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In comfortable, suburban Orinda, Calif. A year-old sophomore, she swam for the high school team. She belonged to the Bob-o-links, an exclusive volunteer group with sorority overtones. She won a place as a varsity cheerleader. For Bernadette Protti, life was more of a struggle. An ordinary-looking girl, Bernadette, 15, also belonged to the Bob-o-links. She had good grades and a circle of friends.
Yet in the glaring light of her merciless self-scrutiny, Bernadette was a failure. Surrounded by the sons and daughters of highly paid executives, she was embarrassed by the more modest means of her father, a retired public utilities supervisor for the city of San Francisco. She desperately wanted a place on the cheerleading squad.
About that time Bernadette was also rejected by the selective Atlantis club and denied a place on the yearbook staff—standard teenage setbacks, but to Bernadette they were something more. Kirsten Costas probably never thought much about Bernadette. She had no way of knowing that Bernadette was thinking a great deal about her. To Bernadette, the pretty daughter of 3M executive Arthur Costas had become a painful reminder of feelings of failure. It just seemed like everybody else was thinking that, but she was the only one who would ever come out and say that…. Last June 21, a Thursday, while Kirsten was away at a cheerleader training camp, her mother, Berit, answered a 10 p.
Berit called home at p. It was the last time she would speak to her daughter. A little more than an hour later, a few miles away, Kirsten rang the doorbell of Alex and Mary Jane Arnold, who had just finished playing cribbage with neighbors. As they left, Mary Jane noticed a small car at the end of the driveway. When Alex drove off, the car, a mustard-colored Pinto, seemed to be following. He asked Kirsten what was going on. He watched as she walked to the door, then saw a female figure swoop out of the darkness. He thought he was seeing a fist fight. Then the assailant disappeared in the shadows.
Then Arthur Costas saw his daughter lying in an ambulance. She was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at p. An hour earlier on that peaceful summer evening, Elaine Protti had suggested a walk when her daughter, Bernadette, returned home in the family Pinto. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
That summer Bernadette attended classes to prepare for confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. She swam and saw friends. Local sheriffs conducted more than interviews, investigated more than 1, le and examined Pintos. Many Miramonte High School students were questioned. In the eyes of her classmates, Bernadette was an unlikely suspect. Hilley reviewed for Bernadette the psychological profile that had been drawn of the murderer.
The public humiliation, she said, might be worse even than prison. Then she asked to go home. Over the next few days, Bernadette committed some of her thoughts to paper. This is what she wrote:. If I kill myself I will hurt people even more my family. I think I could kill myself. I would go to hell if I killed myself. I would rather kill myself than go on living if people knew…. On the evening of December 10, Bernadette asked her mother, Elaine, if they could have a talk.
Protti replied. She slept through the night unintentionally and apologized to her daughter the next morning. I put it on the kitchen counter. Elaine studied the Bible until the ticking kitchen timer went off. Then she read.
The FBI man…thinks I did it. And he is right…. Please still love me.
Elaine telephoned Bernadette at school and picked her up. What was really happening was a party. According to Bernadette, Kirsten agreed to go but first suggested they smoke some marijuana outside a nearby church. Bernadette said she balked at the marijuana.
Bernadette also said she had found the murder knife just by chance—that she had never intended to kill. After the hearing, Judge Edward Merrill found Bernadette guilty of second-degree murder. She was sentenced last month to a maximum of nine years in the custody of the California Youth Authority and sent to a maximum-security facility near Camarillo. The Costas family, understandably, was hardly in a mood for forgiveness. I ache. I ask the people of California, is this justice? What has changed is that now Bernadette truly is cut off from that world. And the one person whose acceptance meant so much, the one she so desperately wanted to talk to, has tragically been silenced forever.
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Murder of Kirsten Costas