Who Killed Juanita Todd? Part Thirteen

You know the criminal justice system is broken when a white district attorney in an overwhelmingly white community ignores a Black murder victim’s daughter’s plea for help.  

Luzerne County District Attorney Samuel M. Sanguedolce, a smug law-and-order Republican running uncontested for re-election, is ignoring murder victim Juanita Todd’s daughter Odetta’s plea for help.

Neglecting her.

Rejecting her.

Disrespecting her.

The county’s influential chief law enforcement officer knows Odetta anxiously awaits his call to hear him say he will help find whoever killed her mother – that he’ll take whatever action in his power as an elected law enforcement official to support the 52-year-old woman’s heartfelt quest.

The DA knows Odetta needs to talk with him because I told him she needs to talk with him.

Sanguedolce promised to call Odetta.

The district attorney broke his word.

Whitewashing responsibility through passive retreat is cowardly.

So on Monday Odetta called Sanguedolce. At least she tried.

She called his courthouse office and identified herself to the woman who answered the phone. The woman asked what the call was about. Odetta told her she was calling about her mother’s 1972 unsolved murder and she wanted to make an appointment with the DA. The woman told Odetta to hold on while she transferred the call to County Detective Jensen – believed to be Charles Jensen.

Odetta said Jensen picked up the phone and asked what her call was about. Odetta told Jensen what she told the woman about her mother’s murder, adding “in case you don’t know what this is about.” Jensen said he was familiar with the case, according to Odetta, but didn’t know why the woman who answered the DA’s office phone transferred Odetta to him. Jensen said he was not authorized to schedule an appointment with the district attorney, saying appointments “come from upstairs,” according to Odetta.

After Odetta and Jensen hung up Odetta called the DA’s office a second time.

“A different lady answered and I told her why I called back,” Odetta said.

Odetta told the second woman about her short conversation with County Detective Jensen.

 “She listened then put me on hold for five minutes,” Odetta said.

“When she came back on she asked me what this was about. That told me she wasn’t listening to me the first time,” Odetta said.

The woman again put Odetta on hold.

Odetta said when the woman came back on the line she said the person who schedules appointments with the DA was not in the office that day. She asked for Odetta’s name and telephone number which Odetta provided.

Odetta asked who scheduled the appointments.

The woman said “Kelly.”

Kelly A. Conner is Sanguedolce’s executive assistant.

Odetta asked the name of the woman to whom she was speaking.

“Heather,” said the woman, who promised someone would get back to Odetta “shortly.”

The next day (Tuesday) Odetta called the DA’s office for the third time.

“I spoke with Heather,” Odetta said. “She then transferred me to Amanda the office manager. Amanda stated that the person who handles the scheduling wasn’t in the office today. Amanda had been in touch with the district attorney. He is totally aware of me calling and wanting to schedule an appointment with him. She asked for my telephone number and said that I should be hearing from someone today. I explained to her that’s what I was told yesterday and she apologized for the office not getting back to me yesterday.”

To be clear I asked Odetta, “You say ‘Amanda has been in touch with the district attorney. He is totally aware of me calling and wanting to schedule an appointment with him.’ Did Amanda tell you that? How do you know that?”  

Odetta said, “After I was placed on hold by Heather, Amanda picked up the line. That’s what Amanda said to me. And then I reiterated what she said and then she confirmed that’s correct.”

Later that day Odetta updated me on Amanda’s most recent telephone call.

“Amanda from the DA’s office called me Tuesday (2:47 PM) to inform me she had been in touch with the district attorney. Unfortunately they’re not available until next week. (They) will reach out next week to me to set up a time (Amanda said).”

“Next week” starts tomorrow, Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 2023.

Maybe the DA will call Odetta the day after that.

For Odetta Todd tomorrow is another trying day in her lifelong struggle to find justice in her mother’s name. Tomorrow is also the first day of the rest of Samuel M. Sanguedolce’s re-election campaign to ask voters to trust him to uphold the public trust.

One cruel day long ago life ended for Juanita Todd.

For her tomorrow never came.