Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

Foster mother remembers victim in overdose slaying case


BROOKSVILLE - A year and a half after Krista Rodgers was found dead in a Spring Hill hotel room, Meghan White stood in front of Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. this week facing a first-degree murder charge.

The arraignment was the first time Rodgers' foster mother, Cindy Jewtraw, had ever seen White in person.

"She never even looked over at us," Jewtraw said. "My heart was pumping."

White, 38, is accused of injecting Krista Rodgers with the opiate Dilaudid while they were staying at a hotel in the 6200 block of Nature Coast Boulevard in Spring Hill. Rodgers, 22, died as a result of a drug overdose, according to law enforcement, and White has admitted to detectives that she injected Rodgers.

Since then, Jewtraw has waited in the wings, hearing White be sentenced to five years in prison for shooting up her own daughter with Dilaudid just a few months before Rodgers' death. Sheriff's detectives kept in contact, letting her know White's case would be going before a grand jury in November.

Around Thanksgiving, she learned White had a court date scheduled for mid-December on charges of first-degree murder, premeditated.

To Jewtraw, the wait was worth it. She told detectives to make sure to dot their I's and cross their T's to make sure justice was done by Krista.

Krista Rodgers was 12 by the time she came to live with Jewtraw, her husband and numerous other adopted and foster children.

"She bounced around from home to home, and had three failed adoptions, and that took a toll on her," Jewtraw said. "She was only looking for love."

Rodgers was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which led to a low IQ, and was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and ADHD.

Rodgers spent time in a group home in Pinellas County, Jewtraw said, and eventually moved back to Spring Hill when she was aging out of the system and facing the prospect of going to live in an assisted living facility.

Rodgers came back to Spring Hill "lethargic" from multiple medications, Jewtraw said, but adjusted her meds to a point where "she was doing really good."

When Rodgers became pregnant with her son, Blaze, she stopped her medications entirely.

"She had a beautiful pregnancy," Jewtraw said, adding Rodgers gave birth without an epidural because she feared needles.

"I was just amazed, I couldn't believe it."

As her son grew, Rodgers had a hard time with motherhood. Rodgers ended up moving out with a friend she met at The Arc Nature Coast, and spending her social security check on frivolous things such as cell phones and junk food.

Jewtraw said because she was not Rodgers' legal guardian, and didn't have power of attorney, there was little she could do to keep her in her own home.

Other friends learned Rodgers had money coming in every month and would use her for it. Jewtraw said Rodgers wanted to be with anyone who paid attention to her.

"She was a good person," Jewtraw said. "She always wanted to be friends with someone. If she wasn't, it would bother her. She would dwell on it and always try to make it right."

In the summer of 2012, Rodgers met White and her daughter in an apartment complex, and later accompanied them back to the hotel. Jewtraw said Rodgers might have been interested in White's daughter, and wasn't sure of her own sexuality.

The police showed up at some point, Jewtraw said, and took away White's daughter, who was listed as a runaway from a Gainesville drug rehab center, Jewtraw said.

Rodgers stayed, and never left the hotel alive.

When the news of Rodgers' death came, it shook Jewtraw, who works as a nurse.

"I lost it ... I was numb from my head to my toes ... I couldn't work, think or talk," Jewtraw said.

Since then, she's been working to legally adopt Rodgers' son, who already shared her last name. Jewtraw said Rodgers wanted her to adopt Blaze while she was still alive, and was getting ready to legally change her last name as well.

When asked what her strongest memory of Rodgers is, Jewtraw roars in laughter, and describes a scene around the kitchen table when she first came to live with the family. Jewtraw had 14 foster and adoptive children at the time, and made a huge batch of chicken and dumplings to pass around the table.

Rodgers said she was starving, Jewtraw said, and scooped a portion 5 inches high on her plate. She sat there an hour and only got through a quarter of it.

Every chicken and dumpling night since, Rodgers asked for some, but "just a little bit."

"I was always her mom," Jewtraw said. "I wanted to treat her as an adult but I couldn't. I had to let her go and do her own thing."

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