The Poison Tree Author:Alan Prendergast The Poison Tree explores a crime so shocking it was featured on 60 Minutes. In one of the most widely publicized and least understood homicides in recent memory, an outwardly respectable IRS agent was slain by his sixteen-year-old son, who was aided by his seventeen-year-old sister. The "execution" of Richard Chester Jahnke received national att... more »ention in Newsweek, People, Rolling Stone, and on 60 Minutes, and was the basis for a television movie, Right to Kill? But the family secrets that lay behind the slaying were even more shocking than the crime itself. Thje patricide was the bitter fruit of beating, child abuse, and secual molestation.
In the words of one of the attorneys in the case, "Violence begets violence" - and the cycle of brutality and fear in abusive families is one of the central themes of this riveting book. The narrative follows the Johnkes over twenty years, tracing Jahnke's early domination of his wife and children, the family's eerie, isolated double life, the teenagers' growing defiance of their parents, a botched chld abuse investigation by local authorities, and finally the shooting and its aftermath, including two dramatic trials.
Both teenagers were tried as adults, and their experience in the legal system raises several throny issues. Was their crime an act of private vengeance, self-preservation, or both? What rights do abused adolescents have when they are no longer regarded as children? What role did the surviving spouse play in the father's abuse and in his death? And what does public and offical reaction to this case suggest about society's current attitude toward teenagers - the violence they do, the violence done to them? While there are no easy answers to such questions, the detailed, objecive examination of the Jahnkes' experience provided by The Poison Tree yields fresh insights into the psychological complexities of family violence - and the plight of teenagers who are legally and emotionally trapped in abusive homes.« less