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N.J. Town Rallies Behind Murder Suspect

May 14, 2003

GLOUCESTER CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Neighbors knew for years about troubles in the Karo household. They say the father and mother drank heavily and fights with their teenage daughters often spilled into the yard.

Now that Jasmine Karo, 18, stands accused of fatally stabbing her father, saying he assaulted her, many in this close-knit Philadelphia suburb are rallying behind her. A state lawmaker wrote the check to bail her out of jail on murder charges, and a neighbor took her in.

``Everybody feels so sorry for her and they know she needs help,″ said Eileen Rulis, an owner of the Studio 24 hair salon, where the case has been a frequent topic of conversation. ``I have not heard the opposite.″

Karo was arrested May 6, not long after her father died after he was stabbed in the shoulder. Before the stabbing, authorities said Alan Karo had thrown a phone at Jasmine in her basement bedroom, then went upstairs where she could hear him scuffling with her mother, Margie Smiling.

Jasmine Karo told him to back off and he put her in a headlock, police said. Accounts vary on whether the two were separated before she found a steak knife and stabbed him.

Police were called to the family’s bungalow dozens of times, and the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services was called once.

Robert DePersia, one of the lawyers representing the teen, said no decisions have been made about whether the defense will use battered-woman syndrome as a defense if the case goes to trial. Generally, to use self-defense in a murder case, defendants have to show that they had an honest and reasonable belief that they were in imminent danger of death or bodily harm.

Regardless, DePersia said he’s happy to have the public behind his client. ``It’s a very, very unique situation to be in,″ he said. ``Most of the time, they’re asking for a more severe penalty _ not less.″

State Assemblyman Joseph Roberts, a Democrat who represents the district where Karo lives, put up $3,750 for a bail bond on Friday. He has not spoken publicly about his donation and did not return a call to The Associated Press.

Strangers have sent several hundred dollars in checks. Also, students at Gloucester City High, where Karo is still hoping to graduate next month, are selling raffle tickets to raise money for their classmate. Karo returned to school Tuesday.

``We’re all just hoping she gets to walk with us when we graduate,″ said Jessica Dickerman, 17.

Karo’s lawyers have asked her not to talk to reporters and have met with prosecutors to discuss the possibility of dropping or reducing the charges. Before her lawyers requested it, the prosecutor’s office asked a judge to reduce bail from $200,000 to $75,000.

Because of her mother’s drinking problems, Karo and her 12-year-old sister, Priscilla, have both moved in with a neighbor, Flo Brophy. There was no funeral for Alan Karo and the family was trying to go on with their lives, Brophy said. Wednesday afternoon, Smiling visited her younger daughter and helped her with her homework.

``Jasmine, Priscilla and their mother said a prayer,″ Brophy said. ``That was all.″

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