A Grammar Geeks’s Examination of a Note – Part 1

A condensed version of this post was used in Aggravated, where I covered the most important points in a note that Rhonda Bresnick produced for Hanna at the request of Hanna’s mother, Darla. I have always had suspicions about the note, and how it was created. Rhonda claimed she wrote it soon after a 2003 rodeo, but she didn’t produce until two years later. It became an important piece of evidence for the prosecution. This is the first of two posts about the note. The second one will appear tomorrow.

Some Thoughts About the Note

Below is the text of Rhonda’s undated note. It’s capitalized and punctuated just like the original, which was typed except for Rhonda’s signature, which was handwritten.

hey hanna. i know that we really dont get along but i know that you really need me to do this for you. the night of the deep springs rodeo when you and i went together…..i really dont remember that much from that night or any specific incidents. what i do remeber though is thinking that you and the man who picked us up seemed really involved in each other, or he seemed really envolved in you. i really didnt think anything of it at the time, but now that i sit here and think about it i realize how serious it could have been. all i really remember about that night was that we were in a small truck and you sat in the middle. he took us to a water tower and let us go inside. i also remember that in the truck, everytime i would look over at you he would have his hands on you. i never wanted to say anything because I figured that it was nothing to be concerned about, until you asked me about it. i’m so sorry that i can not be on more help to you but this is all i remember from that night. i do remember that things did not seem right and i really didnt want him to drop me off and you stay with him. i sensed that something was out of place, and im sorry that i cannot remember more from that night. i really hope that this can, in some way help you.

all my love,

Rhonda Bresnick

rhonda bresnick

When I saw the absence of capitalization and internal punctuation (in words like “dont” and “didnt”), the former English teacher in me rose, grumbling, to the surface. After a bit of study, I realized there were only three misspellings (“envolved,” “remeber,” “everytime,” and possibly “can not”), plus one weird phrase (“sorry that i can not be on more help to you”). I’ll parse those in a minute, but aside from those few things, the rest of the note is punctuated almost perfectly, and is written (for the most part) with clear, logical phrasing. That helps me believe that the note wasn’t written by a fourteen-year-old. The content of the note also contains clues that could help prove it was written long after the accusations were lodged in April 2004, not shortly after July 2003, as Rhonda claimed.

Let’s get the grammar out of the way first. Involved is spelled two different ways in the same sentence (“involved” and “envolved”), but the “e” and the “i” aren’t near each other on the QWERTY keyboard. How likely is it that someone spelled it correctly, and then misspelled it eight words later? The misspelling of “remeber” could, of course, just be a matter of not hitting the “m” key hard enough (presuming this was done on a typewriter, not with a word processor). The word “everytime” should be two words, of course, and the words “can not,” should technically be one word (“cannot” is the preferred current spelling, but “can not” isn’t technically incorrect). Why, though, did the note’s creator use both spellings? And wouldn’t a young person probably just say “can’t” instead? As far as the strange phrase, “sorry that i can not be on more help to you,” I think the writer meant to say “…of more help to you,” but the “n” and “f” also aren’t next to each other on the keyboard, so that doesn’t seem like a finger-on-the-wrong-key mistake either. Also, I think the phrase sounds more formal, more adult, than what a fourteen or sixteen year old would say. Someone that age might have left the “of” out, and just said “sorry I can’t be more help.”

Could someone other than Rhonda have typed the note, or maybe dictated it to her? In Trial #2, when Cleveland Sanford showed her a copy of the faxed note, he asked her if she recognized it. She said, “I typed it.” Wouldn’t “I wrote it” be the normal response? Was Rhonda being truthful about having typed it while trying to hide who composed it? I’m not a forensic linguist, but I believe this note was constructed long after the rodeo. The occasional misspellings and the lower case lettering seem deliberate to me, designed to appear as if it were a fourteen year old’s creation, with lower case characters attempting to represent the affectations of a young girl (think i’s dotted with hearts and that sort of thing – emojis weren’t in wide use back then). I think it could easily have been written by Rhonda or Hanna (or both of them working together) when they were sixteen; or even by Darla. I have no proof, of course. This is only speculation, but the note being typed, undated, and all in lowercase just feels deliberate to me, and reduces its credibility. We’ll look at the note line by line in the next post, and see if we can find some clues in it.

Michael Sirois

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