Daughter speaks out after mother convicted in 1988 Miriam Rice murder

By  | 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - After her mother was found guilty of murdering Miriam Rice in 1988, Barbara Brewster's daughter spoke out Thursday.

A jury found Brewster was involved in the killing of the 28-year-old South Bend pregnant mother. NewsCenter 16's Kim Shine was the only reporter who sat down with Brewster's daughter.

After Wednesday's verdict, Paula Brooks said she felt overwhelmed. It took three decades, but now the little girl who initially spoke up after the Rice murder said justice has finally been served.

"It was very traumatic. Unfortunately, I heard her last words, and I've never forgot them," Brooks recounted.

Brooks heard those words when she was just 7 years old, and she still remembers the screams of Miriam Rice.

"'Oh, God, oh, God, please help me. I just want to have my baby.'"

Brooks said she was watching her 2-year-old brother at a campsite in Pinhook Park while Brewster, Brewster's then boyfriend, George Kearney, and Brooks' 6-year-old year old brother, Robert, were out getting food.

Shortly after hearing the screams, the three returned.

"They were covered in blood. Barbara and George had scratches on them, my brother had blood on him. It just wasn't a pretty sight," she described. "My mother wouldn't say anything to me, and all my brother would say is something bad happened."

Then, Brooks said her mom gave her two gruesome tasks: clean the blood off of Robert and from inside Kearney's van.

"I was given a bucket of water and some rags," she said. "There was blood on the ceiling, blood on the seats, back of the seats, there was blood on the floor, it was on the floorboard, like the flooring of the van."

Brooks testified Tuesday that she found a bra and an earring inside the van, which she gave to Kearney, who was burning bloody items in a fire pit. She also noticed that a hammer and others tools were missing.

Later, she saw news reports at her Aunt Helen Partin's house about a missing woman near Pinhook Park and confessed to Helen that "something" had happened. Helen anonymously called Crime Stoppers twice, placing Brewster and Kearney in the area, but nothing happened.

"I tried to help more 30 years ago, and I just felt like nobody would pay attention to me because I was a child," Brooks said.

But as an adult, Brooks' voice did matter. In fact, she helped bring this case to trial. It was her letters to an imprisoned Kearney that he said convinced him to confess. And both Brooks and her brother Robert testified against their mother at her trial.

Now 38 years old, regret still follows Brooks. Both she and her brother are forever changed, and so is Rice family.

"I am very sorry for what my mother did, and I'm very, very sorry that I couldn't help. But I wanted to. I was scared and frightened, and I didn't know where to go," she said.

And after having a child herself, Brooks said she doesn't hate her mom, but Barbara Brewster got what she deserved.

"Don't get me wrong, I love my mom, she will always be my mom. But I can't change what she did," Brooks said. "I mean, that is my mother, and I hate to think that I'm putting her away, but what she did was horrendous."

In a statement, Rice's family said they prayed for this justice. They said no verdict would reverse their losses, but they are thankful for such a long-awaited result.

Kearney pleaded guilty before dying in March.

Barbara Brewster returns to court for sentencing on Aug. 2.

A few years after the murder, Rice's husband, Jeff, and their young son, James, moved away from South Bend. James was 3 years old when his mother was killed.

Both were in the courtroom throughout the trial to see Rice's killer convicted.