Exclusive: Mother Convicted of Killing Young Son

ByABC News
May 31, 2002, 1:22 AM

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ill. May 31, 2002 -- -- Julie Rea calls her 10-year-old son, Joel, "the best kid in the world" even though she was convicted of stabbing him to death.

"He was just so alive and so fun and so interested," Rea told ABCNEWS' John Miller in her first interview since her conviction two months ago.

On the night of Oct. 13, 1997, Rea says she was awakened in her home by a scream. Concerned about her son, she says, she went to investigate and yelled his name. But his bed was empty. She then struggled with a masked intruder, she says, chasing him through the house, bursting through two glass doors and into the back yard. She was convinced, she says, that her son had been taken from the house.

"I didn't know where Joel was and I didn't know what to do. I was screaming for help," she says. "I fell to the ground," she says, and then the intruder hit the back of her head, pounding her face to the ground.

Then, she says, the intruder walked away, removing the mask under a streetlight before vanishing into the night.

Within minutes, police arrived. Rea had a bruise over her eye and a gash on her arm. Police immediately searched her home and found Joel dead, his T-shirt bloody from multiple stab wounds in his chest.

When children are murdered, parents are often suspected. Both Rea and her ex-husband, Len Kirkpatrick, were questioned. Their divorce had been bitter, and they fought for Joel's custody, a case Kirkpatrick had recently won because Rea was moving a lot.

Kirkpatrick believes it was his ex-wife who killed their son. "I think it was simply a matter of, if I can't have Joel, you can't either," he said.

But there was no hard evidence directly linking anyone to the crime. Police continued to investigate, but had little to go on. Rea described her story of a masked intruder and helped police come up with a rough sketch of the face she says she saw as he removed the mask under a streetlight before vanishing.