Bond reduction possible for 17-year-old accused of Cape Girardeau hate crime

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Tonia Harris, left, Calvin Ayers and Nancy Harris, leave the Jackson Courthouse Monday morning, Aug. 20, 2012 after sitting in on Mercedes Ayers' arraignment. Ayers is the 17-year-old that was charged last week with burglary and assault. Ayers will appear in Jackson on Sept. 13 for her preliminary hearing on hate crime charges. (Laura Simon)

In her first appearance since being certified as an adult, the Cape Girardeau teenager facing hate crime charges in the assault of a 41-year-old lesbian appeared in court Monday only through the flickering images of a television screen.

But, depending upon what a judge decides, 17-year-old Mercedes Ayers may show up for her next court proceeding -- a Sept. 13 preliminary hearing -- as a free woman, released on bond.

With three of her family members in the Jackson courtroom, Ayers attended her arraignment in front of Associate Circuit Judge Gary Kamp via video from the Cape Girardeau County Jail. Ayers, who said little during the brief proceeding, faces charges of third-degree assault motivated by discrimination and first-degree burglary.

No plea was offered, but her new lawyer, assistant public defender Jennifer Slone, said that her client is indigent and does qualify for her services. She then submitted a motion to have the $10,000 bond reduced after waiving the arraignment. Kamp took the matter under advisement and could issue a ruling at any time.

After the hearing, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said he does not object to having a lower bond as long as the stipulation remains that Ayers is to have no contact with Jeana Terry, the victim who says she suffered a severe beating last month at the hands of Ayers and at least two juveniles.

Mercedes Ayers

But Terry had plenty of objections to the possibility of Ayers' release. Neither Terry nor her partner, Lisa Lange, who say they suffered anti-gay insults from Ayers and the juveniles for weeks before the July 24 assault, were at the hearing Monday because they said they did not know it was scheduled. Ayers and Terry both live on the 600 block of South Park Avenue.

When Terry was told of the motion for bond reduction by a reporter, she was reduced to sobs and could barely speak for a time.

When asked what she was feeling, Terry said: "Just terror."

And the admonition to Ayers to make no contact with Terry offered her little comfort, she said.

"If she's released, there's no way they will be able to monitor her," said Terry, who has attended a few counseling sessions. "But I'm going to try and stay at home. I'm not going to let them run me out of my house."

Ayers' mother, Nancy Harris, told a vastly different version of events than those relayed by Terry and Lange. Speaking from the courthouse lawn, Harris says her daughter is not the monster that she is being depicted as. While Terry and Lange -- and others from the 600 block of South Park Avenue -- say that Ayers and her siblings were terrorizing the neighborhood, Harris described her daughter as pleasant and quiet.

"It upsets me what they've been saying," Harris said. "She may have been involved in that fight, but it was not a hate crime. My daughter does not hate gays at all."

Harris said the lesbian couple was often irritated with her children, chastising them for playing outside or getting too close to their yard. She also believes the version she says her children have told her -- that Terry and Lange jumped Ayers and the assault was a retaliation.

"I don't know how some women and kids get in a fight and the kids get locked up and the women go free," Harris said.

Ayers will not plead guilty to the hate crime charges, Harris said. But she said her family expects to be moved out of their rental house within the next day or two.

"I'm not going to live somewhere where the neighbors want my kids to stay inside all the time," she said.

Both Lange and Terry maintain they never laid a hand on Ayers.

"If that was the case, why didn't they tell police that from the start?" Lange said. "They're making all this stuff up after the fact."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

600 S. Park Avenue, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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