BONNERS FERRY — A rally and peaceful protest gathered at the Boundary County Fairgrounds on March 3, at 11 a.m. About 40 people came out to support the family of Jesseka Musson, who was murdered last year in Boundary County.
Eric Dante withdrew a guilty plea Thursday for second-degree murder for the shooting death of Musson after First District Court Judge Barbara Buchanan declined to go along with a proposed plea deal which would have sent him to prison for at least five years.
The rally was partially in protest to the possibility of the light sentence, but also about domestic violence awareness in general. Friends of the family as well as concerned citizens attended the rally despite the cold, keeping warm with the coffee and hot cocoa that was provided.
The rally lasted almost two hours, and was filled with speakers and the sounds of uplifting music from Judy Gullidge, Musson’s mother, and her singing group The Noteables.
The rally was far from impromptu, with many signs made up and placed around the area, a table set up for the letter writing campaign, complete with purple stationery, addressed envelopes and pens. There were sweatshirts available emblazoned with the logo, Stop The Silence, and bouquets of purple and white balloons were placed around the structure.
Although more than 100 people showed interest in attending the event, according to the Justice for Jesseka Rally event Facebook page, many did not come, out of concern or fear of repercussions from Dante when, or if, he is released.
“I think people want to see change, they want to make a difference, but even friends of mine, or family, or people who I have talked to, said they are afraid,” said Musson’s sister, Shauna Carr.
“They are afraid he is going to be out in four years, and what if the news is here, and their picture is on there or they are posting things on Facebook — is he going to come after them?” said Carr. “It is sad that we live in a world where we feel like we can’t make a difference because we are afraid.”
Despite that concern, there were many who came and stood fearlessly, holding signs and listening as Carr spoke to the audience.
“Something’s not right,” Carr said. “Something is broken in the system. We don’t know what it is. It is very perplexing that, time after time, people are getting these very light sentences.”
“It is treated differently if you murder someone you love,” she explained. “It is not like it is murder. It is something else and they are not giving the sentences to these killers.”
Doc Bartlett, who aided in the organization of the rally, explained that one of the reasons he was there, was because domestic violence had touched people close to him in the past.
“The cry for justice for the victim in all of this is the big thing,” said Bartlett. “Here is someone who beats a spouse or a girlfriend, or murders a spouse or girlfriend, and is looking at less time than if he would have done it to a perfect stranger. Assault is an assault, a murder is a murder.”
Don Estes took to the microphone to talk about Tina’s Bill, a bill that he has been fighting for after losing two nieces to domestic violence, the second one occurring on Thanksgiving 2017.
“It’s been going on long enough. It has been going on for decades and decades. We got to start somewhere,” Estes said. “All domestic violence should be a felony offense. You get a protection order, you go on that registry.”
The bill would parallel the registry now in place for the public to find registered sex offenders, and also covers some key point such as violators being detained by law enforcement for a minimum of 24 hours, as a cool down period.
“We have been to Olympia,” Estes explained to the crowd. “We testified in front of the legislator in Olympia. We produced this bill. We told them we need to get this registry going. We need to get it in all 50 states.”
Another person to step up and tell her story was Leslie Pease, who shared the great trials and loss that she, her family, and friends had suffered over the years due to domestic violence. The stories were very personal and emotional, and the crowd responded with sounds of understanding and sympathy.
When talking about Dante, she shared something that her sister, Bethany Vernon, had wrote. Vernon had been a close friend to Boundary County resident Ty Hartman, who died under mysterious causes in 1998 at the age of 19. Dante and two minors were with Hartman the night that he died. The teens admitted that some of them had burned the body, and divulged to authorities where the body was, after they were granted some measure of immunity.
“Ty would be alive if it weren’t for Eric’s influence and involvement and the same with Jesseka,” Pease read. “He’s an abuser and he will abuse and/or kill again. He has no conscience and doesn’t deserve to be free.”
As serious as the gathering was, the event was not entirely solemn. Between songs such as “This Land is Your Land” and “Que Sera Sera”, Musson’s mother, Judy Gullidge, shared happy memories of her daughter.
The rally may not have had the ability to reach as many people as they would have liked, but the message was given and received, bolstering strength in facing the upcoming sentencing.
“The system is broken,” said Carr. “We are all here because it is broken and we want to make a difference. We don’t want any killer on the street.”