Exterminating Angel

The twisted relationship of the goth girl, her preppy sister, and their murdered father

Meanwhile, Eric—by now an official in Liberia's transportation ministry—began threatening to have Lucy arrested for kidnapping. Brigitte tried a final attempt at fleeing; she went to the U.S. Embassy to plead that they send her back to the States, away from her father, but got nowhere. Rebuffed at every attempt to get away, Brigitte was eventually returned to her dad.

Afterward, Eric kept her passport hidden to ensure that she didn't try to leave the country again. Brigitte, meanwhile, counted the days until her 18th birthday. As soon as she was officially an adult, she went to the embassy and, this time, they helped her return to the U.S.

For a time, Brigitte lived with the Goodridges in Providence, Rhode Island, where her relatives noticed something strange about her. "She was reading a lot of Harry Potter and had a lot of piercings," says Debra Clinton, a cousin. "She just seemed different—you know, like dark."

Brigitte Harris's MySpace page portrays a young woman with interests ranging from musical theater and sewing to heavy metal and the occult.
photo: Courtesy of Alicia Hill
Brigitte Harris's MySpace page portrays a young woman with interests ranging from musical theater and sewing to heavy metal and the occult.

After the story of the murder broke, the media found in Brigitte Harris an irresistible figure: a goth girl obsessed with revenge. She called herself "Dark Angel" on her MySpace page, a nod to the television show of the same name. Newspaper stories noted her attraction to revenge films and her adoration for bands like Otep, a heavy-metal band fond of lyrics about hate and vengeance.

Outside of her work as a security guard at Kennedy Airport, Brigitte dwelled in a world of goth music, frequent drinking, piercing, movies, and art. She shunned romantic relationships, instead surrounding herself with women who were similarly drawn to conversations about suicide and family dysfunction. Together, they frequented parties hosted by Hidden Shadows, a group of vampire enthusiasts that meets in Harlem. Studded chokers, brightly colored hair extensions, and a uniform of black, often shapeless clothes are the aesthetics of her circle. They are the kind of group that would get stares from passersby gawking at their baggy pants and black lipstick made all the more unusual because they adorned young African-American women.

Carleen set out to counter the image of her sister as a deranged, cold-blooded goth killer. She is the picture of middle-class preppiness, her makeup flawless, her oversized designer bag matching her stiletto-heeled boots. Photos of her three beaming kids are displayed on her computer next to images of her time at Army Reserve basic training, where she says she was regularly picked for leadership positions. She has a mantra of optimism and upward mobility—"I still have these aspirations and passions and things that I want to do. . . . I still believe there is a beautiful, beautiful world out there."

Carleen snagged an equally polished lawyer for her sister. Aidala is a guy with a clean-shaven head, a perfectly pressed suit, and a reputation for getting sympathy for killers. His claim to fame is his use of the "battered wife" defense for his client John Pickett, a gay man who suffered months of abuse before stabbing his partner to death in 1997. Once Aidala was hired, he immediately began reframing Brigitte as a victim whose goth look was a "cry for help"—a statement her goth friends did not appreciate.

Carleen Goodridge has led a public campaign to support her sister, and says she privately struggles with memories of also being sexually abused: “I’m really, really tired of remembering.”
photo: Courtesy Alicia Hill
The duo took the show on the road. Like any public-relations campaign, the one to "Save Brigitte" was painted in broad strokes. Carleen repeated her sound bites at press conferences: Her father was a monster; Brigitte was a victim. When people wondered about the rest of the family—where was the mother? Were other siblings abused? Didn't anyone know?—the details were skimmed over, the family too sprawling and their history too complicated for TV.

They went to news stations to give interviews, held a press conference at City Hall, and shed tears with Montel on a show he titled "Betrayed by My Father." They even got a local women's group to raise money to clothe Brigitte in Rikers (brown and gray only, please). Scores of rape and incest victims also pronounced their support, with some even praising Brigitte for "taking that evil fuck out of this world."

Carleen is more philosophical: "The reality is that she will have to serve some type of time, but she needs help. We're sending a few messages here. Number one, child abuse is wrong, and no one should have to deal with it. Number two, you can't take the law into your own hands."

All the campaigning seemed to have had an effect on its real target, the Queens District Attorney's Office, which waited nearly three weeks before charging Brigitte with a crime: not first-degree murder—which would carry a potential life sentence—but second-degree murder and manslaughter. Aidala says he took this as a sign that the D.A. had an "open mind" and might be willing to negotiate a minimal sentence or confinement to a psychiatric institute.

The morning of Brigitte's arraignment, Aidala paced outside the courtroom, his ear glued to a cell phone. Her arrival from Rikers had been delayed by several hours without explanation. When two newspaper photographers approached Aidala and began snapping shots of him, he shoved his phone into a pocket.

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