A remarkable woman reasons with her killer - and tapes it.
She used the miniature tape recorder for a graduate-school course she was taking. The device, though, would do much more than capture a lecture. It was a microcassette found in Kathleen Weinstein's shirt pocket that not only led police to her alleged killer but also revealed the New Jersey teacher to be a woman of extraordinary courage and compassion.
Weinstein, 45, was on her way to an exam at Toms River high School South on March 14 when she got out of her gold 1995 Toyota Camry to buy a sandwich at the busy Toms river Shopping Center. That's where her path crossed that of Michael LaSane, who, police say, wanted just such a car to celebrate his 17th birthday. Grabbing Weinstein by the jaw, the attacker told her he had a gun and forced her into the Camry. The car was then driven to Manitou Park, about two miles from the shopping center. It was there, police believe, that Weinstein was able to activate the recorder she kept in her bag. According to Ocean County prosecutor Daniel Carluccio, the taped conversation tetween Weinstein and LaSane took place as they removed personal items - bags, notebooks, her six-year-old son's belongings, from the car. "It wasn't hysterical," Carluccio says of the 24-minute tape. "It wasn't the kind of thing you would expect of someone who is facing a life-threatening situation. Mrs. Weinstein bravely and persistently used every skill and power she had to convince her attacker to simply take her car and not her life."
The excerpts of the talk released by the prosecutor show why Weinstein was a beloved figure at Thorne Middle School in Middletown, where she was a special-education teacher. "You haven't done anything yet," she tells her attacker. "All you have to do is let me go and take my car. For my life, don't you think I should be concerned and let you take my car? For my life! Do you really want to have that on your head?" At another point, the teacher tries to get him to open up.
"Why don't you just tell me? Of course, it's important. It's determining you whole life and the direction you're taking." Weinstein also talks about her son Daniel and her plans to take in a foster child with her husband Paul. "I want to give something to somebody, to give something back," she says.
Her powers of persuasion were to no avail. Weinstein's body, with hands and feet bound, was discovered by a hiker on March 17. She had been smothered with her coat. But before she died she somehow slipped the microcassette into her pocket without her killer knowing it.
Because Weinstein had asked LaSane about himself and his family, police quickly had their suspect, the son of a local official. "Our impression was that she was very aware she was leaving something behind," says Carluccio. He will not comment on LaSanbe's side of the conversation except to say, "When you hear the tape, it will raise profound questions about what is happening in our world with juveniles and our society. It goes beyond materialism."
Weinstein also helped leave behind a new program at Thorne Middle School in which students were encouraged to do nice things for others.
Every morning Weinstein would announce various good deeds over the p.a. system and she solicited prizes form local merchants and restaurants. Given her fate, the name of the program has a heartbreaking resonance to it: Random Acts of Kindness.