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Southern Arizona Online, a publication of the Tucson Citizen

eastlack smiles

John Eastlack smiles on the stand.

He grinned throughout his trial, sometimes chuckling at inappropriate moments as he testified about killing the kindly philanthropists, who were in their 80s.
And when he was sentenced to die, Eastlack seemed to shrug off execution, saying it was better to "burn out than fade away."
But the image of the grinning killer is not the Eastlack that Norgard knows.
"He's a real loving person," she said. "John was very cuddly. Even as a teen, he'd sit on my lap."
Not knowing how damaged his brain was, Norgard believed she and her family could make up for the heartbreak Eastlack experienced as a baby.
He was taken from his parents at birth and moved from home to home. One foster family returned him because they were going on vacation and didn't want the hassle of taking a baby along.
He was unable to form a loving relationship with any adult.


But Norgard believed her family could provide everything the child needed to be a success.
There were problems early on.
For as long as she can remember, Eastlack stole things and lied.
"He stole from my purse his whole life, and from his dad, his sister, his playmates," Norgard said. The stealing started in preschool, with anything Eastlack saw that he wanted.
His adoptive parents noticed odd behavior early on.
Norgard said he would entertain himself for hours with a pebble he found on the floor.
On his tricycle, he would struggle through potholes. His brain just didn't get the message that it would be better to ride around them.
By first grade, his parents were so concerned that they took him to a counselor.
"We were told he was irresponsible and made bad choices. That's all we had to go on. I had heard about fetal alcohol syndrome, but it never hit me. I never made the connection with John. Nobody guessed his brain didn't have all the parts he needed."
Eastlack was much like his birth father, a man who Norgard believes also had FAS. "Like John, he was sociable, likable. But he always did dumb things."
Not long after John was born, his birth father was shot dead by police as he ran after stealing from a pinball machine, Norgard said.
His mother, a young girl from Minnesota, had been taught by her mother to shoplift. She passed that knowledge on to her own daughter, Eastlack's sister, whom she raised.
Like his father, Eastlack did not do well in school. The family moved from Minnesota to Tucson in 1972, and John attended preschool at Second Street School.
"The teachers liked him, but it was always like he was in the wrong place," Norgard said. "He wasn't a mean kid. He wasn't a violent kid. But he was always on the edge."
She said he had trouble learning. "He didn't learn to read until much later, and he had major trouble learning to spell. He'd get it, and then five minutes later it would be gone. It was so frustrating."