Recover password

Teen killer’s latest arrest renews debate over juvenile justice

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some names you never forget.

Johnny Zinn. Michael Paul Astorga. Darci Pierce. David Parker Ray.

You never forget because their names are seared into memory by the evil they do. They are the darkest devils of our nature who commit grotesque murders that shock the conscience and shake the community.

Last month, another name slithered back into the headlines when Albuquerque police released the identity of one of three suspects in the gruesome kidnapping, beating and torture of a man over a drug debt.

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The name is Mitchell Overhand.

Nearly 30 years ago, Overhand was the fair-haired cool boy with the empty eyes who sped around in a sporty red 1968 Firebird and bragged about the different girls he had bagged.

He also killed his parents.

In the early morning of Feb. 18, 1988, he fired a .38-caliber handgun at close range into the skull of his sleeping mother in their Paradise Hills home, then coerced acquaintance Christopher Plouse to do the same to Overhand’s father. When his mother didn’t die fast enough, he took a hammer and bashed in her face to finish the job.

“That’s one tough bitch,” he remarked.

He was 16. Plouse, the son of a Rio Rancho police officer, was 15.

Overhand later told a detective that he couldn’t stand living with his parents, that he was angry because his father had taken away his Firebird.

“He said he had no respect for them and that he hated them,” one friend told a Journal reporter.

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The murders of Karen and Peter Overhand were horrific enough. But it’s what their son did afterward that places him in the pantheon of pathetic, psycho killers – he threw a party.

From left: The yearbook photo of Mitchell Overhand when he attended Cibola High School; Overhand in court before pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and other charges in December 1988; Overhand, 45, as he appears today in a booking mug shot. (Journal)

News accounts and testimony indicate that Overhand let his parents’ bodies stiffen in their bed while he drove his mother’s Cadillac to class at Cibola High School that morning. He was later seen tooling around in his father’s new pickup, which drew the attention of a neighbor, who told detectives that Peter Overhand had insisted his son would never drive that truck.

The neighbor said Peter had also told him he didn’t know how to talk to his son, his only child, anymore. The once-happy kid who played soccer and earned Bs in school had grown volatile, distant and drugged-out. That, he said, is why he wouldn’t let Overhand drive the vehicles any longer.

Sometime that weekend, a neighbor contacted detectives after seeing what he believed was Overhand burying two large objects in his backyard, moving a picnic table atop the disturbed earth.

The objects were Peter and Karen Overhand.

The party at the Overhand home was ongoing – Mitchell entertaining one girl in the bedroom where he had killed his parents and supplying his guests with an unnamed hallucinogen – when detectives arrived.

Overhand and Plouse were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder and became the first and second of four Cibola students to face murder charges in 1988, a notoriety that earned the West Side school disparaging nicknames like Murder High and Killer School.

But Cibola wasn’t alone. By the end of the year, 13 Albuquerque juveniles were incarcerated on murder charges – nearly double the number from the previous year.

Citizens wrung their hands and argued over whether killer kids should be rehabilitated or relegated to prison forever. Experts blamed violent TV shows, easy access to guns and working parents too busy or too cowardly to discipline their recalcitrant kids. It’s a debate that rages on today.

Then-Bernalillo County District Attorney Steve Schiff argued for strengthening the Children’s Code to deal with violent youthful offenders; public defender Joseph Gandert, who represented Overhand, countered that treating kids as “little adults” turned them into big adults, more dangerous than before once they’re released back into society.

Overhand, much to Gandert’s dismay, got the adult treatment. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and three other crimes and was sentenced to 40 years, three years shy of the maximum sentence the few remaining members of his family had called for.

“I have suffered so much pain, and there are times I can’t stop crying at night,” he told the court at his sentencing in February 1989.

Plouse, described as the hapless dupe mercilessly manipulated by Overhand to participate in the killings, accepted a plea deal that netted him 25 years in prison. Friends say Plouse tried to put his dark past behind him once he was released from prison. He married, became a father and appeared content. But at age 43, he died of undisclosed causes on Feb. 19, 2016 – 28 years and a day after the murders.

While in prison, Overhand earned the nickname Spike. He both impressed and horrified fellow inmates with his cool calmness and his intellect. He marked his shoulder with the tattoo of a wizard. He was released after serving a little more than half his sentence.

Upon his release in 2009, he repeatedly violated probation by failing to show up for appointments and testing positive for methamphetamine, court records indicate.

In 2012, he told his probation officer he was having a nervous breakdown, could not handle the outside world and wanted to go back to prison.

With his arrest on the new charges – which could eventually include murder because the kidnapping victim has told detectives Overhand’s cohorts forced him to look at a photo of a friend apparently dead and sexually mutilated – Overhand, now 45, may get his wish.

For now, Overhand remains in the Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting arraignment Friday on eight criminal charges, including kidnapping, aggravated battery, bribery of a witness, conspiracy and tampering with evidence.

There’s that old saying: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps this is part of the reason we can’t forget the names of the infamous – we hope the evil they do is never repeated.

If only it really worked that way.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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