Living In A Unique Kind Of Hell

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Usually the hardest part of Correspondent Steve Hartman's on-the-road reporting is not finding people to tell a story, but convincing them they have one. Yet when he traveled to Idaho County, Idaho, he met Scott and Jennifer James, who were ready to share their very sensitive story.
Their hope is to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation.

"To let them know that they're not alone," says 26-year-old Jennifer James, a mother of two and a receptionist at the local hospital.

She moved to Idaho County, Idaho, when she was 12 to live with her grandparents, Shirley and Willard Hazelbaker.

"They took me to my ball games. They took me to school. They bought my school clothes. They did everything parents do," she recalls.

And yet it was anything but a normal childhood, for almost every week, from seventh grade until freshman year, Jennifer James was molested by her grandfather, she says.

"I would just wake up and there he'd be," she says, recalling how he would touch her. "I would just cry myself to sleep."

It was a secret that lasted eight years, until her husband Scott James, an avid trap shooter, decided maybe the time had come to bury a lot more than just his wife's childhood memories.

"A gun would be too quick. Something has to be painful...last a long time, what he did to her," he says, indicating that he was thinking of taking justice into his own hands.

But instead, Scott James went to see his preacher and told him all about Willard Hazelbaker. The preacher then told the authorities, and soon Jennifer James found herself in the middle of a police investigation.

"They didn't ask me, you know, how I felt about it, if I wanted it to happen. It just kind of happened," she says.

But the hardest part was yet to come.

To build a case against Willard Hazelbaker, the Idaho County Sheriff's Department asked Jennifer James to do something she had never done before: confront her grandfather.

So on Valentine's Day 1996, she called him - and the tape was rolling.

The following is the phone conversation:

Jennifer James: "You don't think what you did was wrong?"

Willard Hazelbaker: "Not necessarily. It may have been inappropriate. I don't think it's something I should be punished for."

Jennifer James: "Wll I'm kind of being punished for it."

Hazelbaker was arrested that very day and later pled guilty. He spent six months in prison.

"Well it isn't something you'd want to repeat," says Hazelbaker, when asked if he had any regrets.

"What I did - happened. I didn't say it wouldn't. I didn't say it didn't. I made it right with the Lord," Hazelbaker adds.

"He still to this day has a hard time saying what he did was wrong," says Jennifer James.

And yet he was paroled at the first opportunity, partly because someone in town had sent a letter to the judge. The letter asked that Willard Hazelbaker be set free. And it was signed Jennifer S. James.

"I didn't want him to die in prison - was a big thing - even though I sent him there for a good reason. It would just (be) too much to deal with," she says.

Torn between loving him and loathing him, Jennifer James says molestation victims live in a unique kind of hell. But coming out with it, she says was the best thing she ever did.

And if her chance meeting with Hartman happened for a reason, she says, it is to encourage all the others that she knows are out there to do the very same thing.

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