independent, but she started spending more time alone. She prayed that everything in her life would change.

November 27 was a normal Saturday night. Tracey locked her dogs, Fanny and Timone, in the kitchen, tuned the radio to 107.5 the Buzz and left her babies plenty of food, toys and treats. She kissed them good-bye and walked outside. It was a cold night, but like always, she was wearing baggy shorts, a concert T-shirt and Doc Marten sandals.

Tracey went to Chances, a lesbian bar at the corner of Montrose and Westheimer with rainbow flags flying on the roof. She sat at her usual black barstool in a quiet corner. Three seats down from the Touchmaster 7000 video poker machine, Tracey and her co-worker Cora Salter played music trivia games, and watched Country Music Television and women walking by. Tracey was more of a listener than a talker. She told wry jokes and often sat by herself drinking rum and Diet Coke. Before Cora left, she gave Tracey the security code to her Westheimer apartment and told "the kid" to crash at her place. But Tracey wanted to wake up in her own bed Sunday. Like always, she stayed after hours, finished her drink and chatted with the owner. The manager, Lisa Garrett, watched Tracey walk to her car around 3 a.m. Tracey hit the Whataburger drive-through on Shepherd and bought her usual fish sandwich to eat on the 30-minute drive home, and breakfast burritos and a sandwich for Sunday morning.

That's where her memory gets blurry. Tracey doesn't remember the ride home, but she recalls parking in her usual space and turning up the radio to listen to music as loud as she wanted without disturbing her neighbors. Tracey can't say how long she sat there before the boys burst in and took her to the field. She remembers pleading with them for almost 30 minutes, but she fainted after the first two shots. "I was target practice," Tracey says. "Like a fucking tin can in a field."

Her next memory is stepping off the curb and onto the street. She saw a light in the distance and jogged toward it. Her face felt like it was hanging off, but other than an aching, throbbing pain, she didn't feel any injuries. Tired, she kept falling down. Each time, she picked herself up and kept moving. Tracey served three years in the army, has a black widow spider tattooed on her leg, and on her back is a Chinese symbol that means positive, forward thinking. She didn't want to die alone, and she didn't want those boys to get away with what they had done.

Tracey dragged herself 950 feet -- the length of three and a half football fields -- to The Point, an apartment complex at the corner of Windmill Lakes and East Haven. She followed the cracked, uneven sidewalk until she reached the red brick driveway. Her plan was to bang on someone's door or window, but like at her own "safe" apartment, the gates were locked. She thought if she could find a rock she could throw it over the fence, but she was too weak. Tracey grabbed a large gray landscaping brick and banged on the hood of a white BMW parked in front of the rental office until the car alarm went off. She tried to scream for help, but all that came out were moans and whispers.

Spencer Chaffin Jr. was on his way to work at a petrochemical plant in Alvin. It was about 4:30 a.m. when he stopped to check his mail; he saw Tracey standing by the BMW and heard her hollering, but he thought she was drunk. Spencer walked right by Tracey trying not to make eye contact. After he shut the mailroom door he glanced out the window and saw the blood.

A woman appeared on a third-story balcony. "Do you need help?" she called.

"YES," Tracey screamed and collapsed on the sidewalk. At 4:51 a.m. the woman called 911 and sent her boyfriend downstairs with an armload of towels. Spencer, a former EMT, tried to slow the bleeding. He asked Tracey to describe her attackers and tell him what happened; he scribbled notes on the back of a maintenance slip. Tracey wanted to fall asleep, but Spencer wouldn't let her close her eyes and drift into death. When she heard the ambulance's air brakes, Tracey relaxed. As the firefighters walked toward her, she passed out cold.

Tracey's father spent two hours standing in the knee-high grass where she was shot. Rick followed the trail of his daughter's blood, trying to imagine what she went through. He walked it again and again and again, searching for any evidence the police might have missed. The detectives found Tracey's dog tags; her father found her shot-out yellow eyeglass lens.

Tracey calls her dad Land Rambo. He served in the air force, collects knives and broke his hand playing college football. At an HPD press conference that Friday, Rick broke into tears. "I've cried more this week than I've cried in my entire life," he said. "They will pay. Even if the police don't get them, God will."

Tracey's friends put up flyers and took out newspaper ads. Josie Timm, a radiologist who worked with Tracey, offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Tracey's attackers. The Saturday after Tracey was shot, women crowded Chances to raise money. Tracey was moved out of the ICU that morning; she wanted to go party. "The one night I'm not at the troll hole everybody's there," she told her best friend, Veronica Lopez.

Thirteen candles forming the shape of a triangle burned on the bar. "They're going to burn until Tracey comes back," the owner, Marlene Beago, told the crowd. Women sat shoulder to shoulder on the floor, on the pool tables and atop the bar. Chances comfortably holds 150 people; Marlene counted about 300. "I've never seen a person who acts like such a loner and has so many friends," Marlene said. These same women had lined the halls of the ICU.

Marlene recounted Tracey's story like an angry evangelist. She called the attackers lily-livered chickenshits and said she wanted to get her hands on them. "They wouldn't want to hurt anyone again," Marlene said. "They'd be singing soprano."

It was an impassioned Take Back the Night rally. Women cheered for Tracey, a one-woman army who deserved a Purple Heart. "She's a lesbian," Marlene screamed into the microphone, and the crowd cheered. "She's a sister," Marlene bellowed, and the crowd echoed. The emotion in the air was like when Americans stormed the streets on D-Day. They raised $3,600 selling $10 raffle tickets and auctioning posters of Patrice Pike and Sister 7 CDs.

"We all just felt so helpless," said Patrice, lead singer of Sister 7. She was one of the first people to visit Tracey in the ICU. "We were having a lot of confusing, angry, sad feelings." Along with pride, love and admiration, many women were filled with fear. Rumors were that Tracey had been abducted outside Chances. Women worried that the boys were outside, waiting.

Before she sang, Patrice talked about Tracey. Patrice believes in fate and destiny and God having a plan and a purpose. But she couldn't find a reason for this. Tracey has a nose ring, rocks out to Ozzy Osbourne and can drink a fifth of Bacardi without falling down, but she also owns the Barbra Streisand boxed set, rescues stray dogs and cried when Princess Diana died. "Maybe the reason it happened to Tracey is she was the only one strong enough to live through it," Patrice said. Women needed to learn from Tracey's story to be more careful and to watch out for each other, Patrice said. No woman walked to her car alone that night.

"The cops better catch those boys before the lesbians do," one of Tracey's friends said.

Six days before Christmas, three Hispanic teens were shoplifting Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger T-shirts from the Ross Dress For Less at Beltway 8 and Pasadena Boulevard. The boys created an escape route by kicking a hole in a nearby fence. When the boys saw Pasadena patrolman D.L. Speights, they scattered and ran. "Anytime a person runs from a police officer, they're running for a reason," Speights said. He called for reinforcements. Officer Regio Saldivar vaulted a six-foot fence and caught Robert Hidalgo; the keys to Tracey's Honda were in his pocket.

The license plates were switched, speakers added and Tracey's Green Bay Packers sticker had been scraped off the windshield, but the vehicle ID number was wanted by HPD homicide. Robert told officers he'd seen the car parked on the side of the road and was just driving it around. Robert has a long, thin face, doe eyes and straight black brows; Tracey immediately identified him as the driver. HPD Detective J.C. Bonaby told Robert it was over; Robert cried and gave a taped confession ratting out his best friend, Kevin Rivas. "The dummy told them everything," said Robert's court-appointed attorney, Cruz Cervantes. Cosme Ramirez, the other boy caught shoplifting, is Kevin's quasi-brother-in-law (Cosme's sister and Kevin have a baby). Cosme confirmed Robert's story and gave a sworn statement. A warrant was issued for Kevin's arrest.

Even with the boys in custody, Tracey stayed locked in her father's house. Protected by her parents, an alarm and five dogs, Tracey still didn't feel safe. Some nights she sat in the living room watching TV until 3 a.m., too scared to walk down the hall to her bedroom. She told her parents, "I'd sleep with one eye open, but I only got one eye."

Tracey's father and mother took off the rest of the year from work. After the new year, and Tracey's 32nd birthday, her mother worked half-days trading shifts with her father. Tracey didn't want to be alone. She was tired and dizzy and felt awful all the time; she couldn't stand in the shower or walk to the bathroom by herself. Since she couldn't open her good eye without her blind eye hurting, Tracey spent her days with her head down, eyes closed, listening to the TV.

Tracey lay on the couch, with a heating pad wrapped around her head and a Q-tip stuffed up her nose, which wouldn't stop running. Her shot-out eye hurt so bad that if someone touched her eyelashes, Tracey screamed. On January 6 Tracey checked into Hermann Hospital for an overnight operation, but stayed 16 days because the surgeon found a spinal fluid leak in her brain (which explained her runny nose and watery eye). If they hadn't patched it, she would have died.

Morphine, Demerol and Darvocet didn't kill the constant pain. "They could not give me enough drugs to make the pain go away," Tracey said. "I felt like I'd been in a prisoner-of-war camp."

The week before Robert's trial, Tracey dreamed spiders were crawling all over her as people tried to kill her. She slept with the light on and the door open.

In the courtroom June 2, Tracey held Robert's eyes for five seconds. "I was trying to look for any understanding; I was searching for something in his eyes," she said, but he broke her gaze and looked down. "It was bizarre seeing him with his head held down like a meek and mild little boy," Tracey said. "This kid was pure evil."

When a psychiatrist asked Robert the difference between right and wrong, Robert said it was a trick question. Robert failed both the first and sixth grades, he has an alcoholic father in El Paso, and his mother, Lucy Lechuga, is on probation for welfare fraud. His parents divorced 14 years ago; Robert lives with his mother in a battered blue trailer. His older brother, Eric, says Robert dresses like a "gang wanna-be" in big, loose clothes. As a freshman at Sam Rayburn High School, Robert's grades are 70s or below. Robert's a Broncos fan, loves the band Lil' Keke and spends most of his time playing PlayStation. He had just finished a community-service sentence for a curfew violation; he wants to be a probation officer. In juvenile jail Robert cried daily, couldn't sleep and tested positive for chlamydia. When a psychiatrist asked Robert to describe himself in three words, Robert couldn't think of anything to say.

In Robert's version of the story, he had a fight with his girlfriend (she caught him with another girlfriend) and was at her house apologizing when his homeboy dropped by. Kevin pressured him to ditch his woman and go cruising. For safety, Robert took the gun his mother keeps under her mattress. Robert says Kevin did all the shooting.

Robert's attorney's basic defense was that Robert is a teenager, and teenagers do stupid things. "A 16-year-old has mush for brains," Cervantes said. He said Robert is timid and like a daughter to his mother (he does the cooking, cleaning and laundry). Since Robert was sitting in the car with the radio on and the windows up, Cervantes said he didn't hear Tracey being shot and couldn't have stopped it. "The guy who's got the gun calls the shots," Cervantes said. But Robert could have called 911.

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.

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."

Scheduled to testify, Tracey sat in the hallway fingering the worry stone Dani bought her. Her blood was racing so fast she felt like her veins were constricting. She prayed and prayed and prayed. Tracey worried that she would stumble during her testimony; if she messed up, Kevin could get off. "I wouldn't feel like I could go outside if he was loose," Tracey said. She'd move to Alaska. "I've got on my Jesus dress and my sandals; I'm ready to rock," she said. "Lord be with me."

At 4:25 p.m. Tracey took the stand; on the projector, Wisner laid a picture of Tracey in Paris five years ago, her head thrown back as she stood on the Champs-Elysées. Now Tracey looks down and shuffles when she walks to keep from falling; the confidence and joy have left her eyes.

A half hour into her testimony, just before Tracey reached the point where the boys shot her, the judge dismissed the jury for the evening.

Tracey sat in the witness room Friday morning trying to breathe deeply and reminding herself that she was the victim, not the one on trial. The D.A. said she forgot things said in the last trial. The other attorney had a copy of that testimony, and Tracey was afraid he was going to nail her. "I don't remember yesterday," Tracey said. "I'm not lying, I don't remember."

Her dad stuck his head in the door. "The circus is about to start," he said. "The animals are getting into position."

"Oh, good," Tracey said. "I need to pee."

She squeezed the bloodstone and closed her eyes. Dani, a licensed professional counselor, silently stroked Tracey's thigh. A few minutes later Wisner handed Tracey the pistol she had been shot with and told her they were going to role-play. "You be the gunman, I'll be you." Wisner put the picture of Tracey in Paris on the projector. Beside it he laid pictures of Tracey bloody and bandaged at Ben Taub.

Arnold asked Tracey if she could identify the gunman. When she said no, Arnold moved to dismiss the case since there was no evidence connecting his client. Tracey never saw the gunman's face, and there were no fingerprints on the weapon. But Kevin's prints were found on the car, and there were confessions from Robert Hidalgo and Kevin himself. Arnold's motion was overruled.

Arnold grilled both Smith and Sergeant L.D. Foltz about whether they had employed a "good cop, bad cop" routine to get his client to confess. "I've seen it on television," Foltz said, but he said he had never used it or seen it used at HPD.

Arnold tried to impeach Tracey's testimony because during her first statement she was confused and thought the shooter was a "colored kid." Kevin isn't black. Considering the morphine and the trauma Tracey had been through, Foltz said, her temporary memory loss wasn't unusual.

Kevin's mother, Mayra Guerrero, testified that her son borrowed her van and left the house at 10 p.m. Saturday and didn't come home until 6 a.m. Sunday. She didn't know where he went.

Monday morning Kevin clasped his hands in his lap, looked straight at his lawyer and said that he did not shoot Tracey Deel. Under oath, Kevin said he went to Jack In the Box with a girl named Theresa (who never surfaced to support him) and then stayed at Beatriz Cantu Gonzalez's trailer until about 5:45 a.m. This was the first time Kevin had mentioned an alibi.

Kevin maintained that he was framed. He said Foltz beat him on the head ten or 11 times, burned his arms with electrical wires and told him he'd never see his baby, Brianna, again. "So he could have gotten you to confess to the Oklahoma City bombing or the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder?" Wisner asked. Yes, Kevin said, he would have said anything in order to get home to his child. "Any father would." Kevin said Foltz framed him just to close the case. "He's gotten sick of convicting guilty people, so now he convicts innocent people?" Wisner asked. Yes, Kevin said, the officers gave him a script and he recited it. "Are you really that smart?" Wisner asked.

Wisner played the 19-minute confession tape, stopping to ask Kevin who told him to say what and why. "Have you taken any acting classes?" Wisner asked. "You're doing a fabulous job of acting like someone who shot her." Kevin nodded, saying, "My mom said I should've been in theatrics. This looks like the perfect statement."

But the confession is peppered with details Kevin could not have known unless he had been there. How did he know Tracey drank Bacardi? In court she just said rum and Coke. How did he know she had a Harley Davidson billfold? How did he know the gun was at Robert's house? How did he know that Robert had kept Tracey's credit card but had burned Tracey's driver's license?

"I should have been an actor," Kevin repeated. He said the police told him they had found the gun, the card and a smoky-smelling wallet at Robert's house.

"Do you realize that Foltz was executing the search warrant while they were interviewing you?" Wisner asked.

The jury sentenced Kevin to life in prison.

"Maybe we can sleep tonight," Tracey's mother said. Kevin's mother sat in the hallway, curled in a fetal position. She cried and stared out the window as her husband and friends raged that the white media had already executed Kevin. Antonio Rivas, Kevin's father, was wearing jeans and an untucked Polo with holes underneath the arms. He said Kevin was treated the same as Gary Graham. He thought Kevin was targeted because he is poor and Hispanic and can't defend himself. "This isn't justice," he said.

Tracey has six guitars she can't play because bullets shattered two knuckles on her left hand. She needs three separate surgeries on that hand alone, new teeth and a prosthetic eye (she wants a blue one). She still has a bullet in her chest, one in her left breast and one lodged between her sinus and her brain; she has fragments in her collarbone, stomach lining and the back of her head. Ben Taub considers it "invasive surgery" to remove bullets that aren't affecting major organs, so the surgeons left the lead where it landed. The bullets roll beneath Tracey's skin. "They burn me," she says.

Tracey worked at River Oaks Imaging for ten years. In the pain management section she laughed and joked with patients, putting them at ease before their treatments. "She's an excellent tech," Timm says. Tracey always connected with the patients. The office is saving her job, but Tracey has no idea when she'll be able to return. She needs both her hands to work the X-ray machines, and she doesn't know how long the surgeries and healing process will take. Plus, right now she isn't relaxed enough to make anyone else feel calm.

Tracey spends her days watching movies and reading books about people given a second chance to reach heaven. She can't ever get lost in a story line and forget about that November night. She wishes she had gone straight inside; she wishes she had stayed home or crashed at Cora's. Her head is full of regrets and questions and if-onlys. Tracey can't figure out why they shot her. She'd like to ask the boys, and she'd like an honest answer, but she doesn't think that will ever happen.

When her father is stressed, he sleeps; when her stepmother is stressed, she cooks. Linda has been chopping meat, fish and vegetables, delving into new cookbooks and banging pots and pans to get out her anger. Tracey's Chihuahua now weighs 15 pounds; Timone "Fat Puffins" Deel sits on Tracey's lap, kissing Tracey and snuggling in her arms. "Our relationship has changed," Tracey says, looking down at her dog. "He knows I'm different. I'm not as lovey or loving as I used to be. With him, or with anyone."

When she looks in the mirror, she sees a different person staring back. "I liked my green eyes. I liked my smile. I liked the way I used to look," she says. Despite the scar above her lip and the bullets burning in her chest, Tracey doesn't feel like it really happened. She knows she was shot, but she keeps thinking that it's a dream she's going to wake up from. She has bad weeks where everything hurts and she doesn't feel like she'll ever get better. She has weeks where she wishes the boys had just finished the job. Tracey never used to cry; now there are days when she can't stop.

When the pain was at its peak, Tracey stopped talking to most of her friends. Nothing was new in her life; all she had to talk about was being shot, and she didn't want to relive it 50 times a day. When her friends chatted about their lives and their problems Tracey listened, but it was hard to hear them lament little things. "They've got a hangnail and it legitimately hurts them, and I understand that," she says. "But it could be worse." That, too, was hard for some people to hear. Tracey's best friend, Veronica, calls every day; they talk about music.

Tracey started e-mailing Dani in February. Dani had a new job and was too busy to date anyone, and Tracey didn't like leaving the house. Tracey needed to talk to someone who wanted to listen. Dani sees Tracey as a soft, honest, straightforward person who appreciates the meaning of words. Dani does aromatherapy and energy healing with Tracey. The two of them giggle a lot.

Still, Tracey doesn't think anyone can understand her. Most people who get shot as many times as she did die. She might be able to find a support group, but she's never been the type to talk about her problems and complain. Anytime she hurts herself Tracey gets angry; if she stubs her toe she loses her temper. "I've had enough pain," Tracey says.

She knows she needs more than just the physical therapy she goes to. "I need to get my head right," she says. But that involves leaving the house, talking about herself and facing a stranger. She might be ready to start soon. "I want to be better than I was before," she says. Her best friend is amazed that Tracey didn't let her depression win and didn't give up in the field. "It seems that someone that was feeling that way would say, 'Here's my chance,' but she's fought through it," Veronica says. Tracey wants to start exercising and lose the pounds she has put on. An anonymous benefactor helped her out of debt, and she's got the relationship she wanted. Technically, God gave her almost everything she asked for.

Going to concerts used to be the biggest activity in Tracey's life. Now she'd rather stay home. "I've built myself a cave," she says. "I feel more comfortable here." Over her bed hangs a bullet-riddled copper angel.

Tracey has never owned a gun, but she wants to go get licensed to carry one with her at all times. Two weeks ago she went to her storage unit and got out her basketball. She shot hoops in the park near her house for an hour. She carefully watched the two or three boys in the distance. She left when they got too close.

The next morning, June 28, Tracey went to Starbucks by herself. She ordered a nonfat caramel latte to go and bought three sunflowers at Albertson's. She went home because she didn't feel comfortable enough to sit in the store. She put the flowers on the kitchen table, finished her coffee and brewed a fresh pot. Maybe now that both boys are locked away she can sit outside, drink her coffee and start to feel safe.

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