The Deepest Cut: Jessica Burlew Was Only 16 When She Killed Her Boyfriend. Should Someone Have Seen It Coming?

The Deepest Cut: Jessica Burlew Was Only 16 When She Killed Her Boyfriend. Should Someone Have Seen It Coming?
Drawing by Jessica Burlew/Courtesy of Peggy Plews

“This guy is dying. He might be — this guy is dying!” the woman screams into the phone. Her voice is panicked. Her breaths are raspy.

“Is he breathing?” the 911 emergency dispatch operator asks.

“I don’t think so.”

“Bring the phone over to the patient — bring the phone over to him, okay?”

“I don’t think he is, and he’s — oh, my God . . .”

“Ma’am, take a breath. Bring the phone over to the patient,”

“Okay, I’m there,” she gasps.

“Okay, are you looking at him now?”

“I am.”

“Is he breathing?”

“No!”

“Okay, I need you to kneel at his side — did you witness this happen?”

“No!”

“Kneel at his side, and we need to begin compressions, okay? Put your hands flat in the center of his chest.”

“He might be alive!”

“That’s okay. Keep going. Unless he pushes you off, this is the right thing to do.”

The operator walks the woman, whose name is Tracey Woodside, through the chest compressions, helping her keep pace by counting. “How old does he look?”

“He’s 28. That’s what I’m told, but he, I don’t know,” she says, out of breath from the compressions. “Yeah, he looks older.”

“Did you find him like this?”

“Yes, my daughter called me. They were playing a sex game . . . I guess they got in a fight. She said they got in a fight, and he was hitting her.”

“Hitting your daughter?”

“Yeah, and she killed him. I just ran to the store real quick.”

“Choked him unconscious?”

“Yeah, there’s blood. She cut him. They’re into mutilation shit.”

“Where was he cut at?”

“His arms. He’s cut all over. His face.”

“Did she do this to hurt him or was this, like, a sex thing?”

“It’s, uh,” she pauses, “yeah, I think it’s a sex thing.”

“Okay, so she’s not violent? She didn’t do this on purpose to hurt him?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean his pants are undone, too.”

“His pants are undone?”

“Yeah.”

“Was she choking him with something? Is that how this happened?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you feel like this person is going to be violent? This person who did this to him?”

“I don’t know. I think she’ll probably try to kill herself.” She takes a few shallow, rapid breaths. “Oh, my God, I don’t hear sirens or anything.”

“They’re coming, ma’am. I see them pulling up on the scene.”

Jessica Burlew and Jason Ash knew each other for three months before she strangled him. Burlew is charged with second-degree murder, but she says the death was an accident.
Jessica Burlew and Jason Ash knew each other for three months before she strangled him. Burlew is charged with second-degree murder, but she says the death was an accident.
www.mydeathspace.com

The man Tracey Woodside found in her Glendale apartment on Saturday, January 18, 2014, was not alive. And he was not 28. His name was Jason Ash. He was 43 and had been dating her 16-year-old daughter, Jessica Burlew.

The official cause of death on his autopsy report is ligature strangulation. Burlew had killed him about half an hour earlier with an extension cord.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen,” she told Glendale police officer Eric Holmstedt later that night, according to a 137-page police report about the incident. Ash wanted her to choke him, she explained, but didn’t say the “safe word” to let her know it was time to stop.

When the emergency responders found Ash’s body, he was lying face up on Burlew’s bed, the slackened cord still wrapped twice around his neck. He had brown hair, hazel eyes, and was a little heavy for his 5-foot-7 frame. His left ear was pierced, as were both nipples, right eyebrow, and tongue. With the exception of an undone button on his pants, he was fully clothed in a black T-shirt, tan Dockers pants, and socks.

There was blood on the wall and all over the bed and Ash’s clothes. Burlew told Holmstedt that when he wouldn’t wake up, she didn’t know what to do, so she cut him. She later clarified that the first cut “was an attempt to get a reaction to see if he was still alive or if he would wake up,” and the subsequent ones to “get things clear in her mind.”

She also told Holmstedt that she started cutting herself when she was 11, and that she does it for many reasons — to control her anger, to relieve depression, or sometimes just because it feels good and is addicting.
“And I get bloodlust a lot — like, really bad — and I love it. I keep doing it to see the blood drip. I like the blood and stuff.”

New Times has reviewed court documents, the Glendale police report, Ash’s autopsy report, and various medical and educational records from Burlew’s past; interviewed psychological, legal, and medical experts; and spoke with many individuals close to the case, to understand what happened in the years before Burlew and Ash met, and to map out the days, hours, and minutes before he died.

It’s clear that Jessica Burlew killed Jason Ash. Less obvious is whether someone could have and should have seen something like this coming.

Woodside says her daughter started hearing and responding to voices when she was 5 and spent years convinced “everyone was trying to kill her.” Burlew has a history of running away from home and of verbal outbursts and physical aggression. She angers easily, has severe mood swings, and has been known to lie.

In the past decade, Burlew has been to many psychiatrists and specialists who, according to her mother, have diagnosed her at different times with oppositional defiant disorder, pervasive developmental disorder (on the autism spectrum), ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder.

She’s been in and out of hospital psychiatric wards, juvenile detention centers, and special schools for kids with behavioral health problems. Woodside moved across the state so Burlew could attend various residential or outpatient programs, and she signed away legal custody of her daughter when Child Protective Services (now the Department of Child Safety) said doing so would help Burlew qualify for better insurance coverage.

Burlew was in CPS custody at the time of the incident. She was reported missing from a group home on October 30, 2013, and spent the next three months on the streets, occasionally staying with friends or her mother.
Department of Child Safety officials declined to comment, but the police report states the agency claims it made an effort to find Burlew. Some don’t think it did enough.

“If CPS had followed up on that job, they could have prevented this,” says Marcia Ash, Jason’s mother. “They dropped the ball on this one.”

Others close to the case feel the responsibility for Burlew’s behavior and inadequate mental healthcare goes beyond CPS. They say it extends to the public school systems, the juvenile and adult corrections system, the insurance companies that wouldn’t pay for certain treatments, and the mental health facilities that either discharged her too early or refused to admit her. Some also think the state is focusing its efforts and resources in the wrong place by going after Burlew.

“The responsibility of the state in this case should be to address the extreme failures of the Department of Child [Safety], not to hide Jessie away in the prison system,” writes Beth Payne, one of the co-founders of local grassroots group Free Jessie B. (Group members monitor the case, attend Burlew’s pre-trial hearings, and helped get the Arizona Center for Disability Law and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union involved.)

“Many, many adults failed to protect Jessie Burlew,” Payne concludes. And now she and others, including the ACLU, believe Arizona’s criminal justice system is failing Burlew as well. The ACLU wrote a letter to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office last December detailing its concern with how the jails are housing and treating Jessica and dozens of other pretrial juveniles.

Burlew has been in solitary confinement for 17 months — first in Estrella Women’s Jail and now in Lower Buckeye Jail. She is being charged as an adult for second-degree murder, and faces a 10- to 25-year sentence if found guilty. (New Times tried to reach Burlew through her attorney, mother, and others close to the case but never heard back from her. Woodside says she told her daughter about this story and that she and others advised Burlew not to speak with the media.)

Though Burlew’s trial date is set for July 8, there’s no guarantee that the case will actually go to trial. Prosecutor Jay Rademacher deferred a request for comment to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which declined to comment. Burwell’s public defender, Ashley Meyer, also declined to comment for this story, but a continuance filed on March 20 states that the “defense counsel anticipates submitting a plea proposal to the state by late May.”

It’s unclear how or whether Burlew’s lawyer will use her past as part of the defense she builds, but it’s certainly a possibility. Successful care for kids with severe mental illnesses requires a team of professionals who actively work together, says Dr. Bryan Davey, president of Highland Behavioral, a Phoenix-based group that works with kids like Burlew.

He says there are not enough resources available across the country to help parents and families put that team together, and he disparages the way physical and mental illnesses are treated differently.

Compare diabetes and oppositional defiant disorder, he says. “If you get a diagnosis of diabetes, there are websites and navigators [to help you understand] what you need to do, diets that are going to help you, and professionals in your area that are accessible. It’s a very high-profile kind of disorder or disease. When your child gets diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, that doesn’t exist. There might be websites about it, but they’re not necessarily navigational websites.”

Burlew’s mental illness cannot explain away what happened to Jason Ash, nor can her insufficient care necessarily exonerate her. But her story is an example of what can happen when multiple pieces of the social safety net fall short.

“There are two victims here,” says Marcia Ash. “One is named Jason and the other is named Jessica. The system failed her.”

Jessica Burlew's mugshot and a photo from happier times.
Jessica Burlew's mugshot and a photo from happier times.
MCSO/Courtesy of Tracey Woodside

Jessica Diana Burlew was born on July 16, 1997, in Sacramento, California, to Tracey Woodside and David Burlew. The couple had been on-and-off for years and, according to Woodside, mostly were living apart around the time of their daughter’s birth.

“I thought if I gave her his last name, he’d pay child support or stick around and have a job and be good,” Woodside says. That didn’t happen. She says they left him when Jessica was a year old and haven’t had contact with him since. (David Burlew could not be reached for comment.)

Woodside took her daughter and moved to Oceanside, California, where they lived for a few years. As a toddler, she was hyperactive, always trying to climb things — trees, couches, entertainment systems. “She was doing the army crawl at three months, walking at nine months,” Woodside says. “She did everything early except speak.”

Jessica started talking when she was 3, but what came out was mostly an incoherent babble that even her mother struggled to decipher. Around the time she turned 5, her speech became intelligible, and she started responding to voices she told her mother she was hearing. She also began to describe hallucinations she had, and her behavior got worse.

“She blew up a lot,” Woodside recalls, adding that the entire extended family “pretty much wrote Jessica off at that point,” claiming she was a bad influence on her cousins. “I just don’t know how people can be like that,” Woodside says.

According to Woodside, she and Jessica have always been close. They both love music and experimenting with clothing and hairstyles. They also look similar, with almond-shaped eyes, a prominent nose, and brown hair often cut in interesting ways and dyed a different color — Woodside has tattoos on her arms and calves, but Jessica is into facial piercings.

Woodside grew up in Parker, Arizona, and did accounting work for small businesses for many years while living in California. After being diagnosed in 2003 with a degenerative disc problem in her back that left her unable to work and dependent on a monthly disability check, she decided to move back to western Arizona because the cost of living was cheaper. She knew the small town of Parker wouldn’t have many resources for Jessica — whose behavior seemed to be getting worse — so she chose Lake Havasu City, about 45 minutes away.

As a kindergartner in Lake Havasu, Jessica spent much of her day in a resource room for kids with learning disabilities. Woodside remembers her daughter being the only one there with an emotional disability. “You couldn’t touch her desk, or she’d go crazy.”

Between kindergarten and fifth grade, Jessica spent more and more time in the resource room. Woodside took her to specialists and psychologists and got her a neuropsychological exam. “They gave her every type of bipolar medication there was. None of them worked. She would still go off — go crazy.”

When Jessica was 10, she had a physical altercation with two school employees trying to restrain her. Woodside decided to move to Mesa so Jessica could attend a public day school for kids with emotional disabilities and behavioral issues.

It was shortly after the move that Jessica started running away at least once a week, her mother recalls. One day she bolted from the library, and it took the police two hours to find her. Another time, she ran off the school bus when it stopped to pick up other children. When she was 12, she ran away and conned someone into buying her a bus ticket “home to L.A.” The police found her two days later.

Jessica complained often about her treatment at the new school and told stories about being put in a padded closet with no lights. Woodside was told by the administration that her daughter was exaggerating and making up accusations.

“I didn’t know what to do. They said she couldn’t go anywhere else, so that’s why I kept her in there.” But eventually she withdrew Jessica after seeing a teacher restrain a kid in a way that made her uneasy.
“It’s a tough situation for these kids. The schools, the treatment centers — they’re all abusive. And I understand that the kids are abusive, but you don’t teach a kid not to be abusive or aggressive by being aggressive toward them,” she says.

The same year she left the school, 13-year-old Jessica stole Woodside’s car and totaled it. Woodside says her daughter spent time in the Mesa Juvenile Detention Center before being transferred to a residential treatment program for kids with behavioral problems. Jessica was admitted on December 30, 2010, and stayed there for seven months.

Woodside shared a treatment plan review from May 2011 that lists her daughter’s diagnosis as bipolar disorder, conduct disorder adolescent onset, and pervasive developmental disorder. It also says “Jessica has a history of aggression toward her mother, peers, teachers, and other adults.” Woodside acknowledges there were times when her daughter would bully or hit her and that she often struggled to control the girl.

After being discharged from this treatment center, Jessica was placed in foster care. Woodside says she lost physical custody because CPS cited her for “negligence” — a sort of catch-all phrase in dependency cases — and adds that she was persuaded a few months later to sign over legal custody because she couldn’t afford the insurance needed to properly cover her daughter’s treatments. (Placing children in the child welfare system or juvenile justice system for the sole purpose of receiving mental healthcare is not an uncommon practice in many states.)

In CPS’ care, Jessica lived in a foster home and attended a therapeutic school in Peoria. Woodside believes this was when her daughter first got involved with drugs. She remembers Jessica calling and saying that some kids taught her to roll a piece of paper into a cone and huff hand sanitizer.

Jessica was committed to a psychiatric hospital for self-mutilation a couple of months later. After being discharged, she was placed in yet another residential program. She was 14.

The next year and a half is a blur of different group homes, residential programs, and short stints in hospital psychiatric wards. By fall 2013, Burlew was back with her mother and enrolled in a semi-online high school program. During one of the days when Jessica was at the school building, Woodside got a call from an administrator saying her daughter was losing control of herself and that they were holding her in an empty classroom until she could come pick her up.

“I’m on my way, but whatever you do, don’t leave her alone,” Woodside recalls saying. The woman on the phone assured her that there was nothing Jessica could hurt herself with. “I told her she would find something,” Woodside says.

Jessica apparently was left alone and used a piece of paper to give herself paper cuts on her neck. She then squeezed the cuts and smeared the blood before taking a photograph that she posted on Facebook that night.

The next day CPS showed up at Woodside’s house. They took Jessica away for a second time because “I didn’t take her to the mental hospital,” Woodside says, adding that her daughter has been denied admittance at least 20 times for behaviors far worse than paper cuts.

In October 2013, CPS took Jessica to a group home in Phoenix; she ran away. Later, she told police that that she spent the next three months “hiding in the streets to avoid detection” from CPS.
It’s unclear what Jessica did for food or money during that time, but at some point, she met Jason Ash.

Tracey Woodside, mother of Jessica Burlew.
Tracey Woodside, mother of Jessica Burlew.
Miriam Wasser

After the police arrested Jessica Burlew, they discovered a shaky four-minute video on her cell phone that showed her cutting Ash with a razor blade. The video starts with a close-up of his face, then zooms out and shows him lying on his back, already dead.

In the video, she bloodies his face, neck, arms, and genitals with more than a dozen incisions. One cut runs from below his left eye all the way down his face — 9.5 centimeters long, one centimeter deep. Many of the cuts are long and parallel, like the three 11- to 12- centimeter lines carved into his right cheek, or the ones on his right hand that range between 11.5 and 17 centimeters in length.

Two minutes and 55 seconds in, she unbuttons his pants and lowers his underwear. The autopsy report says he had a 6-centimeter wound on his groin area and multiple superficial wounds on the shaft of his penis.

New Times spoke with Jason’s mother, Marcia Ash, who said her son was born and raised in Georgia and spent most of his adult life bumming around the Southeast. She knows he tried meth a few times but says he was not an addict.

“Jason didn’t have any street smarts. Let’s put it like that,” Marcia says. “He never thrived. He tried to get jobs and couldn’t. He worked at grocery stores, CVS, [and often] got taken advantaged of.” She describes a time when his debit card was stolen and all the money was withdrawn from his account. He couldn’t pay his rent and became homeless.

Marcia, who says she divorced Jason’s father two decades earlier, moved to Arizona in 2006 to be near her brother. It was the prospect of helping her son start a new life that inspired her to call her ex-husband and ask him to buy Jason a plane ticket to Phoenix.

Jason was a computer whiz and a good handyman, Marcia says, but after moving to Phoenix in 2008, he “unsuccessfully tried for job after job after job.”

Jason struggled socially, too, and though never formally diagnosed, Marcia is positive her son was on the autism spectrum. She describes him as “easygoing” but not very independent. “He could be difficult,” but he “wasn’t a monster. He just wanted somebody to love him, that’s all.”

Marcia Ash met Jessica Burlew once. It was not a positive encounter. “Usually people warm up to me,” she says. But Burlew hardly spoke. “Her pants had holes from the hips to her ankles, she wore platform boots, her hair was different colors. She looked like someone who used drugs.”

Jason had brought her to the house he shared with his mother and, after a brief introduction, took Burlew to a different room to hang out. Marcia says she suddenly “got a bad feeling, a can’t-get-your-breath feeling.” She ran into the room and “told him to get that skank out of the house.” From that point on, Jason brought Burlew over only when his mother was not home.

Jason Ash’s Facebook profile picture is an image of the band Slipknot’s drummer, famous for wearing a crown of thorns and a mask covered with bloody scars and stitched-up lips. Ash’s timeline is full of posts quoting songs about violence or lines from the movie American Psycho. Burlew, who goes by Xenia Nex on Facebook, is tagged in many of them.

On January 14, four days before he died, Ash’s status said, “i like to dissect girls . . . did you know i’m utterly insane?” There are three “likes” on the post, including one from Xenia Nex.

After Burlew was arrested, she told police that she and Ash, whom she referred to as her boyfriend, engaged in “knife play . . . like S&M knife play.” She then revealed a heart-shaped scar on her upper chest and explained that he had carved it.

The police took Burlew’s phone as evidence and found images and videos that further reveal the relationship she had with Ash. One picture shows her bound in a hog-tie position with an extension cord and a gag in her mouth. The gag is secured with a second extension cord.

Investigators discovered text messages on her phone in which she asks him whether he has drugs or whether he can “hook [her] up with a gram of H.”

In a video titled “bloody amphetamine,” a male who never appears, but whose voice can be heard, films himself and Burlew passing a glass pipe and smoking what appears to be methamphetamine. The police report does not say whether it was Ash in that video, but his postmortem urine test was positive for meth and amphetamines.

And, according to Burlew, he was the person who supplied her with drugs. “I need him alive,” she told police. “He was going to buy me heroin.”

On January 1, 2014, Ash sent Burlew a text that said “well this is one fun new years eve I am having I do have a girlfriend right? LOL.” Another message said “had stuff for us to smoke and everything but oh well thanks for ruining my new years eve and you said you want to be my GF?”

On January 18, at 1:03 a.m., less than 16 hours before Burlew killed Ash, she texted him “I love you.”

“Good I love you too baby :)” he responded.

A poem written by Burlew during her incarceration at Estrella Women’s Jail.
A poem written by Burlew during her incarceration at Estrella Women’s Jail.
Courtesy of Peggy Plews

The day before Ash’s death, Burlew brought him over to her mother’s apartment to fix their computer. She introduced him to Woodside and said he was 28. Woodside says she didn’t get a bad vibe from him, though she could tell he had a crush on her daughter.

Ash worked on the computer late into the night and was still there when Burlew and her mother went to bed. Woodside says she woke up in the middle of the night and went to check on Burlew. She found her daughter in her bed and a fully clothed Ash asleep on the floor.

It’s unclear whether Woodside told Ash to leave or let him spend the night. She tells New Times that she kicked him out but told the police he stayed over. Woodside’s recollection of the 24 hours before she found Ash dead is confusing and often inconsistent. In her testimony to police, she blamed her unclear recollections on feeling overwhelmed by the events of the day. And a year and a half later, she still is unable to give New Times a clear timeline.

Burlew told police that she woke at 4 a.m. on Saturday, January 18, and got high on meth about an hour later. Based on the police report and Woodside’s testimony, it appears that Burlew spent most of the day in the apartment — though a neighbor told police that Burlew walked into her apartment sometime between 4 and 4:30 that afternoon, woke her from a nap, and asked for $20. The neighbor said it didn’t seem “nefarious” and that Burlew told her several reasons she needed the money.

Ash, according to Woodside, spent Saturday in and out of the apartment. She has no idea where he went.

At some point while he was gone, Woodside left to run errands. One of her stops was an ATM, where she withdrew cash so her daughter could get concert tickets to see the band Skinny Puppy the following Monday. Ash was at the apartment when she returned.

Later that evening, Woodside went out again. She has insisted from the very beginning that she was gone no more than 20 minutes when she got the call from Burlew saying to come home because Ash was dead. Given the timeline of events, Woodside must have left the apartment around 5:10 p.m. and returned sometime after 5:32. (The last photograph of Ash on Burlew’s phone was taken at 5:31, and there is an outgoing call at 5:32, which presumably is the call she made to her mother.)

According to Dr. Victor Weedn, president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, it is entirely possible to strangle someone in a few minutes — after one to two minutes a person becomes unconscious, and if the brain is deprived of oxygen for another minute or two, the person will die.

“If someone struggles,” he adds, it tends to prolong death because the brain is likely to get a little oxygen as the person moves around. According to Burlew, Ash never struggled or gave any sign that he wanted her to stop.

After Woodside returned to the apartment and saw Ash’s bloody body on the bed, Burlew begged her not to call the police. She told her mother at least three different versions of what happened — stories she would repeat later in the day to neighbors and police about a man in a red jacket who broke in to get drug money and killed Ash.

Woodside’s phone had not been working all day, so she ran to neighbor Steve Gremmel’s apartment to make the call, yelling, “He’s dying, he’s dying.”

Gremmel dialed 911 on his phone at 5:41 p.m. and handed it to Woodside.

The fire department arrived at 5:48, with police arriving at 5:50.

Burlew followed her mother to Gremmel’s apartment and at some point while Woodside was on the phone ran from the apartment complex. She was almost a mile away when she found an empty car with the keys still in the ignition. She stole the car and drove about eight miles before abandoning it in a parking lot. (According to the police report, the owner of the vehicle did not press charges.)

It’s unclear where she went next, but at 6:34 p.m., she texted Gremmel, “R the cops gone?” And at 6:54 she followed up with “well?”

Burlew said she eventually got a ride back to her mother’s apartment. The next person to report seeing her was Carol Lynn, the neighbor Burlew had tried to get $20 from earlier that day. Lynn said Burlew entered her apartment and asked if Woodside had left concert tickets for her. She remembers the girl being really concerned about the tickets, and in an effort to get her to leave, said Woodside perhaps left the tickets with Gremmel.

The answer seemed to satisfy the girl.

Burlew left Lynn’s apartment a few minutes after 10 p.m., grabbing a purple hijab and veil by the front door. Lynn later told the police that Burlew referred to Lynn and her daughter as “the nuns” because they are devout Muslims and cover their heads in public.

Burlew put on the stolen clothes and walked into Gremmel’s apartment. Phoenix police officer Elizabeth Solomon remembers seeing “a female clothed in a hooded ‘burka’ style robe” go into the apartment. Gremmel’s granddaughter, who also was present, alerted the police that Burlew was inside “dressed like a Muslim.”

When police knocked at 10:15, Burlew opened the door in the outfit and was arrested.

Images from Jason Ash’s autopsy report.
Images from Jason Ash’s autopsy report.
MCSO

On a Thursday afternoon in April, Woodside is on the phone seeking documentation of Burlew’s schizoaffective diagnosis from one of her previous doctors. The dimly lit room smells of stale cigarette smoke, and as she talks, she “paces” in her wheelchair — Woodside is still recovering from a car accident last fall that shattered the bones in her right foot, requiring doctors to put metal rods in her left hip and arm.

“She’s incarcerated, and I’m having a hard time getting them to give her Perphenazine for her hallucinations,” Woodside says. “They’re saying there’s no proof that she is schizoaffective.”

The woman explains that Woodside can’t get the information she’s requesting without going into the office to sign a medical release form.

“But they’re telling her that they have no record of her psychosis, and so they’re giving her a hard time about the Perphenazine, saying she doesn’t need it,” Woodside says, adding that Burlew’s hallucinations are getting worse in jail and that she’s been getting into trouble for being aggressive and rude to detention officers.

Burlew has been jailed for 17 months, housed in conditions an ACLU attorney deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” in a letter last December to the Sheriff’s Office. “There is a growing consensus among courts, policymakers, and the medical community that the isolation of juveniles, especially those with mental health conditions, violates basic standards of human decency,” the letter reads.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office responded by e-mail to New Times’ request for comment: “Inmate Burlew is a closed-custody inmate, which is the highest security classification in our jail system . . . Inmates in closed custody are locked down in their cells for 23 hours a day, with only one hour out.”

“Anybody in her situation would be going out of her mind,” says Peggy Plews, who speaks with Burlew regularly and is a member of the group Free Jessie B. “The jail is not equipped to deal with mentally ill children.”

According to Plews and Woodside, Burlew has tried to kill herself multiple times while in jail and is frequently sent to the mental health ward, where she spends a few days to a week at a time in a padded cell.

Woodside says Burlew called her once after being released from the psych ward. “Mom, why can’t I get it right?” she sobbed. “I made a noose and I made it too small.”

(The MCSO deferred all questions about Burlew’s mental health to Maricopa County Correctional Health Services. CHS did not return requests for comment.)

Based on Sheriff’s Office data received by the ACLU, “more than 25 percent of all juvenile pretrial detainees in MCSO custody are in solitary confinement.” In the December letter, the group writes that the “failure to remedy these constitutional violations by dramatically overhauling polices regarding the isolation of juvenile offenders would constitute an open invitation to bring suit.” The MCSO did not respond to the letter.

(A spokesperson for the ALCU declined to comment on the group’s involvement with Burlew’s case, except to say that the organization is monitoring it. Woodside says she speaks occasionally with ACLU attorney Darrell Hill, who signed the December letter.)

At Burlew’s most recent pretrial conference on April 30, she sat at the end of a row of inmates awaiting a status conference or sentencing. Her case was last on the list, and her public defender kneeled by her side to talk to her while the judge heard other cases.

Burlew’s brown hair had grown, the blond from a previous dye job reaching her chin. She wore the MCSO’s black and gray stripes and was shackled at the wrists and ankles.

She cried as her lawyer talked, wiping away tears with a handcuffed hand. The bailiff noticed and offered her tissues. Burlew took one and wiped her eyes again. She leaned forward in her seat for a few minutes, resting her elbows on her thighs and tilting her head forward so her hair concealed her face.

She was still crying when the judge called her case number.


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