By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Meanwhile, exasperated by the emotional turmoil inflicted by her brother, Kimberly moved out of Bragg’s home to live temporarily with a neighbor, Deena Hayes, and her family. Kevin learned about this and wrote to his sister furiously from a detention center, almost ordering her to return home, and lecturing her on the sanctity of family. Kimberly was too angry to reply to this or any of his other letters, though she did save them.
Kevin returned from rehab shortly before Christmas 2003. He had been court-ordered to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, though Morgan Burkett, a girlfriend of Kevin’s at the time, said he was smoking meth throughout. Burkett says she broke off the courtship after Kevin grew too demanding of her time and also because he was monopolizing the time she used to spend with Kimberly, her best friend.
As Kim applied to Cal State Hayward, for new vistas and to be near her half sister, Amie, in Oakland, Kevin — as razor sharp as ever — tested out of high school early. He wanted to join the Navy, but he didn’t qualify until he could complete a drug-rehab program. The Army tried to recruit him, but Kevin decided he’d prefer to stay in the California desert than visit an Iraqi one.
It was around this time that Kimberly was invited to a neighboring high school prom as a blind date and met Jude Johnson, with whom she forged a stabilizing partnership. “He tolerated all my tantrums and moods with a huge support. He saved my life,” she says.
Meanwhile, Kevin was working odd jobs and taking classes at a local community college.
“He was trapped in the desert,” says Kimberly.
In the summer of 2005, at the wedding of a cousin in San Diego, Kimberly and Kevin finally met their biological father, William Bragg, who was there with his wife. Kimberly didn’t talk to him much, but Kevin and his father found a common language, and friendship, which they vowed to continue. As she had through so much of her life, Kimberly watched Kevin from a distance but also with relief as he appeared to find some meaning in his past, and perhaps some hope for his future.
“I think meeting our father helped Kevin feel like he had a place, like he wasn’t just a lost person.”
Adds Virginia Bragg, “For the first time, Kevin saw an older man with a physical likeness to himself. He started to feel where he came from.”
Ernest Harmon is a big man with a Fu Manchu mustache and a gentle demeanor. He appears groggy in an orange jumpsuit behind the thick glass that separates prisoners from their visitors at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. He signals that we have to wait until exactly 8 a.m. for the microphones to go on. When the second hand on a wall clock rolls over the 12, all the prisoners and visitors pick up telephones on their respective sides of the glass. Harmon keeps rubbing his eyes and nodding.
Harmon, who grew up in Fontana and worked as an electrician, was 34 years old when he first met Kevin, in late 2004. He denies he was ever Kevin’s friend. “We were acquaintances,” he says. “Our relationship was based on drugs.” On several occasions, Kevin slept over at Harmon’s Palm Desert apartment on Michigan Street.
Harmon’s apartment was also occupied by his girlfriend of two years, 23-year-old Christina St. Louis, and her 5-year-old daughter, Crystal. Preliminary hearing testimony, court documents and police reports piece together a picture that is something other than domestic bliss. St. Louis has been a meth addict since she was 16. On one occasion, police found three meth pipes in her bedroom closet, and one stuffed under a couch, inches from where Crystal was sleeping.
In early 2005, Harmon was arrested for possession. He entered a court-ordered rehab program that he, unlike Kevin, successfully completed. His primary goal in life, from the summer of 2005, was to stay off meth. With this in mind he tried repeatedly and in vain to persuade St. Louis to enter a rehab program, but his attempts were continually undermined by his girlfriend’s drug supplier — Kevin Brennan.
November 13, 2005, was Harmon’s 35th birthday. Harmon’s friend Lucia Sanchez, was at Harmon’s apartment that evening cooking dinner. Also present were Kevin, St. Louis and Crystal. It was a strange and strained celebration, given how, St. Louis admitted to police, she and Kevin had had sex the day before. After Harmon learned of this infidelity, he and Kevin struck a pact whereby Kevin wouldn’t pursue St. Louis romantically and would stop supplying her with meth.
St. Louis, however, had other plans. In the days following her liaison with Kevin, she tried to sever her relationship with Harmon and persuade him to pack his belongings and vacate his own apartment. Harmon grew increasingly distraught.
Meanwhile, Kimberly found herself alienated and lonely in Northern California. In the fall of 2005, she transferred from Cal State Hayward back to the desert climes of Cal State San Bernardino, living at times with her grandmother and at other times with her boyfriend, Jude Johnson. Upon her return to the Southland, she was almost completely disengaged from Kevin and his world, but relieved that, from her understanding, Kevin appeared to have stabilized, holding down a steady job as a clerk at the auxiliary store of a Chevron station in Rancho Mirage, while also working as a caddy at a nearby golf course. His supervisor at Chevron, John Molina, describes Kevin as reliable and friendly — “a good worker and a good guy.” At last, Kimberly felt she could stop worrying about him.