November 27, 2014

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Teen killer Daniel Kovarbasich talks to Oprah about abuse history

Convicted killer Daniel Kovarbasich and his family told their story in Monday’s broadcast of “Oprah.”

The North Ridgeville teen appeared with host Oprah Winfrey on a show dedi­cated to victims of sexual abuse killing alleged abusers. Daniel was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault for the Jan. 22 slaying of Duane Hurley at Hurley’s North Ridgeville home. He was sentenced by county Common Pleas Judge James Burge to five years probation and residential treatment.

Daniel Kovarbasich sits on the stage with Oprah Winfrey on her talk show Monday afternoon. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

Daniel Kovarbasich sits on the stage with Oprah Winfrey on her talk show Monday afternoon. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

Daniel, who has admitted beating Hurley with a pickle jar then stabbing him 55 times, told of the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of Hurley and of the killing.

“I just seen the pickle jar, and I just picked it up and hit him with it and then, molester gone,” Daniel said.

The broadcast did not sugarcoat what hap­pened. It showed crime scene photos, including at least four showing at least part of Hurley’s dead body, and Winfrey told of a “gruesome scene” with “blood spatters and smears on the walls” and audio of Daniel’s father, Terry Kovarbasich, saying that Daniel’s hands were “just caked with blood.”

Daniel said he does feel remorse over what he did, but his feelings are mixed.

“I do know I killed a man, you know,” he said.

“That’s not right. I mean, I don’t feel great for killing someone. I know that’s wrong. I feel … I feel relieved, though, now, if you can understand what I’m saying. I feel relieved because every­thing is done, but I feel bad to an extent.”

The studio audience sat quietly for the interview and was not invited by the show to ask questions.

After the introduction, Winfrey walked Daniel through telling his story of being “groomed” by Hurley from the moment they met at Daniel’s elementary school, when Hurley allegedly asked Daniel to watch his dog for a few minutes and paid him $30.

Parents Terry and Donna Kovarbasich said they were initially suspicious of Hurley, and checked to see if he was a registered sex offender. Finding nothing, they said, they still brought Daniel to and picked him up from Hurley’s home, where Daniel was doing odd jobs for money.

“Duane welcomed us into his home,” Terry said.

“He seemed very genuine, and for almost a year, every time Daniel would go over there, my wife and I would go with him. Then we let him in. He was part of the family after that.”

Money was tight in the Kovarbasich home, Donna said, and Hurley used that to his advantage to not only gain access to her son through his working there, but to also ingratiate himself to her and Terry. She told of a time where she said she had to wait until payday to buy detergent, and Hurley bought it for her.

“I mean, he was a great guy,” she said. “Who wouldn’t like someone like this, you know?”

More than once, Winfrey — who has publicly disclosed her own sexual abuse — pointed out that Daniel’s story mirrors a point she said she was “trying to make and (has) been trying to make for 25 years.”

“The bogeyman doesn’t wear bogeyman clothes,” Winfrey said, “and that the bogeyman is the guy next door and is somebody’s father, somebody’s son, somebody’s uncle, because if he were acting suspicious or acting weirdly or strangely, then …”

“The game wouldn’t work,” Terry chimed in.

“So the grooming process, which I for years have been trying to, you know, tell the world about, that if a sexual molester is any good at his job, his No. 1 job is to make the child feel that they are a part of it so that they don’t tell, because once you tell, his game is up,” Winfrey said.

Daniel told of the first time things turned sexual with Hurley. Even though Daniel was too young to drive, he said that Hurley let him drive his Dodge Stratus. Then, when Daniel asked for the keys one time, he said that Hurley insisted that Daniel show him his penis.

“I’m like, whatever,” Daniel said. “Whipped out my Johnson. Then he wanted to touch my genitals.”

From there, Daniel said, the demand for sexual favors increased. When Daniel wanted to drive Hurley’s Corvette, he said Hurley told him, “Bigger toys, bigger things.”

Daniel told of an incident two weeks before the slaying when, while he was asleep on Hurley’s couch, Hurley sodomized him.

“I acted like I didn’t know,” Daniel said. “I’m starting to be mad. I’m starting to hate.”

The day of the killing, Daniel said Hurley made a comment about Daniel’s upcoming anniversary with his girlfriend, hinting that Daniel would need money. Daniel took that to mean Hurley would want sex in exchange for that money.

At that point, Daniel told Winfrey, he “snapped.”

He said he’d had no idea that he had stabbed Hurley so many times.

Terry Kovarbasich said the shame his son and other male victims feel at being molested make it almost impossible to tell an adult.

“I was kind of angry that (Daniel) didn’t come to me,” he said. “We’ve taught them ever since they were young, you know, you’ve got to tell. We’ve taught them about these things, and I was shocked that somebody could get past my radar like that.”

Daniel agreed.

“I was the one who showed him my genitals, which started it, and (Hurley) kept using that against me. ‘Well, you know, what would your parents think?’ ” he said. “I just felt like I had to be there. I had to go there, and even if I didn’t, you know, he’d come find me. Like, you know, if I tell him, ‘No, I’m not going to come over,’ then he was going to say something.”

Daniel’s parents said they blame themselves.

“I should’ve saw it from a mile away, but I didn’t,” Terry said. “And now we’re here.”

Daniel’s brother, Greg, told Oprah he had noticed a change in his brother.

“I started noticing, like, in his eyes,” Greg said. “He just started changing. He started acting up in school. Just total change. Started smoking. Never did that before. Hates it as much as me, and then he starts smoking.”

Winfrey thanked Burge, the judge who handled Daniel’s case, for letting Daniel out of jail for the taping, where he has been held while the judge’s staff try and find a residential treatment program that will accept him. She also referred to Burge as “a very enlightened person.”

Winfrey quoted Burge as saying, “If we can prevent one more case of abuse and prevent another horrible death, it would be a public service announcement worth making.” The Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office, Winfrey said, was contacted by the show for a statement but did not return calls. Prosecutors are appealing Burge’s sentence.

The second half of the show portrayed the dark side of taking the law into your own hands, showing the sad fate of Ellie Nesler, the California woman who shot the man accused of molesting her son, Willie, during a court proceeding.

The killing and Nesler’s subsequent prison term tore her family apart.

Her children, Willie and daughter Rebecca, were raised by different relatives. Losing both his mom and his sister at such a vulnerable time set Willie on a destructive path. He is currently serving a 25-yearto- life prison term in California after his conviction in 2005 for stomping a neighbor to death.

Ellie Nesler served three years of her 10-year sentence, and then served more than three years in prison following her 2002 conviction for selling and possessing meth. She died of breast cancer in 2008.

Rebecca is married and has children. She recently visited her brother in prison, accompanied by NBC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams.

Contact Melissa Hebert at 329-7129 or mhebert@chroniclet.com.