“Maybe this case will teach the community not to turn a blind eye to abused children,” said defence lawyer, Amanda Hopkins, at the trial of John Caudle. When John was just 14-years-old, he shot and killed his mother, Joanna Galla Rinebarger, and his stepfather, Tracy Rinebarger. What would drive a teenager to kill those who should be closest to him? Abuse. John had suffered years of abuse and neglect. One day, he snapped.
It was the 26th of October, 2009, when John and Joanna got into an altercation at their home just outside Monte Vista, Colorado. The altercation was specifically because John forgot to bring his mother a soda when she asked. John rushed to get the soda and when placed in front of Joanne, she refused to drink it. As Joanne stood and yelled in John’s face, he knew then and there what he needed to do to finally end the years of torment.
“I got angry at her. All the negative feelings that I had repressed my whole life came out. I went to my room and got one of the guns. I came out and started shooting at her,” he said.1 John shot Joanne six times before going back to his bedroom and reloading. He shot her once again after she managed to crawl into another room.
After Joanne was dead, John noticed Tracy’s truck pull up in the driveway. Fearing the trouble he would be in, he hid in the laundry room. Tracy entered the house and saw the lifeless body of his wife. As he rushed over to her side, John emerged from the laundry room and shot him twice in the head before stuffing earplugs up his nose when he showed signs he was still breathing.2
The following morning, John drove Tracy’s pickup truck to school and acted as though nothing had happened. His grandfather later found the bodies and called police. John was apprehended after driving erratically through Fairplay. Following his arrest, the years of neglect and abuse he had suffered quickly surfaced. “I didn’t want to hurt anymore,” said John to a police officer.3John, who still sucked his thumb, was often withheld food from his mother while his stepfather often taunted him by calling him a “faggot.”
In fact, when he was apprehended he weighed a mere 97 pounds. He told police that his mother frequently called him a “stupid idiot” and a “jackass.”
An avid reader, books were a way for John to escape his reality. However, his books were always confiscated as a punishment. Joanne’s own parents corroborated these claims, adding that she “isolated him from other children,” and would continually berate and mock him.4
John was charged as an adult and entered a plea bargain to one count of murder and one count of manslaughter. While awaiting his sentencing, he was sent to an adult jail where he told a fellow inmate that his mother often beat him with a cord and wire and burned him with cigarettes.
During the sentencing hearing, a number of witnesses were provided to give portraits of the family.
One witness was Cecile Dinsmore, a woman who knew Joanne through a mentoring program. Dinsmore said that Joanne – who have birth to John while just a teenager – never loved her son and controlled him like she was a Nazi prison guard. “She neglected to love him,” she told the court. “Even animals seem to be more caring than she was…” She also recalled how Joanne had denied John medicine during an illness when he was 4-years-old which caused him to lose control over his bowels.5
The defence also provided documents for Joanne’s listing on the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Registry. However, an investigation couldn’t uncover what offence she had committed to land on her that list.
Also to take the stand was Brent Pederson, Joanne’s ex-boyfriend. Pederson recalled that he often saw Joanne lock her son in a closet, deny him food, hit him and scream at him. He recollected how John was often forced to walk in circles in the yard carrying rocks for up to ten hours. According to Pederson, Joanne abused alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine while pregnant. “My feeling is that he was abused,” said Pederson.6
The prosecution produced a number of witnesses to rebuttal claims that Tracy was abusive. According to Sherry Whitaker, Tracy was a kind man who stepped in to help with her family when her husband was sick. “Tracy would give you the shirt off his back,” she said. Another two people who knew the family said they had never seen any signs that John was being abused and that Tracy would’ve reported abuse if he knew about it.
John was sentenced to 16 to 22 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections. In closing remarks, the judge said that the punishment handed down was appropriate as John deserved the same fate as other offenders who committed similar crimes. According to the judge, the sentence would also be a deterrent to other crime. John fell through the cracks of the child welfare system and was thrown into the general population of adult prison.
In his first and only public statement during his sentencing phase, he said: “At the time, I felt I had nowhere else to turn. I know what I did was wrong, and I am truly sorry.”
- The Denver Post, 25 March, 2011 – “Plea in Parents’ Deaths”
- The Pueblo Chieftain, 26 February, 2010 – “Teen Recounts Abuse Before Killing Parents”
- The Daily Reporter-Herald, 26 February, 2010 – “Boy Says He Tired of Being Verbally Abused”
- Denver Post, 25 February, 2010 – “John Caudle: Calculating Murderer or Battered Kid?
- The Pueblo Chieftain, 8 June, 2011 – “Monte Teen who Killed Parents gets 22 Years”
- The Pueblo Chieftain, 7 June, 2011 – “Stark Contrasts Painted of Slain Parents”