Presumed Innocent: One Old Photo, Two Cases

2 mins read
A group of people sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone
Former PUSD Superintendent Dr. Percy Clark Jr. (left) and John Laurence Whitaker-Betances in better days. Photo: Phil Hopkins

Theater-style seats in Department C40 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana are considerably more comfortable than those in criminal courtrooms in downtown Los Angeles. That’s a fact.

By comparison, the hard, wooden pews with minimal padding installed in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on West Temple Street seem designed to force visitors fully awake in Catholic church-like discomfort.

Unlike the OC’s Central Justice Center, Los Angeles courtrooms are simply not designed for lingering.

The more posh furnishings of the Orange County Superior Court were much appreciated while attending another court appearance last week for a double murder suspect.

You may remember John Laurence Whitaker-Betances, 77, as one of the founders of Pasadena Unified’s “Dads Are Doing Something” program back in 2002. He was a buddy of PUSD’s Superintendent Dr. Percy Clark Jr., and as a volunteer was issued keys to the school district’s headquarters building on South Hudson Avenue.

That was before school district volunteers had to pass mandatory background checks.

In late 2004, Whitaker-Betances was arrested as the prime suspect in the strangulation death of Patricia Ann Carpenter of Laguna Beach. You may recall the headline in the Los Angeles Times at the time of his arrest, “‘83 Case Cracked by DNA.”

He also faces murder charges in Los Angeles County for the Santa Monica murder of neighbor Bodil Rasmussen in 1975.

Whitaker-Betances was booked into the OC jail for the Carpenter killing after being arrested in Gresham, Oregon. As unbelievable as it sounds, that was 20 years ago.

And what of Whitaker-Betances? As of last week he’s still in the Orange County jail, charged with murder and still awaiting trial.

Whitaker-Betances wasn’t transported from the jail to Judge Patrick H. Donohue’s courtroom on Friday for what was probably his 120th court appearance. But his lawyer was there, requesting and obtaining a new court date of July 19.

“He’s almost 80 now. He’s got a variety of health issues, including diabetes,” says attorney Mick Hill. “The man’s been in the jail hospital for as long as I’ve been on the case, and that’s two years. He’s been in a wheelchair every time I’ve seen him.”

Now that is some world-class lingering.

And as of January, the other man in the above photo is in serious legal jeopardy.

Dr. Percy Clark Jr., 81, who left the Superintendent position at Pasadena Unified in 2006 after a plagiarism scandal and moved to Indiana, is charged with 16 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud there. All are federal charges in an indictment secured by the US Department of Justice, and each count could bring a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Clark and three other defendants allegedly acquired $44M in fraudulent enrollment funding from the State of Indiana through their operation of Indiana Virtual School (IVS) and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy (IVPA). Clark and the other defendants are alleged to have spent the money on cars, boats and private school tuition.

Zachary Myers, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, told Indiana news media that this is the largest fraud scheme he has seen since being appointed to the post.

These former friends are both presumed innocent. One has been jailed for 20 years without a trial and the other is now facing a possible life sentence in federal prison.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head in astonishment.

A quote from serial killer Ted Bundy seems strangely appropriate: “Society wants to believe it can identify evil people, or bad or harmful people, but it’s not practical. There are no stereotypes.”

The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/szcf

Phil Hopkins

Phil is the Associate Publisher of Local News Pasadena. He is a 35-year resident of the city and his favorite local delicacy is the Combo Grinder at Connal's.
Email: [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. This insightful article by Phil Hopkins sheds light on the complexities of the legal system and the notion of presumed innocence. Through the juxtaposition of two individuals, Whitaker-Betances and Dr. Percy Clark Jr., Hopkins highlights the disparities and challenges within the judicial process. It’s both shocking and thought-provoking to learn about Whitaker-Betances’ prolonged incarceration without a trial and Clark’s facing of federal charges after a career marked by community service and education. The article prompts reflection on the unpredictability of life and the importance of fair and timely legal proceedings for all individuals. Hopkins’ storytelling effectively captures the reader’s attention and fosters empathy towards those entangled in the criminal justice system. Great job, Phil Hopkins, for bringing attention to these compelling and nuanced stories.

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