|Not a suicide victim: Kenneth Trentadue’s brutalized body in his open-casket funeral.|
“You have to trust the government,” Justice Department attorney Richard Roberts unctuously told Jesse Trentadue. Seeking to understand why his younger brother Kenneth had died while in federal custody, Jesse, a trial attorney in Salt Lake City, had asked to see the findings of a federal grand jury investigation of the case.
In an incandescent response to Roberts’s patronizing dismissal, Trentadue reminded the Justice Department functionary that the proper relationship between citizens and the government is not one of “trust,” but rather of “accountability from that government to the citizens.”
“The Department of Justice has yet to account to the family for the death of my brother,” Trentadue pointed out. “There is no love between us, and there certainly is no trust.”
By the time Jesse had sent that October 16, 1997 letter to Roberts – who was Chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Section – more than two years had passed since his brother Kenneth had died in a federal prison cell in Oklahoma City. In the August 22, 1995 phone call notifying Kenneth’s mother Wilma about her son’s death, the warden casually mentioned that the body was scheduled for cremation within hours.
Wilma demanded to know if Kenneth’s wife had authorized the disposition of his body. The warden replied that she hadn’t been aware that Kenneth was married. After making it clear that her son’s remains were not to be cremated, Wilma joined Jesse in Oklahoma City, where they took custody of Kenneth’s body.
After carefully scraping away several layers of ineptly applied makeup, Wilma and Jesse understood why authorities had been determined to dispose of Kenneth’s body. The official story was that he had committed suicide by hanging himself in what was described as a suicide-proof cell. This wouldn’t explain why his face and torso were mottled with bruises testifying of a severe beating inflicted by several people, or why his throat appeared to have been cut and his scalp was split open.
|“Trust the government”: Judge/prosecutor/rapist Roberts.|
By the time Kenneth’s family had collected his body, all of the evidence in the crime scene had been destroyed. In violation of Oklahoma state law, the floors and walls of the cell had been sanitized, erasing fingerprints and wiping away blood and DNA evidence. The victim’s clothing and bedding had been confiscated by FBI Special Agent Jeff Jenkins, who kept this evidence hidden in the trunk of his car until putrefaction set in, rendering it useless to the FBI Crime Lab.