ST. LOUIS – The family of a former Saint Louis University volleyball player shot to death in an August 2012 daylight robbery while she was talking on her phone hopes her case will help build public pressure on carriers to support mandatory anti-theft software on smartphones.
Family members of the slain Megan Boken held a press conference Friday on the anti-theft measures after the sentencing of 19-year-old Keith Esters of Bel Ridge, Mo., in Boken’s murder.
Esters was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder along with armed robbery and armed criminal action in the killing of the 23-year-old woman in St. Louis’ Central West End.
Esters initially was charged with first-degree murder in the death of the Wheaton woman, a 2011 SLU graduate who had returned to St. Louis for a job interview and a volleyball team reunion. He must serve at least 25½ years of the life sentence before being eligible for parole.
Prosecutors said Esters shot Boken in the neck and chest as she tried to enter her car talking on the phone to her mother. Boken’s cellphone fell to the floor during a struggle. Esters’ cousin, Johnathan Perkins of Overland, Mo., awaits trial early next year as the accused getaway driver.
Esters, a high school dropout, testified Friday that he wasn’t specifically seeking Boken’s phone but merely hoped to rob her.
Boken’s mother, Lisa, said she felt like a part of her body and soul had been “ripped out.” Boken’s older and younger sister as well as friends and former teammates described a caring young woman with an infectious laugh who was training for her first triathlon when she was attacked.
Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer called Boken “an example for all of us.”
“She had a beautiful life, and gave a lot to everyone,” he told Boken’s supporters. “Keep that in your heart.”
At a news conference after the 50-minute hearing, Paul Boken said he and his oldest daughter have met with representatives from AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Corp and others in the wireless industry to urge the mandatory installation of “kill switches” that would make lost or stolen phones inoperable.
A group called Secure Our Smartphones is also pushing for kill switches. The initiative is led by prosecutors in San Francisco and the New York state attorney general, who met with Paul Boken. Other members are top prosecutors in Illinois, Massachusetts and five other states; police chiefs or commissioners in Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and other major cities; and law enforcement officers nationwide.
Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer, says it has the technology to incorporate kill switches in its products. But wireless companies and industry lobbyists oppose the move, fearful that hackers could disable mobile devices and compromise public safety by disabling the phones of entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry trade group, instead favors a national stolen phone database that is scheduled to launch by the end of this month, along with greater consumer education and stronger criminal penalties for those who steal or resell mobile phones.
“When everyone – from the wireless companies, law enforcement, policymakers and consumers – works together, we will make a difference,” said Jamie Hastings, the group’s vice president of external and state affairs.
Esters’ 20-year sentence runs consecutively to the life sentence, meaning it begins at the conclusion of the 30-year term.
His mother, Felicia Armstrong, apologized to the victim’s family on her son’s behalf.
“I’m sorry for the tragedy,” she said. “It’s a tragedy both ways.”
Armstrong then told her son she loved him.
“I love you too, Mom,” he replied.