A DEADLY SILENCE: The Ordeal of Cheryl Pierson: A Case of Incest and Murder by Dena Kleiman
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A DEADLY SILENCE: The Ordeal of Cheryl Pierson: A Case of Incest and Murder

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In 1986, sixteen-year-old Cheryl Pierson contracted with a classmate to kill her father, who had been sexually abusing her. Here, by the reporter who covered the story for the N. Y. Times, is a skillfully paced, thoughtful, and thorough account of what went on in the Pierson home, how much and how little the neighbors knew, and a look at the psychological effects of incest. James Pierson was known in suburban Long Island as a generous and devoted family man who insisted that all bedroom doors at home be kept open: ""I don't want secrets in this house."" In fact, the big (though widely suspected) secret was that he began sexually abusing his daughter Cheryl while his wife was dying of kidney disease. While affectionate to her father in public, Cheryl was talking to her brother and boyfriend about having him killed; her classmate Sean Pica--who'd been abandoned first by his father, then his stepfather, and who had witnessed abuse in his home--agreed to do it for cash, gunning Pierson down one morning in his driveway. Both Pica and Pierson pled guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter: he is now serving up to 24 years; Cheryl (who claimed she'd finally acted out of fear that her younger sister would also be victimized) is on probation after 106 days in county jail. Kleiman reports patterns of abuse going back more than a generation in the Pierson family and gives some idea of its prevalence in society. While she is sympathetic to the incest victim's plight, she doesn't flinch from giving an honest, sometimes ugly, portrait of Cheryl (and Sean): amoral, self-centered, unable to feel remorse or to connect acts to consequences; and she presents psychological opinion that these traits are logical outgrowths of psychically numbing childhood experiences. More than just the dramatic recounting of shocking events, this is a powerful warning to a society in which too many children are stunted in their moral and emotional development by abandonment and abuse.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1988
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown