Trial Puts Spotlight On Teen Stripper Who Committed Suicide
Oct. 17, 1987
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ The brief, sordid life of Tina Mancini, who wanted to be a dancer but wound up a stripper, is being told to a jury which must decide whether her mother is guilty of causing her suicide.
Miss Mancini, 17, put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger on March 24, 1986. She left no suicide note.
''She had two homes,'' testified grandfather Charles Gouveia. ''One with me and one she referred to as 'death row.'''
That other home was with her mother, Theresa Jackson, 40, who went on trial last week on charges of aggravated child abuse, procuring sexual performance by a child and forgery.
The prosecution alleges that Mrs. Jackson forced her daughter to become a stripper to earn money and forged a birth certificate so she could legally work in bars.
''This is the first time in the United States that a woman has been charged criminally with contributing to the suicide of her child,'' Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Kearney told jurors in her opening arguments.
Through the testimony of Gouveia, 68, and the girl's brother, Rico Mancini, the prosecution painted a lurid picture of Tina's life: a mother who mentally abused her and was in and out of psychiatric institutions; a father she never met until she was 14; a transvestite stepfather who underwent a sex-change operation; a brother who was kidnapped back and forth by relatives who wanted custody of him.
Although both Mancini and Gouveia took the stand as government witnesses, both said they loved Mrs. Jackson, who faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the Broward County circuit court charges.
The government expects to finish its case by midweek, and the defense is expected then to take a week or so.
Mancini and Gouveia went to police shortly after Miss Mancini's death with allegations that led to charges against Mrs. Jackson.
The mother has said she is determined to go through with the trial for the sake of her daughter.
''I've got to defend her honor,'' Mrs. Jackson has been quoted as saying. ''She didn't do anything wrong. I know I was wrong, but I was right in a mother's eye because she would have done it anyway without supervision.''
Mancini told jurors that when he moved in with his mother, sister and a younger half-brother in October 1985, Tina was working at a fast-food restaurant and a record store. The two elder children, both high school dropouts, were required to pay $100 a week in rent to their mother, who paid $456 a month for their Coral Springs apartment.
''We were all kind of cramped into one apartment and got on each other's nerves,'' Mancini testified.
He told jurors that one day he found his mother looking through the want ads, and assumed she was looking for employment for herself. When she told him she was looking for a dancing job for Tina, he assumed she meant a job such as dancing on a TV show.
Instead, Tina took a job at the Cat's Meow, where she earned $200 to $300 a night, he said.
Two weeks before she killed herself, Tina and her mother went to The Doll House III in Pompano Beach, where the girl won a topless dancing contest.
Both Mrs. Jackson and Tina claimed she was 19, according to Tom Burger, manager at the time. She started work at the club four days later.
''She wanted to better herself, that's what she told me,'' Burger testified. ''I think she thought, possibly, recognition would come from the club.''
Her ambition was to be a stage dancer, not a nude dancer, Burger said.
Burger testified that the mother encouraged the girl to accept one customer's offer of $50 to dance naked on his table.
Mancini said his sister was talented and ''excelled at whatever she put her mind to.'' He said she got straight A's at school when she did the work and developed her own style of dancing.
''She was very creative,'' he said.
Burger described Ms. Mancini as an ''exceptional entertainer'' and said her performance included acrobatics that the club's other dancers were unable to do. He said she seemed most comfortable when she was dancing with clothes on and that she became conservative and very aloof when she was dancing topless or on a tabletop.
''They used to call her the shy stripper because she was so modest when she performed,'' Mrs. Jackson has said. ''When I saw how well she performed and how she didn't dance like the other girls, I was proud of her.''
Jerry Cristodero, former beverage manager for The Doll House III, testified Friday that he became angry when he saw a customer fondling the girl while she danced, but he said Mrs. Jackson didn't seem to mind.
Defense attorney Ken Whitman said he intends to call two men who have stories about Miss Mancini's previous suicide attempt and her sexual behavior.
Aldo DiSorbo, now a furniture mover, gave a sworn statement Friday claiming that the girl had sex at age 13 with him and a friend. The girl tried to kill herself later in the day by swallowing a medicine chest full of pills, according to testimony.
Tony Cortese, a former boyfriend, said in a sworn statement that Miss Mancini was ''very loose sexually'' and that she and her mother got along just fine in his eyes.