Holidays without their Hero
"He told him 'I'm going to kill you,' and then he killed my friend."
Randy Edwards can't help but relive the moment he saw his friend, Lance Cpl. James Whitehead, gunned down in the passenger seat of his truck while sitting parked in front of the O'Reilly Auto Parts store on 16th Street in Orange. The killing occurred July 26, but Edwards has spent the nearly four months since then trying to come to terms with how something like this could happen to a man he, and the nation he served, called a hero. "I could see (off-duty Orange police captain Robert) Arnold was out of control," Edwards said, recounting the events July 26. "He came at James (Whitehead) with the intent to kill him and that is exactly what he did. It was all just so crazy to get to that point. There was a yelling, then there was a shooting. Then (Whitehead) was dead." Whitehead, a decorated Marine hero, was shot once at point-blank range and succumbed to his injuries almost instantaneously. His last words, said Edwards, were directed at the man who pulled the trigger to end the Marine's life. "James stood up and said, 'You shot me,' while looking Arnold in the face," Edwards remembered in detail. "Arnold just looked at him and said, 'I damn sure did.' Then James just fell back in the truck and died." Edwards said he told his story to an attending patrol officer on the scene within minutes of the shooting, and again at the police department under a more formal setting. His story never wavered, Edwards said, but he was hoping to be able to offer up a play-by-play at least once more when Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough convened a grand jury to hear the state's case against Arnold in relation to the homicide. "I tried to contact the district attorney, and he never would talk to me," Edwards said. According to the eyewitness, neither he nor the other man present in the vehicle when the shooting occurred was called to give testimony to the grand jury. Edwards said, knowing the jury wasn't getting the whole story, he was not at all surprised the officer wasn't indicted for the shooting of the Marine. Whitehead's sister, Brandy Boyett, said she was given a reason for leaving out testimony from those closest to the actual incident. "Kimbrough told me Edwards and (the truck's other occupant) were liars," Boyett told The Examiner. "He said they were biased and they lied to try and make James look better. In doing that, he said, they actually hurt the case." Edwards said he was flabbergasted at the accusation, especially since he offered to take a polygraph and since no one at the district attorney's office ever spoke with him. "I tried and I tried to talk to (Kimbrough) because I really wanted to tell the story of what really happened. Now they've done this, and I don't have the chance." Kimbrough's office said he was unavailable for comment on the matter. Boyett said Kimbrough did have more to say to her, however. "I asked him if he could appeal and he said no, and I asked him if he could represent the case. He said he could represent only if new evidence came up. He also said he didn't expect the feds to pick up the case. In his opinion, it's over." Information obtained by The Examiner contends the FBI is reviewing the case, despite Kimbrough's statements. But the quest seeking justice for James Whitehead is far from over if his family and friends have any say. Even as the holidays approach, veterans from all walks of service are joining Whitehead's friends and loved ones to form an action group called "Justice for James." The purpose of the group, said Boyett, is to ensure justice is served in the murder of her brother. And as Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays approach, the need for closure is all the more pressing. Whitehead's common-law wife, Karlan Jorgenson, said she is not looking forward to festivities without the man she's vowed to love more than life itself. "I've known James since I was 10 year old. It doesn't seem right for him not to be coming back," Jorgenson said. "He wasn't deployed overseas during the holidays during the time we were married; we spent them together. "Last Thanksgiving, we blew out a burner on the stove trying to make dinner for everyone. We just had the greatest time, and he loved doing stuff like that for people he loved." Jorgenson said this year will be devastating without her husband to share in the joys of the season. "I don't know how I'll get by without him," she said. " I guess I will soon see." "He was a big guy, but he was so full of life and love, it is impossible not to miss him daily," Boyett said of her late brother. "I think of him all the time." The holidays will only serve to enhance the loss. "James was a cook; not like a professional, but when he cooks he made sure it was so perfect and delicious - and pretty. Even when there was no food, he would do what he could and make it gorgeous. I don't know what we'll do now. He was the life of the festivities. He could cook, and he could eat it all, too. Last year, he was up two days straight to make sure it was perfect. "My daughter was ate up with it. She still has a hard time with James being gone. He was like a big brother to her as much as he was an uncle. She is having, still, a really hard time coping with this trauma. "Now, everyone is going their separate ways and we aren't even feeling in the holiday spirit. Everybody always sought out James for Thanksgiving. His food was perfect, and it's little things, or big things, like that that we miss especially now." For now, Boyett and the rest of Whitehead's loved ones will try to make it through the holidays without their brother, husband, father, son and friend. Whitehead's mother, Diana Whitehead, said she misses her son dearly and although she is still in mourning of his passing, she is thankful for groups of concerned Americans who have fought to see justice served for her son. Boyett, too, said she is appreciative of the outpouring of support centered on seeing to it that the man who killed her brother answers for the crime. Her hope for the future is that, by this time next year, Whitehead would receive the justice so many are currently in search of. "If Robert Arnold is not in jail by next Thanksgiving, I hope they at least take his license from him. I don't want another family to have to go through this type of heartache," Boyett said. Orange County editor Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com. The following is a related Letter to the Editor submission from a member of Justice for James... Editor: In a previous letter to your paper and prior to the recent grand jury ruling regarding the shooting death of Lance Cpl. James Whitehead, we stated that the veterans were quietly and closely watching this case. We were prayerfully hopeful that we would witness an honest submittal of evidence and a justified result from the grand jury. Such is not the case. With the release of Chief Sam Kittrell's report on his internal investigation, it is apparent that the honorable persons seated on the grand jury were shortchanged. Not having any doubts about the content of Kittrell's report, we questioned the presentation and credibility of District Attorney John Kimbrough. We questioned the grand jury decision of a no bill. It is now obvious there was a very serious infraction on the part of District Attorney Kimbrough. Although Kittrell's report confirms the suspicions so many have had, how is it that Orange Police Capt. Robert Arnold was allowed to remain with the department with the exposed and confirmed use of force issues? His numbers exceeded the average of all other officers in his department. As a former police officer and a Vietnam veteran, the public had many names for me that were not nice and certainly not decent. It aggravated me and some caused extreme hurt. However, all of those persons walked away with their lives. I never considered killing anyone because they called me a "pig" and other names I choose not to print. It is the duty of a police officer to protect the public and certainly not antagonize a situation because of ego problems. The most Whitehead was guilty of was disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor. He was in the process of removing himself from the scene. As Kittrell's report stated, the arrest could have been effected later or when the in route officers arrived. Whitehead's death is not justified homicide - it is plain and simple murder and possibly pre-meditated due to Arnold's statement "I'm going to kill you" prior to pulling the trigger. Kittrell's report displays his professionalism as a police chief. He repeatedly informs Arnold that he could have handled the situation differently and Whitehead would be alive today. Recently a core group meeting of veterans and private citizens was held. For several hours the case was discussed. It was the consensus of the entire group that we will stand in support of justice for Whitehead. It was also the unanimous decision that Kimbrough, an elected official, did not properly, either negligently or purposely, present the evidence to the grand jury. This situation is an insult to not only the grand jury, but to the public who voted for him. It has brought shame upon himself and his office. Because of this, we request that Kimbrough resign his position. Mr. Kimbrough raised his right hand and swore an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State." He has breached this promise and therefore brought embarrassment upon his office, the County of Orange and the state of Texas. We state today, as we have in the past, if it is proven beyond a doubt that Arnold was justified in taking the life of Whitehead then justice has been served. If it cannot be proved that Arnold was justified, then justice has yet to be served. Can it be any clearer than this? We demand that all persons within the subject agencies simply perform their jobs honestly and completely. It is because of the recent information that has been released and the doubt and mistrust upon Kimbrough that it also be done openly to the public. The results of doubting the sincerity and to blatantly insult the intelligence of the people by such actions shall be proven at the polls. In closing the veterans and citizens wish to express our sincerest appreciation to the staff of The Examiner. Your honest, accurate and consistent reporting is singular in Southeast Texas and represents, to the highest degree, ethical and moral reporting. We are proud to say "You Are The Best." With and for the people Justice for Lance Cpl. James Whitehead U.S. Marine Corps. Ken Cavaretta