By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
It was just after 1 p.m. on a hot July afternoon when Brigitte Harris walked out of her Rockaway home without locking the door. Cell phone in hand, she headed toward the nearest police station, but stopped a block short of the 100th Precinct.
Back at her cozy, third-floor apartment, where she regularly hosted informal parties, her father, Eric Goodridge, was dying. Goodridge was a native of Liberia who spent much of his adult life moving back and forth from Monrovia to Staten Island. On this stint in the U.S., he was attending to a host of medical problems. At 55, he could barely walk, plagued by infected keloids on his legs, as well as kidney stones and a failing liver. But these were not the ailments that would ultimately kill him. Harris dialed 911 as she walked away and asked that an ambulance be sent to her address. Someone was bleeding to death on the third floor, she told the operator. EMTs arrived at a chilling scene. Eric lay with a towel wrapped around his head and stuffed into his mouth, strangled to death. A table had been broken in a scuffle. Nearby was a scalpel that the 26-year-old Harris had bought on eBay just a few weeks beforea tool that friends believe was originally meant for her own suicide. But it was her father's blood that was slowly, steadily pooling under him. He had been castrated, and the severed penis was missing.What did remain were notes that hinted at a history of sexual abuse. "He wrecked my life," read one. "At first, I blamed myself. Now I know it's not my fault," another reportedly said.
Half an hour later, Harris was still on the line with a 911 operator, wanting to know what was going on at her home and if her father was still alive. When the operator asked what happened, Harris was reticent. "Forget it," she replied.
She said only that she was not thinking straight. That she needed to talk to her sister.
Carleen Goodridge and Brigitte Harris, born three years apart, grew up in a sprawling and deeply divided family, traumatized by infidelity, abandonment, rape, war, and now murder. As the elder sibling, Carleen has been both an enemy and a champion for Brigitte. The two battled over whether or not to confront their father about his abuse of them. "My sister, she just always wanted to talk about it. She wanted help. She wanted people to know what he was doing," Carleen says, but "I wouldn't allow her to talk about it. That's what divided us."
In the aftermath of her father's murder, Carleen has been talking a lot. She launched a public-relations campaign to "Save Brigitte." Within 36 hours of the murder, she had hired star defense attorney Arthur Aidala and told the world that both she and Brigitte had been victims of a pedophile father who regularly and repeatedly raped them from a very young age. Within a week, Carleen had set up a website collecting donations for a defense fund and had held press conferences to round up support. The murder of their "monster" father was simply karma, she told Montel Williams and audiences at a candlelight vigil. If Brigitte snapped, she implied, it was their father who had pushed her.
Thanks to Carleen's efforts, a small crowd of supporters have lined up behind Brigitte, including U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and New York State Senators Eric Adams and Diane Savino. In addition to shining a spotlight on the casewhich may help Brigitte win a lenient sentenceone has also directly assisted Carleen professionally. She was hired as Savino's executive assistant last month, which provided a much-needed income and direction for the struggling single mom.
Meanwhile, as the case heads toward trialthe plea agreement that the defense had hoped for has yet to materializeBrigitte's family has become increasingly polarized. Carleen and her maternal relatives have portrayed Brigitte as a victim who finally snapped, while Eric's side of the family denies any sexual abuse and say the sisters planned their father's murder for ulterior motives. The family split was apparent during a court date last month. Seven members of Eric's family traveled from Rhode Island and Colorado to attend a brief hearing at Queens Criminal Court, where they exchanged information and hugs with the prosecutor. Carleen was notably absent; in her place was an advocate from a domestic-violence nonprofit that helps those in trouble for retaliating against their abusers. Lawyers have asked for more time to review evidence before returning to court on January 4.
Hanging in the balance are two sisters whose lives have drastically diverged. Sitting alone in a cell in Rikers psych ward, facing 25 years to life, Brigitte is drugged into a Stepford-like cheerfulness that friends say she never had in her earlier life. Meanwhile, Carleen has been launched into a spotlight she seems to thrive in, saying she has a newfound purpose as a spokesperson for victims of child abuse. One sister is locked up, and the other has been set free.
"I started speaking out to help my sister and now I just can't stop," Carleen says.