Kareena MacGregor couldn’t sit still. The 15-year-old’s menstrual cramps hurt so much she couldn’t concentrate on the first-season episode of American Idol she’d been waiting for all day. That night, Sept. 4, 2002, her parents were away on a business trip. Her aunt, Alyna Ashcroft, a neonatal nurse, was looking after Kareena and her four sisters in their Sandy home.
Ashcroft suggested Kareena, the middle child, take a bath. She felt better, but after getting out of the tub, she threw up. Kareena lay down for a while and started moaning. Her sister Laureen yelled at her, “Shut up!” Her aunt told her she knew it hurt, “but could you keep it down a bit?” Kareena, who is learning disabled, thought her aunt meant keep her pain to herself.
After midnight, Ashcroft was on the porch, waiting for her sister Alona MacGregor to return. Kareena sat on the basement toilet, biting her hand to keep from screaming. She felt an urge to push and, she recalls, “something came out, like a ball, purple-bluish,” between her legs. As she stood up, “a little body” with feet and hands fell into her hands, connected to her by its umbilical cord. Kareena sat back down and pinched off the cord. When she stood up, blood, she says, “gushed everywhere,” from between her legs.
In a fog of pain and confusion, she placed the baby in the bathroom window well. She watched the motionless, silent body “for 5, 10 seconds,” she later told the court. She struggled to clean up the blood, only to pass out on her bed from severe blood loss. Her mother found Kareena hours later. She had almost bled to death.
Paramedics rushed Kareena to Alta View Hospital in Sandy. According to police reports, she repeatedly denied she was pregnant. At the hospital, after an ultrasound was performed, a nurse said, “At least there wasn’t a baby.” Kareena and her mother froze as each focused in on the same thought.
“It wasn’t a nightmare, Mommy,” Kareena said. “There’s a baby in the bathroom.” She grabbed her mother’s hand so hard, she broke Alona’s finger. Alona sent her sister, Alyna Ashcroft, back to the house. She found the 34-week, four pound fetus lying on his stomach in the window well.
Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputies outside Alta View asked a TV crew that had originally pulled up to cover a gang-related stabbing if they were there to report on the girl who killed her baby. Thus, a media frenzy began that sparked community outrage.
The state charged Kareena MacGregor with first-degree murder. The probable cause statement claimed Kareena gave birth to “a live full term male baby. Kareena then placed the baby outside in a window well without making any attempts to sustain the baby’s life.” More than a year later, Kareena pleaded guilty to a crime her family contended she didn’t understand, let alone commit. For the next four years, she and her family fought to take back that plea.
Justice Michael Wilkins is one of five members of the Utah Supreme Court who ruled on Kareena’s bid to withdraw her plea. Wilkins wrote in the final opinion published on Dec. 4, 2007, that for the juvenile court system, “salvaging an errant child is a high priority.” So, why, Alona MacGregor still wants to know, was the system so determined “to throw an innocent child to the wolves?”
The answer to that question, says Kareena’s father Matthew MacGregor, is that the juvenile court system is an adversarial system built on winning or losing. Who Kareena was, he believes, never entered the legal equation. Despite a court-ordered report noting her limited intellect, “[the prosecutors] ascribed to her the methods and thoughts of a highly manipulative serial killer,” Matthew adds. In a bitterly bleak saga, court documents illustrate step-by-step how the state turned Kareena from sexual-abuse victim to murderer. Finally, the only defense Kareena could rely on in court was her parents’ refusal to accept the system’s judgment of her as a calculating killer.
Now 21 years old, Kareena wants her voice to be heard. On April 10, 2008, she filed a civil lawsuit in Utah’s 3rd District Court against the people she says betrayed her: the two brothers who allegedly molested her as an adolescent and their parents who ignored her plea for help; the brothers’ 18-year-old friend who thought he could protect her from the abuse by having sex with her—only to get her pregnant; and her then-LDS bishop, along with the LDS Church, neither of which attempted to help her when she told her bishop of her sexual abuse. Her civil suit also names a mortuary owner who allegedly disposed of the baby boy’s remains without consulting her family. That action, Kareena claims, denied her not only crucial evidence but also the funeral that would have provided her with an opportunity to mourn.
Visit her family’s home in Sandy and it’s as if the MacGregors have not moved on a day since Kareena gave birth. They are frozen in time, the bare walls still awaiting the remodeling they had started six years earlier. All their time and money went into trying to save Kareena from the juvenile system. They had to help Kareena understand she didn’t kill her baby. “Her mind would have died were she to understand she had done something that despicable,” Matthew MacGregor says.
Too close to home
When Kareena was 2 years old, a car forced the truck her mother was driving off an Arizona highway down an embankment. Kareena was a passenger. She stumbled out of the wreckage up to the blacktop. A police officer followed her footsteps back to the car. For nearly two and a half years, Kareena didn’t speak—due, doctors told the MacGregors, to a closed head injury from the accident. Eventually, she was diagnosed as learning disabled, placing her intellectually several years behind her peers.
Matthew MacGregor was a major in the Utah National Guard, who flew Apache helicopters until he was made lieutenant colonel in 2002 and switched to the reserves. He started a product-testing company in 1989, while his wife, Alona, stayed at home raising their five daughters. By his and his wife’s accounts, they were a model LDS family. In 1997, she joined him in the business. Their training in forensics and Alona’s passion for research allowed them to approach Kareena’s trial with a formidable determination to understand and document every aspect of it.
For most of the past 18 years, the MacGregors lived in Sandy, a sprawling suburb of Salt Lake City. Its strip malls and communities of oversize houses nestle at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. When the MacGregor girls were growing up, their world was defined by their street, which marked the boundary of the Willow Canyon LDS 4th Ward. Matthew MacGregor was Sunday School president, Alona the primary president of children age 18 months to 12. “Raising girls was like living in every Disney movie ever made,” Matthew MacGregor says.
According to Kareena’s April 2008 civil suit, in November 1998, their Neverland came to an abrupt end. Then 11-year-old Kareena had a crush on a neighborhood boy from her ward, 15-year-old Matt Jaroscak. Jaroscak began showing her “bad movies” and “touching her.” The abuse continued for a year, the suit claims.
A young man who played a key part in this story was Greg Smith, now 25 and serving 54 months in a federal penitentiary for fraud. Smith testified in a two-day deposition in June 2008 that Kareena told him “she was being hurt” by Matt Jaroscak. He recalled Matt Jaroscak squeezing Kareena’s left breast in front of other boys. The abuse “was kind of a joke around the Jaroscaks’ neighborhood,” Smith said.
Kareena wasn’t the only minor whom members of the Jaroscak family allegedly abused. In an affidavit by Kareena’s school friend, Traci Anne Grammier, now 24, she alleges Matt and his brother Jason also sexually abused Traci when she was 16. In the affidavit, Grammier, who was the Jaroscaks’ next-door neighbor, says the three Jaroscak brothers—Matthew, David and Jason—bragged their father “had so much power to take care of their problems and they could do anything they wanted.” Grammier, who lives out of state, could not be reached for this story.
Jaroscak’s father, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Jaroscak, until a month ago served as Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder’s public information officer (PIO). Now he heads up internal affairs at the Sheriff's Office. Paul Jaroscak told City Weekly his family “would have our say through the courts, not through the media.” Jaroscak’s son David—who, like his father and brother Jason, is an employee of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office—was asked for an interview. Matt Jaroscak was asked via e-mail for comment. These requests resulted in a second call from their father, reiterating that he was speaking for his entire family.
In Nov. 1999, a year after the alleged abuse started, Kareena knocked on the door of Paul and Debbie Jaroscak, who lived three blocks from her house. According to a police report, she told Debbie, “Your son keeps touching me.” Matt and Paul Jaroscak came to the door. Kareena told Matt, “Don’t lie to your parents.” Kareena told police Paul Jaroscak shouted at her, “Get the fuck off my property.”
Paul Jaroscak called Alona MacGregor and, she says, harangued her about her “crazy daughter.” Kareena thought her parents didn’t believe her and wrote a suicide note, which she gave to Traci Anne Grammier at school. Her parents say they called the Sheriff’s office and filed a report within days of Kareena’s altercation with the Jaroscak family. No investigation, they say, was forthcoming. The Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office has no record of such a report.
Kareena claims in her civil suit that she went to her LDS Bishop Douglas Walker in December 1999. She told him Matt Jaroscak was touching her. Bishop Walker, in a court filing, denied Kareena ever reported sexual abuse to him. A later filing amended that denial to “he has no recollection of Kareena or anyone else talking to him about someone having sexual contact with Kareena.”
Walker’s actions, allege the MacGregors’ lawyer, Justin Roberts, were “worse than not doing anything. He didn’t just ignore it. He helped protect the abuser.”
Grammier in her affidavit says Matt Jaroscak knew Kareena had told Walker about him touching her. “He was mad at her for using his name. He said she was stupid for getting him in trouble. He was upset she had exposed him out in the open and she would pay for it.”
Payback came in July 2000, when Kareena in her civil complaint claims Matt Jaroscak’s older brother, David, abused her. He took her in a truck to a nearby park and, according to Kareena’s allegations within a Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) report, asked her “if she would let him titty-fuck her”—not that she knew what that meant. He told her, according to the civil suit, this was to punish her for “telling on” his little brother. The lawsuit alleges, “David told Kareena that, although she had reported the abuse to adults, nobody would believe her, and he was still able to do whatever he wanted to her.” Kareena says at that point, “I gave up.” Her mother says David Jaroscak “broke her little soul.”
In August 2001, Matthew MacGregor lashed out at a group of neighborhood youths, among them Greg Smith, after, a police report states, several of his daughters complained about harassment. Matthew MacGregor, who was known in his ward for jokingly polishing his gun when a boyfriend picked up his eldest daughter for a date, told the youths they “might find themselves in the west desert where their parents cannot find them,” according to the police report.
Matt Jaroscak abused Kareena again in January 2002, the suit alleges. Afterwards, as she later recounted to a Salt Lake City police officer, Jaroscak, who was about to leave on his church mission, told her to go to Bishop Walker and repent but not to mention his name. Kareena, then 14, turned to Matt Jaroscak’s friend, 18-year-old Gregory Smith, for consolation. The suit alleges Smith six months earlier had “began attempting to have a relationship with Kareena.” One January afternoon in 2002, Smith took her to a park. They made out. At his deposition, Smith said he thought, “If I would [have sex with Kareena] she would forget about everybody else and just […] stay with me.” Kareena felt a pain between her legs and thought Smith was putting his hand inside her, as she alleged in a police report Matt Jaroscak had done to her in the past. She told Smith to stop and went home crying.
The next month, Kareena met with Walker and reported the abuse. “As before, Bishop Walker did not report the allegations of abuse to any law enforcement agency,” the suit alleges.
In the late spring of 2002, Kareena began putting on weight. In May, she saw her pediatrician about the weight-gain and headaches. He examined her, according to a medical report, and had no idea she was pregnant. Nor did a second doctor who examined her waist and lumbar regions in August for scoliosis. Since Kareena believed she hadn’t had sex, she had no reason to think she was pregnant. In late August, she noted what she thought was her period in her day planner, although now she and her family believe it was spotting from the ill-starred pregnancy. A photograph that month at her church summer camp shows her in a white top with a seemingly flat stomach. Yet, on Sept. 4, 2002, she gave birth in the basement bathroom.
In Kareena’s Alta View hospital room on Sept. 5, a Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputy interviewed Kareena with her father Matthew MacGregor. In his report, the deputy stated he asked who the baby’s father was, but Kareena “claims she has never had sexual intercourse.” Her father thought the state would go after whoever abused his daughter. Instead it went after the victim.
Gone to detention
On Oct. 9, 2002, Kareena appeared before 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Lindsley. Just two weeks earlier on Sept. 30, Lindsley had been sworn onto the bench. For the previous 11 years, she’d worked as a juvenile prosecutor in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting abuse and neglect cases alongside the prosecutors on Kareena’s case, Narda Beas-Nordell and Mike Zabriskie. Alona MacGregor asked their attorney at the time, Ed Brass, to challenge the judge’s lack of experience. She says he warned her they might well get a worse judge.
Key to the prosecution’s case was State Medical Examiner Maureen Fricke’s autopsy. It contained two highly contentious statements. One was that the baby had taken a breath. That was based on partially aerated lungs and air bubbles in the stomach. That air, according to two physicians who reviewed the autopsy report for Kareena’s lawyer, could have been there for other reasons—including the way Kareena handled the body immediately after the birth. The other, based on anecdotal rather than medical evidence, was that he had died of post-birth neglect. If the baby had been stillborn, as the MacGregors believed, then there was no neglect. They decided to seek a second autopsy.
Despite a letter to the court from a physician stating incarceration could be damaging to Kareena’s fragile emotional state, Lindsley sent her to Salt Lake Valley Detention Center at 3600 S. 300 West. Her first days in the Cornell-operated facility, Kareena was on suicide watch.
On Oct. 21, 2002, a trembling Kareena with wrists and ankles shackled, shuffled into court wearing a blue jumpsuit. Her father broke down. The court ordered the MacGregors to pick up the baby’s remains from the medical examiner. Judge Lindsley placed Kareena on home detention with an ankle monitor, forbidding her to go out except for doctor’s visits. She could have no friends over, no phone calls—solitary confinement in Sandy. As a child, Alona MacGregor recalls, Kareena was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD]. Her greatest torment in the 14 month run-up to the murder trial was not knowing what would happen next. Her parents recall Kareena’s therapist characterizing the detention as cruel and unusual punishment—especially for a crime she hadn’t even been tried for.
Who is the baby’s father?
In November 2002, the Salt Lake City Police Department started investigating Matt Jaroscak’s alleged abuse of Kareena. According to a letter Paul Jaroscak sent to Lindsley, in December 2002, his son Matt returned home from his LDS mission in Washington, D.C., for a DNA test to determine if he was the father’s baby. Meanwhile, DCFS entered the MacGregors lives. Several social workers met with them at their temporary residence in Bluffdale. Their Sandy home had been vandalized after a TV station showed it, along with a close-up of the address, on a broadcast. Vandals daubed the word “murderer” on a basement wall.
The social workers quickly made up their minds. One DCFS worker reported the MacGregor family was part of Kareena’s problem. “It is […] hard to comprehend that neither the parents nor Kareena knew that she was pregnant,” she wrote. Another DCFS worker reported the family “appears to be trying to cover up what has happened.”
The DNA test determined Matt Jaroscak was not the baby’s father. The Salt Lake City Police Department’s cases against Matt Jaroscak and his brother David for allegedly sexually abusing Kareena were closed as unfounded in April 2004 after the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office, a police report states, declined “this case because of credibility issues with the victim.”
The police and DCFS were now investigating the men in Kareena’s life. Topping their list of suspects was her father, Matthew MacGregor.
For three weeks, Alona MacGregor says, she lived in hell. One Sunday, she sat in her LDS sacrament meeting and looked at the men around her. Every one of them had a question mark over his head. That evening, she says, the phone rang. Greg Smith told her he was the father. He agreed to meet Alona at the University of Utah for a paternity test. On Dec. 23, 2002, the test came back positive. “Smith got her pregnant and destroyed her young life,” Alona says in a trembling voice. But, by coming forward, “he saved me so much trauma in my marriage, in my life.”
Things only got worse for the MacGregors. Their product-testing business was collapsing because Alona was spending all her time with Kareena. Judge Lindsley told her it was either that or Kareena would go back to detention, a scenario she hung over their heads several times. Kareena remained on an ankle monitor for a year and a half.
Then there were the possible contempt charges Kareena’s parents faced in Judge Lindsley’s court. The MacGregors had received a letter from their lawyer Ed Brass on April 2, 2003, informing them the district attorney’s office intended to investigate them for desecration of a corpse and theft of services. Alona had arranged for the baby’s corpse to be taken to Holbrook Funeral Chapel in Salt Lake County. The remains, partially liquified, were in a red biohazard bag in a pail. Alona wanted them to hold the body while she arranged a second autopsy and a funeral, although mortuary owner John Holbrook’s attorney disputes that an autopsy was ever mentioned.
According to the civil complaint, John Holbrook in March 2003 “telephoned the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office and claimed that the MacGregors had abandoned the baby’s body and that he could not contact the MacGregor family.”
Holbrook turned the remains over to another mortuary for an indigent burial service. The MacGregors say they had a working phone line—it was required by the state for monitoring Kareena. They say they cannot understand Holbrook’s motivation for allegedly lying about trying to get hold of them and then disposing of the fetus. They are currently suing him, as part of Kareena’s civil suit, for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Alona and Matthew MacGregor were ordered to appear before Lindsley to show cause why they shouldn’t be prosecuted for contempt of court for failing to pick up the baby’s remains for internment. Lindsley later dismissed those charges.
“They won, Mom,” Kareena cried when she heard what happened to her child’s remains. “We’re never going to find out; I’m going to jail.” She ran to her father’s closet, grabbed his gun, and fled to the night-shrouded street in Bluffdale. Alona chased after her, terrified she’d hear a shot in the dark. She found her three houses down, the gun clutched to her chest, the barrel pointing to her head.
“Kareena we love you, we’ll get through this,” she said over and over again.
Kareena dropped the gun. “It’s just not fair,” she said in a child’s voice. “I should have known [the baby] was coming. Where is he? Where is he?” The baby’s final resting place is unknown.
On July 8, 2003, the district attorney’s office declined to charge Greg Smith for unlawful sex with a minor. According to a police report, a deputy district attorney “felt that he wouldn’t be able to prosecute the case without the victim’s cooperation.”
The district attorney’s office, however, used Smith to prosecute Kareena. In prosecutor Narda Beas-Nordell’s opening statement, she said Smith had told her office he and Kareena had discussed the possibility of her being pregnant. Kareena had also told Greg, Beas-Nordell said, that “she was afraid of what her parents would do if they found out that she’d not only had sex but had gotten pregnant.” This was news of a sort to Smith. In a videotaped interview with Smith by Kareena’s uncle, Smith recalled a district attorney investigator visited his home on June 7, 2003.
“She wanted me to go on record that I knew about the pregnancy and that Kareena and I had talked about it freely,” Smith said. He consistently denied ever knowing she was pregnant. He told the investigators he couldn’t testify because he would incriminate himself. “They said they would try to take care of that,” Smith told Kareena’s uncle. A month later, Smith learned there were no charges against him.
City Weekly asked Smith through his lawyer for an interview prior to his sentencing on Aug. 4, 2008 for credit-card fraud charges, but received no response. In January, 2009, the warden of Smith’s penitentiary declined a request for an interview with Smith, citing safety and security concerns.
The trial of K.M.
On Dec. 1, 2003, Kareena MacGregor stood trial for the murder of Baby Boy MacGregor, as the court referred to him. That morning, Beas-Nordell questioned Alyna MacGregor about the events leading up to the childbirth. Both Alyna and Greg Smith were given letters of immunity against prosecution from then-District Attorney David Yocom.
Beas-Nordell described Kareena as a cold-blooded murderer who was so afraid of her parents she deliberately hid her baby in the basement bathroom’s window well so it would die. Kareena’s attorney Ed Brass responded the medical examiner “cannot explain an actual cause of death for this infant.” Without cause of death, how could the district attorney’s office prove the baby had been murdered? Kareena sobbed at the table.
For several hours, Alyna Ashcroft recalled on the stand the night of the birth, her testimony presenting the events surrounding the birth in a far different light from the district attorney’s opening statement. The court broke for lunch at 1 p.m. Lawyers ran from one room to another in the hallway, reminding Alona of the Keystone Cops. After two hours of negotiation, Brass told Alona they had worked out the best deal possible for Kareena.
What the MacGregors understood the deal to be, and what Kareena’s therapist subsequently testified to in court, was that Kareena would plead guilty to neglect, “even though,” the therapist added, “she was bleeding to death in the other room.” At least, Alona thought, Kareena would come home that day “and we would be done, we could heal.”
Prosecutor Zabriskie told the court a resolution had been reached: Kareena would plead guilty to child abuse homicide—a third-degree felony.
“This isn’t right, this isn’t right,” Alona hissed in her husband’s ear as she dug her nails into his arm.
Brass took Kareena through the rights she was giving up to plead guilty and asked her repeatedly if she understood. Again and again, she said yes. When Brass asked if she had any questions, Kareena said in a tiny voice, “Do I get to tell my side?”
Kareena’s knees buckled and she swayed when Lindsley read out the amended charge that through criminal negligence, she caused the death from child abuse of Baby Boy MacGregor. “Do you admit that?”
Brass leaned forward and whispered to Kareena to say she did. Kareena did as she was told. “I admit that.”
Then the court ran into a significant problem. For the plea to be accepted, Kareena had to tell the court what happened that night. Lindsley, in a series of leading questions, asked Kareena, “you should have asked for help, shouldn’t you?” Then she asked if the child made any noise.
“No, ma’am,” Kareena answered.
Lindsley tried again. “Was the baby breathing or not?”
Lindsley again. “Do you agree the baby was born alive?”
As Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham later pointed out, if the baby were stillborn, then Kareena had no crime to answer to.
Lindsley didn’t waver. Combining Kareena’s facts with the medical examiner’s report that the baby was born alive, she accepted Kareena’s plea to a crime the 16-year-old had told the court she had not committed.
Kareena walked into her probation officer’s office like “a doe in the headlights,” her mother recalls. “What just happened?” Kareena asked. Basically, the probation officer said, she had admitted to killing the baby.
“I did not,” Kareena said, and burst into tears.
“I did not hurt that little body”
At the sentencing hearing on Dec. 8, 2003, Kareena’s probation officer told the court Kareena had not understood the plea agreement. Lawyer Brass said the parents wanted to withdraw her plea. Zabriskie accused the MacGregors of “playing games.”
On Jan. 16, 2004, Lindsley held a hearing on the plea. Brass put Kareena on the stand. He asked why she wanted to withdraw her guilty plea. “I did not hurt that little body,” she said in tears.
Kareena told the court the adults “were using big words,” then said, “I didn’t understand what they were saying. I didn’t want to sound stupid.”
Her answers to questions about what she understood to be the rights she had given up were nonsensical at best. When Brass asked what the right to have the case proven beyond a reasonable doubt means, she replied, “For a trial to become?”
For Kareena’s father, this was almost too much to bear. “In the mean, cruel world we live in, such answers are humorous, but in her world,” Matthew MacGregor now says, tears running down his cheeks, “they’re demonstrations of desperation. She wants to say the right thing and not sound stupid.”
Lindsley denied Kareena’s motion to withdraw her plea. Before passing sentence, in perhaps one of the darkest moments of this saga, Lindsley invited Greg Smith to make a statement to the court as the father of the child.
Smith disputed the prosecutors’ claim that he had told them he knew she was pregnant and he and Kareena had discussed it. “That is not true,” he said.
According to the hearing transcript, Lindsley referenced a photograph of Kareena’s baby and told her he was the victim in the case. “But you are also a child,” she continued. She sentenced Kareena to 30 days in detention, suspended, and 250 hours of community service.
At the 90-day probation hearing on April 14, 2004, Lindsley noted County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Jaroscak had contacted Kareena’s probation officer by phone. The probation officer told Jaroscak he couldn’t talk to him or even verify he was the caseworker. Jaroscak, the probation officer noted in a memo to the court, “already had information that I was.”
After sharing his information with the probation officer, Jaroscak then asked for a letter to be forwarded to the judge. He asked Lindsley for help in “putting an end to the MacGregors’ campaign of harassment” against his family. Included in the 14 pages was a letter from Greg Smith to his pal Matt Jaroscak mailed in August 2002, shortly before Kareena gave birth. The letter included the line “Oh! Kareena is pregnant,” which contradicted his statement in court he knew nothing of the pregnancy. That, Smith later said, was an attempt to get a rise out of his friend because he knew Matt had been sexually intimate with her.
In his letter to Lindsley, Paul Jaroscak noted there was speculation in their neighborhood Kareena was pregnant and that stories were circulating that her father had beaten her. If that was the case, Matthew MacGregor asks, why didn’t Jaroscak report him? Greg Smith also stated in his deposition Kareena’s father hit her once. Kareena says that isn’t true. “My dad never laid a hand on me,” she says.
Lindsley declined to address Jaroscak’s letter complaining about the MacGregors. She said she lacked jurisdiction to do so. She then told Kareena she was moving on. “This is not something that will define you.”
Light sentence or not, the MacGregors were determined to get Kareena’s plea withdrawn. Otherwise, they say, for the rest of her life she would live with the knowledge she’d admitted to murdering her own child. So they took Lindsley’s refusal to permit Kareena’s plea withdrawal to the appeals court.
Crimes of punishment
On Feb. 24, 2006, two of the Utah Court of Appeals three judges backed Lindsley’s decision denying Kareena’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea. But in a dissenting opinion, Judge Gregory Orme gave the MacGregors a spark of hope.
Orme focused on Kareena’s ineptness in answering questions about the very constitutional rights she was waiving. “Each answer is so far off the mark as to belie the notion that those rights were ever knowingly waived or that K.M. even understood any of the other questions to which she gave yes or no answers,” the judge wrote.
The MacGregors had 30 days to file an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court. “We were out of money and out of time,” Matthew MacGregor recalls. Despite having no legal experience, Alona wrote a petition requesting a review of the Appeals Court decision and filed it within the month. The Supreme Court decided to review the case.
On May 1, 2007, the five Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on the K.M. case. Public defender Joan Watt represented Kareena. Chief Justice Christine Durham questioned whether child abuse homicide was even the right charge. “It looks like neglect to me.” For Durham, one of the problems was Lindsley’s insistence that Kareena should have called out for help for the baby. Kareena “herself was in dire straits and didn’t call for help for herself, either,” Durham said.
Encouraged by Durham’s questions, each Wednesday, Alona checked the Supreme Court Website to see if the justices had posted their decision. On Dec. 4, 2007, they published their unanimous decision. Kareena could withdraw her plea.
In his opinion, Justice Ronald Nehring wrote, Kareena “did not know she was pregnant until she gave birth.” He noted Kareena’s refusal to admit to Lindsley that the baby was born alive. That refusal demonstrated Kareena didn’t understand “the nature and elements of the crime” to which she was pleading guilty. The justices also found Rule 25, which establishes the procedure for how a juvenile admits to a crime, was constitutionally defective in not safeguarding the rights of juveniles, paving the way for it to be changed.
“If the only thing people say is Rule 25 was changed because of Kareena MacGregor,” her father says, “what greater social legacy to have tied to you than truth and justice?”
The Supreme Court sent the case back to juvenile court for trial. The district attorney’s office, however, had other ideas. Deputy District Attorney Beas-Nordell filed a request with Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez, who took the case after Lindsley recused herself. “To accurately protect the public” from Kareena, who was soon to turn 21, Beas-Nordell argued Kareena should be sent to 3rd District Court to stand trial as an adult for her baby’s murder. In adult court, Kareena would face a sentence of five years to life.
Valdez, however, was not in an obliging mood at the hearing on Feb. 27, 2008. He locked horns with Beas-Nordell, who complained it would be an injustice for the community and Baby Boy MacGregor if Kareena was allowed to “go back to square one,” and not stand trial for murder. Valdez recited the facts as the Supreme Court had noted them: “She was confused, did not know what to do. That, according to her, the baby was still, silent and no noise and no signs of life. That’s what the Supreme Court said, I quoted them.”
Valdez dismissed with prejudice the state’s petition to try Kareena as an adult “in the interest of justice,” thus barring the state from prosecuting her again for the same crime. Hopefully, he concluded, “that will be the beginning of the end of this tragedy that I think has impacted many, many people.”
Kareena looked behind her, uncertain of what had happened. “I didn’t know what it meant, with or without prejudice,” she says. Her mother, her father and her grandfather were all crying. Kareena stood up, then stumbled toward her family. “I fell to the floor,” she says, overcome by shock.
A chance to breathe again
Valdez’s ruling ended a six-year nightmare for the MacGregors. But true relief came to Kareena when the state removed her from the DCFS child abusers’ database. She couldn’t stop smiling, she recalls. “I wasn’t labeled as a child abuser anymore. I could finally breathe, relax and be OK to be around children. That was the real moment of it all.”
On a cold Friday afternoon in January 2009, Kareena—now 21—walks the short distance from her parents’ house to where the Jaroscaks once lived. Nearly all her friends from that time have moved away. She points to the house with a basketball hoop out front and the garage where she alleges Matt Jaroscak molested her. “I thought it was love,” she says. “I was flat out in the public eye as a cold-blooded killer, and the people who damaged me, they got to move on with their lives.” By suing those she alleges abused her and those who failed to report it, she hopes what happened to her doesn’t befall another little girl. The trial is set for January 2010.
Several other players in this case have had their challenges. Kareena’s baby’s father, Greg Smith, is now serving 54 months in federal prison. He is eligible for parole in December 2012. Prosecutor Mike Zabriskie is on indefinite medical leave. His co-prosecutor Narda Beas-Nordell declined to comment for this story. Kareena’s alleged abuser David Jaroscak, too, is on long-term medical leave from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. His father says he’s starting to walk again after months of paralysis.
Judge Lindsley, who along with Judge Valdez declined interview requests citing the civil complaint, is now presiding judge over the 3rd District Juvenile Court where she is responsible for effective court operation. Alona and Matthew MacGregor are working hard to get their business back on track in order to pay off legal debts of $500,000.
Lt. Paul Jaroscak, meanwhile, is presently serving as bishop in the LDS ward his family moved to several years ago. Kareena wonders what would happen if a child in his ward went to him and said someone was touching her inappropriately.
The MacGregors’ former bishop, Douglas Walker, through his lawyer, declined to comment. The LDS Church released a statement saying in part: “While the Church denies any responsibility for the harm that Kareena MacGregor has suffered, we are deeply saddened by what has happened to her. The Church and Bishop Walker have extended their love to her and have provided counseling and other assistance to help her through the emotional difficulties that she has faced.” In its initial response to Kareena’s civil complaint, the LDS Church, however, denied she was a member of her ward. This came as a surprise to Kareena, who has been a member of the Willow Canyon 4th Ward, in the East Sandy LDS Stake, since her baptism at age 8.
Kareena graduated from Salt Lake Community College in 2006 with an associate’s degree in applied science. She works part time as a nanny and cuts hair. Her father believes she will always need protection, because of “her naveté, her blinding trust.” When he looks at Kareena now, he sees the same innocence he saw when she was 6, “only at a more mature level.” During the six-year ordeal, her mother says, she witnessed her daughter’s mental abilities suddenly leap forward. “It was like everything started firing in her brain,” she says.
The district attorney’s office can’t seem to let go of Kareena. During a hearing with Judge Valdez on Dec. 16, 2008, over the fate of the property the police took from the MacGregors’ house after the birth, a young prosecutor referred to Baby Boy MacGregor’s death as “a cold case.” District attorney’s office spokeswoman Alicia Cook wrote to City Weekly in an e-mail, “It appears the prosecutor was trying to express that this case is unresolved. The state is not actively pursing any other suspects.”
Whatever legal limbo Baby Boy MacGregor lies in, his mother’s journey through the criminal court system is over for now. Finally, five people beyond her own family—Supreme Court justices no less—believed her.
Although, with her civil lawsuit, Kareena faces the grim prospect of reliving so much trauma, she remains buoyant, even if her eyes brim with tears at the mention of the baby she never knew was coming. “I had to be shackled, chained, treated like a criminal,” Kareena says. “I didn’t do this, I didn’t do anything wrong. And I won after six years,” she continues, tears falling. “I won! And it feels so good to finally say it.”