PILOT EDITORIAL - New lows in the Wendelsdorf case

Tuesday, December 12, 2000

We can recall when the case surrounding the death of Shelby Duis was about the slaying of a child. It has now turned into a dirty little sex story, a sordid he-said-she-said affair in which the court and media seem more interested in who is sleeping with who than if it is bringing anyone to justice.

Julie Ballantini heard an alleged confession that Jesse Wendelsdorf seems to admit to having made, although he claims it was made up to give her a sick thrill. She says she thought she was doing the right thing to bring it to the attention of Shelby's mother. When law enforcement pressed her to record a conversation with Wendelsdorf, she did it.

Suddenly, it seems more like Ballantini is on trial for something than are the two who were on trial for murder. She was understandably asked about her

personal relationship with Wendelsdorf, necessary to establish whether she could be a fair witness. But to have her pubic hair and breasts debated in a courtroom and the media seems a bit too perverse for even this horribly twisted case.

For her trouble, she's been called a trial "groupie" in the courtroom and the news, her past receipt from a motel, has been drug out in public, and the media has rushed to interview staff at a local motel about her alleged habits there.

Perhaps, if there is enough doubt of credibility or relationship, Ballantini should not be able to testify against Wendelsdorf should he go to trial on perjury and/or other charges. That was never her apparent intent. She made the taped conversation in hopes of providing more information for a fair hearing in sentencing Heidi Watkins, mother of Shelby Duis, and there is no indication she has ever met that woman.

She felt that she was doing the right thing to come forward with it. We wonder if she still feels that way after the sleazy testimony. If it is Wendelsdorf's voice on that tape, and he has not denied that, we see little reason that it should not stand as evidence, and the sordid little details, allegations and conjectures springing up around this case still do nothing to change what is recorded on that reel of tape.

Maybe, just maybe, we will get past the dirty little sex stories at some point, and remember that this court situation is supposed to be about a little child who died so needlessly.