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Classmates turned murderers

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Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2007 12:00 am

If any of your classmates have been killed, you'll know that it's quite a tragic shock. What can also be extremely shocking is learning that a schoolmate is in prison for committing a murder.

Earlier this week I got a call from a woman who happened to remember an old classmate/friend because his birthday was approaching. She typed his name in Google and found stories I'd written about his arrest and subsequent conviction for a double murder. She'd read nine stories by the time she decided to call me, and I think she called partly because she was in denial. The guy she'd once known was not someone she would have imagined becoming a murderer.

I've had a few such calls like that over the years, and I still get e-mails from people who knew Sarah Dutra (big case around here; she was a college student convicted of manslaughter for helping her boss's wife kill him with horse tranquilizer on 9/11). I also know what it's like, because one day I happened to hear a TV newscaster mention a name I recognized. I looked up at the screen, and there was an old high school classmate's face. A couple years later, she's now in prison for murder, and I still can't quite believe it.

I have a feeling a lot of us know someone who has been convicted of murder or manslaughter. Last year in California alone, 2,485 people were the victims of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter, according to the FBI. That works out to 6.8 victims per 100,000 people, so it's not a vast amount of deaths. But if you think about it, most of us spent 13 years in elementary and high schools, with countless numbers of classmates in various grades. That adds up to a lot of acquaintances over the years.

Even though my high school had a whopping number of about 200 students in any given year, I know one of them is now a convicted murderer. That means hundreds of us were at least slightly acquainted with her. Could there be others I don't know about?

But don't think I'm entirely pessimistic. How many of your old classmates have gone on to do great things? About a dozen of my graduating high school class got together this summer. Of those, two have gotten their doctorate degrees, one survived Iraq and one's making a lot of money doing computer stuff. We really scattered, but I know of at least one other doctor in my class.

I wonder: How many Kindergarten classes will go on to turn out both a convicted murderer and a ground-breaking doctor?