Family reflects on son’s murder
When a crime is committed, the victims are not only those who are wounded physically by the bullets or blows from their aggressors.
Rather, the victims of a crime radiate outward like ripples in water, affecting the families of everyone involved as well as witnesses, police officers, medical professionals, reporters and anyone who is moved or touched by the crime.
National Victims’ Rights Week is April 25 to May 1. This year’s theme is “Victim’s Voices: Silent No More.” The week-long commemoration is aimed at bringing the plight of crime victims to the attention of the public.
One Carson Valley couple who knows what it feels like to be the victim of a crime is Jerry and Laverne Hobson. In January 1998, their son Jerry Jr. was killed and left for dead and their lives have not been the same since.
“When you’re a parent, you’re a parent forever,” Laverne, 62, said. “Jerry didn’t deserve to die this way.”
Jerry Charles Hobson II came from a loving home, enjoyed playing chess, writing poetry and listening to classical music. Yes, he had his foibles like anyone else – he had a tendency to pick women who were bad for him, at times he had what his mother calls a “bad mouth,” he liked to play the slots and he smoked the occasional marijuana cigarette.
But nothing that Jerry Hobson did in his 41 years of life justified his violent death on the evening of Superbowl Sunday 1998, when he was taken to a remote location on Goni Road, shot four times, dragged into a ravine and left for dead.
“Losing our son was bad enough, but what has been hard is the way he has been misrepresented,” Jerry, 72, said. “They always say it was a drug-related murder, but that just isn’t true. It had nothing to do with drugs.”
n Idyllic childhood. “J.C.” as they call him, was born in Norco, Calif., where he spent most of his childhood. Dad was a successful electrical contractor and Mom was home with the kids.
Jerry and Laverne Hobson have been married for one month shy of 47 years and raised four children, all born within four years – Luella, now 45; Stephenie, 44; and Michael, 41. Jerry Jr. would have been 43 last March.
The kids were involved in sports, Boy Scouts and Rainbow Girls, and Laverne’s girls often call her Donna Reed – the perfect homemaker. Jerry Sr. is a cowboy at heart, who loves his family and worked hard to support them.
“We always had our dinner meal together as a family, we had only one phone and one television, so the family was together a lot, not hidden away in their bedrooms,” Jerry said.
The Hobsons have nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Each one of their voices is recognized instantly on the telephone when they call.
Jerry Jr. had a paper route from the age of 11, using the money to buy his own bicycle and supplement his Mom’s choice of wardrobe with more “stylish” clothes when he saw fit.
Though he wasn’t the honor roll student his sisters were, Jerry played trumpet in the school band and was on the football team in high school. He had a tendency to want to help, his parents recall.
“J.C. always liked to rescue people,” Jerry said. “He was the type of person who would stop and help a person who had car troubles.”
n Young adult years. Following high school, J.C. went into the electrical contracting business like his dad. Eventually, he turned out to be a whiz on the computer and often wrote programs for his highly successful electrical contracting business, Jerico Electric and Jerico Lighting in Cathedral City, Calif.
When J.C. was 35, he married Gale, who, his parents say, turned out to be his undoing. Theirs was a rocky marriage, fraught with heated encounters.
The strain eventually cost their son not only his marriage, but his businesses in Cathedral City, where his best friend had been the mayor of the town and he’d hobnobbed with the likes of Sonny Bono, the mayor of nearby Palm Springs.
Following the divorce, hurt both emotionally and financially, J.C. came to Nevada in 1996 at the age of 40 to start over. His Johnson Lane parents welcomed him.
“He had a hard time getting past it and couldn’t get over what she had done to him, though,” Jerry Sr. said. “We’d tell him, ‘You’ve got to get over this.'”
Planning to open another lighting store and contracting business, Jerry looked around this area.
He met a state bridge engineer with a home in Mound House who needed a house sitter for several months while he would be out of town on a job. Would Jerry do it? OK, he said – it would get him out of his parents’ house and off their dole at least.
While house sitting, the engineer called from Colorado and asked J.C. to temporarily put up a friend of a relative and her daughter who needed a place to stay.
She moved in, also bringing her 18-year-old boyfriend with her, who, in turn, made friends with the two men – half brothers Dan Harper and Roy Thrasher – who would eventually kill J.C., according to their confessions.
n How it happened. Before that fateful day, J.C. made several pleas to the homeowner to remove these people who seemed to bring trouble.
As much as his parents can reconstruct from police tapes and other sources, on Super Bowl Sunday last year, people including J.C., Dan Harper, Roy Thrasher and others were at the house watching the football game.
Harper, who’s nickname was “Tequila Dan,” gave a $10 watch to the 7-year-old girl who was living there with her mother. When he left the house, he allegedly made a comment to J.C. “not to hock that watch after he left.”
Indignant, J.C. said he’d never do that and some harsh words were apparently exchanged between the men. After Harper and Thrasher left, something went on between the young men, aged 20 and 21.
Though there are conflicting accounts as to what happened next, it seems as though the half-brothers returned and somehow convinced J.C. to go with them in his truck sometime near midnight. What happened next also has differing accounts, but the fact is that J.C. was shot four times and his body was deposited under a sagebrush up Goni Road in north Carson City.
Jerry and Laverne noticed his absence and queried the house’s residents. They filed a missing persons report with the Carson City and Lyon County police and ran an article in the Nevada Appeal asking for any help in finding J.C. They got an anonymous tip which lead the police to Jerry’s body 10 weeks later, decomposed almost beyond identification. They still don’t know who called.
“It was devastating when they found J.C.’s body,” Jerry said. “It had been there for 10 weeks and they said it was pretty badly decomposed.”
“I knew from the start that he had to be dead,”Laverne said. “I could just feel it.”
Thrasher was already in jail for an unrelated crime and when the police questioned him, he confessed to killing J. C., Laverne said. From there, the path lead to Thrasher’s half brother, Harper.
“What upsets us is that it has been referred to as a drug-related killing, but it wasn’t,” Jerry said. “It was just such a stupid thing, but it wasn’t drugs.”
During Harper’s sentencing last month, when he sentenced Harper to two life terms without the possibility of parole, the judge said J.C.’s murder had been one of the most horrendous and senseless crimes he’d heard of, Laverne said.
Harper’s attorney is filing an appeal to have the sentence reduced.
n Disillusioned with the justice system. As crime victims, the Hobson’s have grown disillusioned with the court system.
“I just think it’s unfair,” Laverne said, adding that they were told that since the jails are so full, families of crime victims need to go to court and fight for their loved ones.
“People told us, you have to be involved or they’ll sweep it under the rug,” she said.
To that end, all of J.C.’s siblings were at Harper’s trial, as well as other relatives. The family had T-shirts made with J.C.’s picture on the front and wore them to trial.
n Will it ever end? At the Harper trial, each member of the family took the stand and spoke to Harper.
“It was hard, but we all did it,” Jerry said. “I broke up when it was my turn.”
Still having to stay involved, the Hobsons say they are bracing themselves for the next trial in October, this time for the second accused killer, Roy Thrasher. They have been told to be prepared for some “ugly things” to come out at that trial, but they will be there – no matter how brutal – for J.C.
“J.C. can’t talk, so we do it for him. Our daughters are scheduling their vacations for that time and we’re hoping Michael will be able to get off, too,” Laverne said. “We’ll be there.”
n Remembering a son. Jerry Hobson Jr. is a presence in his parents’ lives every day. They have his cremated remains in their home and hope to scatter his ashes or do something otherwise appropriate when the dust settles on this last trial.
“Meanwhile, I talk to the box,” Laverne said. “Sometimes I forget that he’s gone.”
Jerry Sr. and some of his children have been up Goni Road to put flowers where J.C. was killed.
Recently, when they went to put flowers and a cross on the site, they arrived to find a cross and flowers already there with the inscription, “We love you, Jerry. Love, J.M.”
They have no idea who put it there. Jerry Sr. is emotional just thinking about someone else remembering his son.
“When your child is sick at least you can talk to them and prepare, but when they are taken so suddenly, it’s so hard,” Jerry said.
“There’s a root in your heart for each of your children, and when one is pulled out, there’s always a hole,” Laverne said. “In that sense, there is no closure for us.”