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Mother of Slain Taft Player Finds Solace in Verdict

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After losing your child on the street for, as Ora Denise Rogers puts it, “nothing,” solace comes from places other parents can hardly imagine, much less fathom.

And so it has been for Rogers, who has learned in the five years since her son LaMoun Thames was murdered at a bus stop near Taft High School in Woodland Hills to take comfort where she finds it.

Hearing the word “guilty” ring out last Tuesday in Van Nuys Superior Court--where LaMoun’s killer finally was convicted--was a cathartic moment for Rogers, 40, and her daughter, Shanise Anderson, 23.

Rogers has cleaved to memories of her son. Celebrating his birthday at his grave with cake, balloons and laughter was an oddly happy occasion.

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The clothes LaMoun wore the night he was stabbed have become his mother’s talisman. At her daughter’s Hawthorne apartment where Rogers is living temporarily, she presents each article of clothing with a small, sad smile--the blue cap, the white socks and nearly new black high-tops, even briefs cut away by doctors trying to revive the lifeless 15-year-old.

“This is all I have of him,” Rogers said.

That and the memory of photographs no mother should ever have to see--coroner’s pictures of the body LaMoun had buffed to perfection to play football, opened up by a knife.

Rogers found herself strangely comforted by the awful sight. Five years before, when the wounds were fresh, Rogers had lost a fight to view her son’s body at the morgue. Recently seeing, at last, exactly what had happened to LaMoun made her weep, but also helped her heal, she said.

Rogers said she needed to put herself in her son’s place that night in August 1992, when he was killed at the bus stop near the high school after football practice.

“I had to see,” Rogers said. “I had to see what my baby had gone through--his wounds, his pain.”

The irony of LaMoun’s death is that he went to school in Woodland Hills, instead of near his South-Central home, in hopes of avoiding the gang violence that took his life.

LaMoun Thames did not belong to a gang, so when a carful of youths surrounded him at Winnetka Avenue and Ventura Boulevard and demanded to know his gang affiliation, he had none to report.

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That led one of the youths to pummel and stab LaMoun, who staggered away before collapsing and dying.

Last week, a jury convicted Oscar Lopez, 22, of the murder. Already in prison on other charges, Lopez faces a 25-years-to-life sentence for killing LaMoun.

“A relief came up from me,” Rogers said. “I let something out that’s been there for years and years. . . . It was holding me down.”

Maybe now Rogers can get a little rest, a little perspective.

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Maybe not.

Some sorrows just don’t fade away.

*

Rogers recalls that LaMoun was ambivalent about going to Taft for football practice the day he was killed, weeks before he was to start 10th grade. But Rogers said she encouraged him to go and enjoy himself.

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A family barbecue was planned for the next day. After going to the supermarket for provisions, Rogers fell asleep while waiting for LaMoun’s return.

She was awakened at 5 a.m. by police detectives at the door asking if she knew a LaMoun Thames. Because he was a good kid who had never been in trouble, Rogers assumed the worst. She slammed the door in their faces.

“I didn’t want to hear,” Rogers said. “I knew it. I felt it.”

At first, Rogers said she “bugged” the police constantly for information, but it took an agonizing two years before charges were filed against Lopez, only to be dropped later when witnesses disappeared. Charges were refiled early this year.

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In the meantime, Rogers felt no peace, though she was always certain her son’s killer would be brought to justice.

“I never had a doubt,” she said. “I just had to be patient.”

Rogers said she spent a lot of time on her knees and calling a prayer line for help.

Whenever she ventured out on the street, “I looked into everybody’s face wondering who did it,” Rogers said. “What if I passed this guy on the street?”

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Besides sorrow, the key emotion Rogers felt was anger at losing the sweet boy who kept her house shining clean and liked to put his head in her lap and watch television.

LaMoun Thames had aspirations, including college at USC and becoming rich.

“My dream is to have two kids, a boy and girl, get married to a wonderful woman and play professional football,” LaMoun wrote for a school assignment the year before he died.

*

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The second of Rogers’ four children, LaMoun grew up with his older sister, Shanise.

The two were close, playing board games such as Monopoly and scheming about their futures.

“He said he’d be successful first and I’d come begging to him for money,” Shanise Anderson fondly recalled.

Now it is up to Anderson, a file clerk at a Santa Monica law firm, to make good for both of them.

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A Taft graduate, Anderson is studying at El Camino College to become a paralegal, then hopes to go to law school.

She dreams about her brother often. He’s always alive and smiling in the dream, as she warns him to stay away from the bus stop that night.

*

Rogers dreams about her dead son too--more troubling dreams that jar her from a deep sleep. She talks vaguely of emotional problems since his death, of anger born of frustration that she catches herself taking out on others.

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However, none of that anger is directed toward the criminal-justice system which, Rogers said, has done well by her son.

The judge, the prosecutor, the jury: “They were angels God sent,” she said.

While it is too soon to know if the conviction of her boy’s killer will be the balm to ease her suffering, Rogers clearly seeks a respite from her grief.

Friday night, after reliving her son’s death all week for reporters covering the verdict, the best she could hope was to escape for a few hours to the bright lights of Laughlin, Nev.

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“I just need to get away for a day,” she said.


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