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The Men to Call

Charged with a serious crime? Low on funds? Kent Gipson and Sean O'Brien are the guys to call.

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Kansas City lawyer Sean O'Brien relates what he considers one of his failures: the sentencing of Brandon Juarez to life in prison. After three years of reading police reports, court briefs, rulings, and transcripts, he knows every aspect of Juarez's case. Juarez is in the Crossroads Maximum Security Correctional Facility in Cameron, Mo., for second degree murder.

Juarez, O'Brien says, moved out of his mother's house in St. Joseph because of an argument over a cat. The fight was long in coming but was a situation that would have smoothed itself out over time. After all, Brandon was a good kid, even if he had some problems in school and made some bad judgments about the characters he hung out with.

"Brandon moved in with Paul Ham, a parolee in Savannah, Mo.," O'Brien says. "Ham was fresh from prison. He had a girlfriend, a job, and a lot of energy. Ham was a charming guy, almost charismatic in the way in which he attracted people to him. It was easy for Juarez, an impressionable and trusting kid, to look up to him."

In his soothing voice, O'Brien says Ham and Juarez did a lot of partying. They drank a bit, hung out with friends. Juarez was obsessed with playing guitar. On Sept. 14, 1995, shortly after Juarez moved in with Ham, they went to a party at Robin Lovelady's apartment in Savannah, where she lived with Ron Munsterman. Munsterman, also a parolee, had frequent arguments with Lovelady over her heroin addiction. Munsterman finally threatened to go to the police if Lovelady couldn't drop the smack -- as she had promised time and again.

At the party, Lovelady and Munsterman fell into another argument, this one a real fight. At one point, Munsterman slapped Lovelady across the face. After a deep breath, he threatened again to go to the police.

"Brandon saw Ron slap Robin but didn't know the rest of the situation," O'Brien says. Juarez was mad. He had been surrounded by women since he was a child, living with his mother and sisters in St. Joseph. Munsterman's treatment of Lovelady was repulsive to him. When Ham suggested he and Juarez take Munsterman out and rough him up, it sounded like a good idea.

"Brandon didn't know Paul had designs on Robin," O'Brien says. "Brandon agreed, and he and Ham convinced Ron to go out with them to get more beer for the party." The three men piled into Munsterman's car. They stopped at the liquor store. On the way back, Ham convinced Munsterman to drive to an abandoned limestone quarry three miles east of Savannah. There, he told Munsterman, was supposed to be another party, with girls -- a way to forget Robin for a while.

Juarez says he believed Ham when he said they were going to rough up Munsterman, leave him at the quarry, and take his car back to town. At the quarry, when the three men were out of the car, Juarez hit Munsterman in the face. Munsterman was stunned. Ham hit him, and it was Brandon's turn again.

Then, Ham took out a bowie knife and stabbed Munsterman "11 times in the back, leaving him to fall face first on the ground," says O'Brien. "The wounds are deep. The knife penetrates vital organs and breaks ribs."

Ham then handed the knife to Juarez, who was confused and so frightened he could hardly move. He knew alcohol had an effect on Ham, making him kind of crazy. But he had never seen Ham act like a madman; he never knew that a man could change so quickly. There was no one around, no sounds, no light. "Ham tells Brandon, 'You stab him too or I will kill you,'" O'Brien says. Ham was serious, breathing heavily, a crazed look in his eyes. Juarez feared for his life.

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