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Car-jacker caught on tape as victim pleads for life


New York

The extraordinary cool of a New Jersey teacher when she found herself the victim of a car-jacking did not save her life, but it did give the police an unusually easy job in tracking down the man they believe killed her.

Not only did Kathleen Weinstein, 45, spend almost half an hour trying to reason with her assailant, she also secretly slid a mini-cassette recorder into a shirt pocket and taped the conversation.

The tape, which came to an end before she died, now stands as an unassailable item of evidence in the prosecution's case against the teenager accused of the crime. It is also a final testament to her willingness always to try to get through to even the most troubled of youngsters.

Police say they are now "beyond confident" that Michael LeSane, 17, is the man who burst into Mrs Weinstein's car at a New Jersey shopping mall on Thursday of last week. "His voice is on the tape. He is named on the tape," John Doran, a spokesman for the state prosecutor's office confirmed.

After ignoring the reasonings of Mrs Weinstein, Mr LeSane allegedly suffocated her with her own clothing and dumped her body by the side of a highway south of New York City. The accused turned 17 the day after the murder and had bragged to school friends that he had stolen a gold Toyota Camry as a present to himself - the kind of car driven by Mrs Weinstein.

The tape reveals Mrs Weinstein pleading with her assailant. "You haven't done anything yet. All you have to do is let me go and take the car," she says on the recording. "For my life, don't you think I should . . . let you take my car? For my life!" In an even voice, Mrs Weinstein tries to warn her attacker of what will happen if he kills her: "Don't you think they are going to find you?"

Well known for her patience with difficult children as a teacher in a New Jersey high school, Mrs Weinstein had recently introduced a special programme in the school called "Random Acts of Kindness". Students who went out of their way with kind gestures toward others were rewarded with prizes sponsored by local businesses, such as free pizza lunches or film tickets.

"It was her way," remarked James Ouellette, assistant headmaster of the school.

A makeshift memorial had been established yesterday under the main signboard outside the school that carried the message: "Mrs Weinstein. Thanks for your random acts of kindness. We will remember you."