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Brandon townhouse slayings leave behind grieving families

TAMPA — For months, they've grieved.

Jessica Kalb and her family have tried to find ways to cope with the slaying of her twin sister, Jennifer Kalb, 23.

Kalb was one of two women whose bodies were found in October amid the remains of a burned-out townhouse in Brandon. Police charged Charles Martinez this month with the first-degree murder of Kalb and Lindsay Nicole Greene, 25, but the search for closure is just beginning for their families.

For Jessica, that means focusing on her 2-year-old son, whom her twin sister doted on. Her brother had Jennifer's name etched into his skin at a tattoo parlor, and her parents struggle with a legal system where time seems to stand still.

Every day, they remember the upbeat, hard-working woman who often held down two jobs, including a part-time position at Dunkin' Donuts, and always wanted more. And every day they try to make sense of the crime that took Jennifer from them and the legal journey that will decide the fate of Martinez.

"We're waiting for answers," Jessica said. "It seems like every day is getting harder and harder because you find out more and more."

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Families who lose a loved one in a violent crime face two battles: overcoming a deep, personal loss and navigating a complex legal system.

"It's one thing when you lose someone to an illness and they pass and you go though the funeral," said Margaret Laing, program manager for the State Attorney's Office Victim Assistance Program. "It's a whole other thing when the person is killed and now you're having to hear about it and face the person.

"And you can't close that chapter — you can't even think about closing that chapter — until you get through that part. It just kind of leaves that wound open and there."

Lindsay Greene's grieving family, living in Ruskin, has tried to focus on the loss of their daughter and the upcoming legal case and ignore outside distractions.

"One of the ways we've dealt with this is kind of insulating ourselves from the media and everyone else other than our closest friends and some counselors," said her father, Michael Greene, who did not wish to comment further.

Greene, who lived in the townhome where the killings occurred, was reported missing after she did not pick up her 3-year-old son from day care.

Sheriff's deputies were sent to her home in the Carlisle Club Townhomes, where they found the bodies. A fire had been set inside the home, presumably to destroy evidence of the crime, authorities said.

•••

"Anger, being one of the phases of grief, we're definitely dealing with our anger at Charles Martinez," said Kalb's mother, Jacqueline Strecker, who lives in Pensacola. "We're all dealing with this differently, but we're pulling together as a family."

Strecker and the family drove down to Tampa shortly after the crime to see the apartment.

"We just had to see it," said Troy Rickett, Kalb's stepfather who raised her. "It's just been hell, let me tell you. It's been a living hell."

Many of Kalb's personal belongings remain in Tampa. But photos and mementos adorn the family's Pensacola home. Giant pictures hang on the walls, surrounded by candles and jewelry.

"She came up here frequently," Strecker said. "We were trying to get her to move up here. This is just killing us. Why didn't we get her to move up sooner?"

Strecker said they're trying their best to stay apprised of the legal proceedings from far away. They want to be present at the hearings, but were told that many initial proceedings will only last a few minutes — a small amount of time for a six-hour drive each way.

Though it could be a year or two before the case goes to court, the family plans to move to Tampa so they can be present at the proceedings.

Rickett said it has been a continuous challenge to try to get more information and learn what happened to their daughter. He said he understands that authorities can only release limited information because they don't want to jeopardize the case, but that doesn't make the process any easier.

•••

Laing couldn't speak about this case specifically, but said many families going through the legal process after a loved one's death are upset with the slow nature of the system and the complexities involved.

"They do get frustrated, I'm not going to tell you they don't," Laing said. "Sometimes they don't understand or they get frustrated when there's another continuance. Because we work with them so closely and build that rapport, obviously we don't take it personally. We just try to help them get over that next hump and get on to the next thing."

Often, the counselors in the Victim Assistance Program will answer the same question multiple times as families try to become familiar with the legal proceedings.

"It's a whole new language," Laing said. "All of a sudden now they're hearing words like deposition and arraignment and evidence, and it's not like they see on TV. On TV, it seems like it's neat and simple and it's done in an hour. And this just kind of drags on and seems like it's lasting forever."

•••

Laing and the other members of the office try to help families understand what they can expect out of the legal system. They do everything from attending hearings to helping with restitution collection. A large part of the job is helping families understand that the emotions they're feeling are a normal reaction.

"Any time a person has had a trauma or a crisis that they've been through, there's going be difficulties," Laing said. "They might be forgetful. They might be short tempered. … Part of what we do if we're hearing that is just to try to help them realize it's probably a normal reaction to what they've been through."

For now, the family is waiting for the discovery from the case file to go public so they can learn the details of what happened to Kalb.

"They say it was a particularly heinous crime," said Rickett, the stepfather of Kalb. "Some of the descriptions of what happened, it was just heartbreaking. … It makes you question your faith and be mad at God and everything."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

Brandon townhouse slayings leave behind grieving families 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 4:04pm]

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