Originally published 02/08/2013.
Leroy Iverson had suffered terrible tragedies in fatherhood. A child had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), another of respiratory failure, and a third of meningitis.
Perhaps this is why he was so protective of little Sherrice on whom he doted. She had been born on October 20, 1989 when Leroy was 46 and his live-in girlfriend Yolanda Manuel only 16.
Because of dangers in their working-class neighborhood, Leroy forbade Sherrice from playing outside. He drove her to school in the morning and picked her up after, arriving 20 minutes early so she would not wait. Nora Zamichow reports in the Los Angeles Times, “No other second-grader at 75th Street Elementary School had a daddy who did that.”
Retired from tour bus driving, Leroy suffered diabetes, emphysema, asthma, and high blood pressure and walked with a cane.
Leroy and Yolanda were doting parents. Sherrice attended school with neatly braided hair and in attractive clothes. Zamichow writes, “Sherrice’s teachers thought of her as affectionate and trusting.” She adored jumping rope and The Little Mermaid. Like many children, she had varied ambitions for an adult career including model, dancer, police officer, and nurse. She feared darkness and struggled to read.
Leroy loved gambling. Like many casinos, the Primadonna marketed itself as family-friendly with amusements targeted for children.
On Sunday, May 25, 1997, Leroy drove Sherrice and older brother Harold to the Primadonna where Leroy played the slot machines and Sherrice played arcade games. At one point, she fell asleep in the driver’s seat of a race car game called “Final Lap.”
Sherrice began playing with a little boy. The two struck each other with wadded up papers. A paper hit Jeremy Strohmeyer, 18. He picked it up and tossed it at Sherrice. The teenager and the child threw wads back and forth for 11 minutes in a spirited game of tag.
At 3:47 a.m. Sherrice raced into the ladies restroom. Jeremy went to a water fountain where he took a drink. Then he followed Sherrice into the restroom. Jeremy’s pal, David Cash, also 18, followed Jeremy into that restroom.
Both Jeremy and Sherrice held wet paper wads. Sherrice picked up a “Wet Floor” sign and grazed Jeremy’s arm with it. Later, Jeremy recalled that he “went haywire.”
He grabbed Sherrice and put his hand over her mouth, then carried her into the handicapped stall.
David walked to the adjacent stall, stood on the toilet, and peered over.
Sherrice struggled and Jeremy growled, “Shut up or I’ll kill you!”
David reached over to tap Jeremy’s forehead. David later said, “He looked up at me, kind of in a stare . . . like he didn’t care what I was saying.”
David exited the restroom. He went to a courtyard bench and sat down.
Jeremy pulled off Sherrice’s boots and underpants. He molested her, then squeezed her neck.
Two women entered the restroom. In a panic, Jeremy sat against Sherrice’s belly, putting her legs back so they would think he was using the toilet. He placed his hand over Sherrice’s mouth.
The women left. Sherrice appeared to be unconscious. Later he said he had to kill her to prevent her from living as a “vegetable.” He squeezed her neck until she stopped breathing.
He wiped away blood from his left hand.
Jeremy exited the restroom after 24 minutes.
David saw Jeremy and said, “Dude, let’s go. My dad is waiting for us.”
As they walked, David asked, “What happened?”
“I killed her,” Jeremy replied.
As the friends left the casino, David asked, “Was the little girl sexually aroused?”
Jeremy did not answer.
Who was the young man who had so callously snuffed out a child’s life? Jeremy had been born on October 11, 1978 to a teen girl from an affluent family. She was schizophrenic and in a psychiatric hospital when she had him. She had been impregnated by a career criminal.
Her baby was placed in foster care.
The couple who adopted him wed in 1970. They were Winnie and John Strohmeyer. Winnie gave birth to Heather in 1976.
Years later, the Strohmeyers insisted that they told adoption workers that no baby with a family history of mental illness was acceptable. In 1980, an adoption counselor showed them photos of an 18-month-old blue-eyed toddler named Gerald Paul.
The Strohmeyers adopted him and re-named him Jeremy. They told him he was adopted when he was four. Zamichow writes, “Sometimes Jeremy would talk about wanting to find his birthmother because he figured she must be lonely. Wouldn’t it be nice, he’d ask, to take her on vacation with us?”
An intelligent child, Jeremy appeared kind and sensitive. He once gave Winnie a rhinestone necklace for Mother’s Day. People predicted a bright future for him.
As he entered his teens, the Strohmeyers moved to Singapore where Winnie was sent for her work. He started drinking. He sassed his parents. They assumed it was normal teen rebellion.
When the Strohmeyers attempted to enroll Jeremy for another semester at the Singapore American School, they were told he was unwelcome. He had shown up intoxicated.
The family returned to Long Beach, California. Jeremy attended Woodrow Wilson High School where he made good grades. In his sophomore year he built his own computer. A teacher recalled him as “in the top 1% in terms of just being a good kid.”
His outward show of wholesome normalcy masked inner confusion. He drank and used amphetamines. He never told friends he was adopted. He was even more secretive about his obsessive fantasies about sex with pre-pubescent girls and the cache of child pornography on his computer.
He was not a loner but his friends were sometimes dismayed by explosions of temper like the time he spat in another boy’s face or screamed obscenities at a party’s hostess. He threw items and banged his head in frustration.
In June 1996, he was arrested for drunk driving and his driver’s license suspended.
At a party, Jeremy stole a kitten from the home and tossed it out the car window while a friend drove.
Jeremy became close to David Cash, a senior intent on a career in engineering. Jeremy also became close to Jeremy Phillips who had recently graduated. The three had what they considered fun by harassing streetwalkers and homeless people. Jeremy smashed an egg in a prostitute’s face. He lured another hooker to a car, grabbed her arm and held it as his friend started the car. Jeremy called this “whore dragging.”
Jeremy and David planned fun gambling when they headed to the Primadonna in the wee hours of May 25, 1997.
After Jeremy told David of the murder, the pals drove north to Las Vegas. They played slot machines and drank. They agreed to keep quiet about the murder and claim they had both left the restroom while Sherrice was alive if questioned by police. David later said he did not want “to be the person who takes away” his buddy’s “last night of freedom.”
Both were at Wilson on the next school day. Three days after the murder, Jeremy was arrested at home. Classmates with intact consciences had recognized him on TV and reported it to police.
Preparing for trial, attorneys Leslie Abrahmson and Richard Wright researched his background. For the first time, the Strohmeyers learned the biological family history of their adoptive son.
On May 23, 1998, a plaque honoring Sherrice Iverson was given to Leroy Iverson at a ceremony honoring her memory. A duplicate plaque was placed under a tree planted to honor her at James Gay Park. Nation of Islam members stood guard at the gathering that included Nevada Republican Gubernatorial candidate Aaron Russo and NAACP members. At the end of the ceremony, balloons of pink and yellow – Sherrice’s favorite colors – were let into the sky.
In exchange for a life without parole sentence rather than the death penalty, Jeremy pled guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping on September 8, 1998. He apologized and asked forgiveness before the court sentenced him to life on October 14, 1998. He also said, “You cannot imagine a life more barren of consolation than that which I have lived since the tragic morning of May 25, 1997.”
Judge Myron Leavitt repeatedly asked Jeremy if he had in fact murdered Sherrice and Jeremy, standing with head bowed and hands folded, answered, “Yes, sir.” Leavitt also repeatedly asked if Jeremy understood that the plea meant he would never be paroled and Jeremy answered, “Yes, sir.”
In a victim impact statement, Yolanda raged, “You are so evil if I had a wish here I would put you to death the same way you put my child to death.” Leroy, who now needed a wheelchair, said, “You took my life.”
Jeremy was transported to Ely State Prison and put in administrative segregation because of his crime’s notoriety.
Many were outraged that David Cash could not be charged with a crime. Others argued that criminalizing the failure to act or to report a crime is attempting to legislate morality. He attended the University of California at Berkeley despite being shunned by many of his fellow students, received a degree, and got a job upon graduation.
Sources on following page.