Fighting the Devil – Review by Martha A. Cheves, Author of Stir, Laugh, Repeat, Think With Your Taste Buds and A Book and A Dish
I had to put a gown and mask on. Lou Ann and Debbie helped me do that and I walked in and I saw Jerry had some tubes, one running up his nose and I believed he had a little…uh…a hospital gown on. His hands and feet were tied to each side of the bed with some sort of restraint. Jerry raised his head up and looked at me when I walked in. He said, “Gamble!” I said, “Yeah, Jerry! What in the world are you doing up here?” He said, “Oh, I’m sick. They’ve been doing all kinds of tests on me.” I said, “Well, you’re gonna have to get well so that you can get out. You gotta get a lot of things going, you know.” He said, “Gamble, you gotta help me get out of here! They’re trying to kill me. I’m gonna die! I’ve got $35,000 missing. They took it. Those two women took it. They’re trying to kill me. They fed me … Lou Ann and Debbie, they’re trying to kill me. You gotta help me get out of here! You gotta help me! Cut me loose! Gamble, cut me loose!”
This was just one of many pleas from Jerry Sternadel after he had been admitted to Bethania Hospital, not once but for a total of 3 times before dying of arsenic poisoning on June 12, 1990. Most people ignored his pleas after talking to his wife Lou Ann and his company bookkeeper Debbie Baker. They assured anyone who asked that Jerry was getting better and would be coming home soon.
Arsenic poisoning creates one of the most horrible deaths as it eats away at the bodily systems until the body shuts down. Symptoms are severe gastric distress, esophageal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea with blood. The skin becomes cold and clammy and the blood pressure falls. If death isn’t immediate, the skin becomes jaundice and is unable to void. There may be moments of paralysis and if death is delayed by several days, the arsenic will hit the liver and kidney. Convulsions and coma are final signs and death usually comes from circulatory failure. This is a horrible way to die! A bullet to the head would be more humane.
But, this is the death that Lou Ann and Debbie chose for Jerry Sternadel. Now came the task of proving they were the ones guilty of administering the poison and how. Jeannie Walker, who is not only the author of Fighting the Devil, but also Jerry’s first wife and mother of Jerry's only children, spent years working with the police and interviewing friends of Jerry. She even hired a private detectives, all to prove the two women were guilty of murder and have them stand trial. Will she succeed?
When I read Fighting the Devil, I was amazed at the court systems within Texas at that time. There was actually a law that would allow a jury to find a defendant guilty of murder but still be able to receive parole and a fine! Apparently the law was written for those who kill their abusers after years of abuse. But will it work for someone as cunning as Lou Ann and Debbie? This book made me aware of the trials the actual victims are put through. Yes…the victims are actually put on trial as their character is dissected and torn apart. Then there’s the jury. Spending time in a locked room with 11 other people trying to decide if someone is guilty or not and then deciding what sentencing they will receive can, I’m sure, get to you and make you actually rush through your decision just to get it over with.
The actual case of Jerry Sternadel’s death kept me reading even as my anger for the system grew. I have to admire Jeannie Walker for her determination to find closure for her children and their families. This case caught the attention of the producers of Oxygen channel’s Snapped series and was aired on February 17, 2005. The case is still open and justice is still being sought. I personally hope that for Jerry’s family and friends, closure will soon be found.