Convicted on Mother's Day
Yvonne Wanrow's fight for life
Yolanda Alaniz
volume:  
volume 2
issue 2
Fall 1976
First there was Joan Little, a jailed Black woman.

Then came Inez Garcia, an angry Chicana. And now the name of Yvonne Wanrow, an Indian from the Colville Tribe, has been added to the roster of minority women forced to resort to a deadly weapon in defense of themselves or their children against the violent crime of rape.

All three women refused to be victims in the time-honored tradition of female passivity. And because they fought back, they were all charged with murder.

On Mother's Day three years ago, an all-white jury in Spokane, Washington, found Wanrow, the mother of three children, guilty of second-degree murder for killing a deranged male who tried to sexually molest her 11-year-old son. Since that day, her energetic and determined fight to vindicate herself has elevated her to a heroic symbol of resistance to the sexist and racist criminal justice system.

Wanrow's appeal is presently under consideration by the Washington State Supreme Court. Nine white, middle-class male judges will either entitle her to a new trial or condemn her to prison for as long as 25 years.

"Any day the court may reach its decision, or it could be six or eight months," Wanrow said. "Nobody knows for sure. It scares me. No matter what the decision is, we will have to be ready."

This young mother's desperate battle for justice began on the night of August II, 1972 when she fatally shot William Wesler, a previously convicted child molester.

Wanrow's children were being cared for at the home of a friend, who called Wanrow to inform her that Wesler was bothering the boy, Darren. Wanrow rushed to her children while her brother-in-law located and confronted Wesler, who had left the vicinity. Later, however, a drunken and abusive Wesler barged into the house. When he refused to leave, Wanrow took her gun from her purse and shot him. The bullet went straight through his heart. .

The state prosecution based its case on a tape recording of her phone call to the Spokane Police reporting the shooting. This recording was made without Wanrow's knowledge or consent. The prosecutor claimed that she had acted calmly and coldly, not in fear or outrage, as evidenced by her voice on the phone; which was controlled and free of hysteria.

To Wanrow, such an accusation is a product of the rankest racism, attesting to the ignorance and arrogance of whites who cannot conceive of another culture that breeds self-control instead of hysterics in a time of stress.

The all-white jury readily agreed with the state, and she was sentenced to serve two concurrent 20-year prison terms for murder and assault, plus one 5-year term for use of a deadly weapon.

Before the trial, Wanrow was a quiet, retiring person, devoted to her family, to poetry and to art. Since her conviction, she has become an eloquent speaker, assiduous journalist, and proficient organizer. She has traveled across the country and to Europe to build public support and raise the funds so urgently needed for her legal defense.

If the Court rules in her favor, she will be entitled to a retrial, but she prefers not to have to undergo another trial. The prosecutor will decide whether or not to appeal that decision. If she loses the appeal, pressure can be put on the prosecutor for a change or reduction of sentence.

But she is worried and apprehensive. "I need people to help organize my defense efforts, concentrating on asking the prosecutor to stop any further proceedings when the decision finally comes down," she says.

Aided by her sisters, whom she calls "the little people," Wanrow publishes a newsletter, The News, to fuel and coordinate defense efforts. Working out of her home in Inchelium, Washington, the family publicizes their need for immediate funds in order to maintain this newsletter.

Wanrow will travel anywhere to speak, so long as her expenses, including fee, are covered. On October 22, she was a featured speaker at the Native American Women's Forum presented by the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women at the University of Washington in Seattle. From November 15 through 18, she will appear in Phoenix, Tucson and Tepee, Arizona; the Tucson engagement is co-sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, ACLU and Native American Solidarity Committee. She flies to New York on December 9 for the 10th Anniversary meeting of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is coordinating her legal case.

Joan Little's experience is extremely meaningful to Wanrow. "People have come to help me as they did Joan Little," she says. "If Little had not had national support, she could not have won. That is why I am asking people from all over to help me now."

Like Little and Garcia, Wanrow's crusade for freedom embodies the struggle of all women to protect themselves and their loved ones from the injury and brutality stalking them in a decadent society rife with torment for nonwhites, women, and young people. In their desperate fight for survival and emancipation, Wanrow, Little and Garcia strike at the very underpinnings of a system that survives because of the free labor, culturally-imposed submissiveness and sex-object status of women.

The capitalist class and its legal lackeys are extremely hostile to uppity minority women who take unilateral action against male prerogatives, and Wanrow sorely needs increased public notice, support, and technical assistance.

Letters of support and funds should be sent to: Yvonne Wanrow, Indian Defense Committee, P.O. Box 49, Inchelium, WA 99138.