The small-town prosecutor stood at the foot of the steps to Sacramento’s downtown courthouse and spoke of long-awaited justice for young Marysa Nichols, her family and a rural community still raw with shock and grief, and the man jurors convicted Wednesday of taking the teenage girl’s life in the woods behind her Red Bluff high school.
“Justice has been served for Marysa Nichols and for Tehama County,” Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen told reporters Wednesday morning, minutes after Sacramento Superior Court jurors found 42-year-old Quentin Ray Bealer of Gerber guilty of first-degree murder for strangling Marysa to death in February 2013 behind Red Bluff Union High School.
“Her murder has captivated all of us,” said Cohen, who joined in the search three years ago for the then-missing teen before searchers found the girl’s body hidden under a plank of Styrofoam and brush. “Now it is final. It is real. There is justice for Quentin Ray Bealer. After three long years, he has been adjudged a child killer.”
Marysa was 14, a freshman at the school and the eldest of three children. She was also a “ray of light,” her mother, Dianne Whitmire, said Wednesday, a church-going girl of deep faith who defended her younger brother and sister, now 16 and 14, respectively, from bullies.
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“Marysa is a ray of light. She loved Jesus, loved going to church, loved her friends,” Whitmire said. “She was quite the firecracker, too – smart, beautiful, very inquisitive. She’s an amazing girl. She really is.”
So heavy was the publicity surrounding the girl’s slaying that a Tehama Superior Court judge ordered the case moved to Sacramento County for an April trial.
For weeks, jurors heard testimony detailing in Cohen’s words Wednesday how Bealer attacked Marysa, cut off her shirt and choked her with it – four minutes by investigators’ count – in what Cohen called a “senseless, brutal, sexually motivated murder” before covering her body with packing foam and branches. They took in DNA evidence that prosecutors said linked Bealer to the girl’s killing. Prosecutor talked of Bealer’s dark fascination with young girls.
Once the word ‘guilty’ was said, I just started crying. I cried because justice was finally served for Marysa. I’m relieved, overjoyed and very thankful that the jury was able to see the evidence and give a proper verdict. The waiting has been hard.
Dianne Whitmire, Marysa Nichols’ mother
The Sacramento jurors gathered for nearly two hours June 9, then most of the day Tuesday before returning their verdict Wednesday morning before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Delbert Oros. Sentencing is scheduled July 8 before Oros. It was unclear Wednesday whether Bealer’s sentence will be handed down in Sacramento or in Red Bluff, the Tehama County seat.
“Once the word ‘guilty’ was said, I just started crying,” Whitmire said. “I cried because justice was finally served for Marysa. I’m relieved, overjoyed and very thankful that the jury was able to see the evidence and give a proper verdict. The waiting has been hard.”
The grief is still fresh for many in Red Bluff, a city of just more than 14,000 people a two-hour’s drive north of Sacramento.
Mark Cohen, son of the Tehama County district attorney, made the trip to Sacramento with his father. He’s 14, the same age as Marysa when she was killed, and said the case continues to resonate in town three years later.
“It’s often discussed in Red Bluff. It’s a really heartbreaking event,” he said. “The entire school knows her. Everybody’s going through some sort of pain. Everybody feels for her.”
“This doesn’t happen in our community. The most difficult part for the community was asking what’s happening to us as a city,” said Gregg Cohen, the district attorney. “Today’s the day when we have a sense of what we do is truly meaningful – removing evil from our community.”
Kevin Hale, a Tehama County district attorney’s investigator who was a Red Bluff police officer when Marysa was found dead, said the local high school at its recent commencement ceremony draped a graduation gown over an empty chair in Marysa’s honor.
“It’s been a very emotional, long road for all of us,” Hale said. “It’s been an emotional journey.”