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Friday, January 9, 1998

Book chronicles three women's search for child's killer

By JAMES A. BERNSEN / The Brazosport Facts

ALVIN, Texas -- In 1994, investigators searching for clues to the death of 2-year-old Katherine Renee Goode were aided when the girl "spoke" to them from the grave.

Next month, the girl's eerie voice will speak to the world, as a book chronicling the Alvin girl's tragic murder and the struggle to bring the killer to justice hits bookstands across the country.

"To the Last Breath: Three Women Fight For the Truth Behind a Child's Tragic Death," by award-winning national true-crime author Carlton Stowers, is the story of a young girl full of life who was visiting her father one evening and died of mysterious circumstances.

The book, published by St. Martins Press, will be released Feb. 1.

Officials at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office initially could not determine the cause of death and the young girl's death seemed destined to never be solved.

But three women, the girl's mother Annette, Alvin Police Detective Sue Dietrich and Jeri Yenne, the county prosecutor working the case, didn't give up.

"About six months later, I picked up the case and sent copies of the autopsies to experts around the country," said Dietrich. One of those people she sent the results to, a Florida doctor, agreed to do a second autopsy.

The body was then exumed, and the second autopsy revealed hemorrhaged tissue showing the child had in fact been squeezed to death.

"She virtually spoke to us from the grave," Dietrich said. "Had it not been for that second autopsy, (the father) would have gotten away with murder."

Armed with the new information, police began to zero in on 34-year-old Michael Shane Goode, who had been a suspect from the beginning. But whereas lack of evidence had ruled him out before, the new autopsy changed all the rules.

After two months of investigation, an indictment was handed up against Goode in early December 1994. What they had discovered was a crime almost incomprehensible in its premeditated brutality, Yenne said.

"This guy, to me, was colder than anybody else," Yenne said. She had seen many child murders before, but none like this. "This was different, because it was a premeditated, planned killing."

During the investigation, it was learned that Michael Goode had at first asked his estranged wife to abort the baby. She refused. When Renee Goode was 13 months old, Michael, who complained that he couldn't afford the child support payments, nonetheless took out a $50,000 life insurance policy on the girl, whom he had never seen and whose name he wasn't even sure of.

Yenne said Michael Goode then staged a number of visits with the child beginning in February, 1992, to create the illusion that he was fond of her. But it was all a planned effort to rid himself of child support and to cash in on the life insurance.

"How could you do this, all the while knowing that you are going to kill her?" Yenne asked.

Then, one day in January, 1994, Renee Goode paid her last visit to her father. Dietrich said he bear-hugged the girl so tightly that her lungs collapsed. It took seven to nine minutes for the girl to die. When it was over, Michael Goode left her lying on the floor of the house and went to bed.

Even as police were building a case against him, Yenne said, Michael Goode "thought he was in the clear." In one instance, when Dietrich interviewed him, he made a revealing remark about the insurance policy he had taken out.

"He asked her, 'When do you think I'll be hearing from State Farm,' " Yenne said. "She said, 'You'll be hearing from somebody shortly.' "

Yenne at first was uneasy about a book being written about the crime. She learned that the author was present during the trial, and was worried about it, because the case was a very hard one to win.

Now, however, Michael Shane Goode is behind bars -- his conviction in Renee's murder means he will spend the next 40 of her birthdays thinking about what he has done. Last month, an appellate court upheld Goode's conviction.

For Dietrich, the book brings a bit of closure, and with it, the hope that the story will bring some awareness that child murders do happen. Maybe that can lead to something good.

"The book will be around, and it's not just an exceptional book for law enforcement officers," she said. "It shows the struggle we had with the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office and the tenacity of the mother and Jeri Yenne, the prosecutor. We never gave up."

Yenne, remarking on the haunting picture of the little girl on the cover, points out that the photograph is almost unique.

"In all the other pictures, she's laughing and smiling, and in this one, she's not," she said. "It was taken when she was with her father. She knew."

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Distributed by The Associated Press

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