Longform

The Kid Bounces Back

Page 11 of 18

On the day of sentencing, the thin, pale fourteen-year-old in a jail jumpsuit was brought into the courtroom and seated with his parents at the defense table. The victim's mother was absent. The killer's parents told the attorneys that they were supposed to give her a ride, but when they went by the trailer that morning, she wasn't there.

"She's pretty tore up," the killer's mother added.

The victim's father was also a no-show. The victims' assistance office was going to need to come up with "emergency funding" to fly him in from California, the prosecutor told the judge when he came into court. Perhaps, the prosecutor suggested, the sentencing should be postponed.

As the judge considered the request, a juvenile social services investigator reported that the teen killer was "not doing well" at the juvenile facility. He'd spit at guards and other inmates and was "engaging in conflicts."

At this, the public defender rose to note that the fourteen-year-old's father had been trying to exert "some influence over his behavior." But, the attorney admitted, there had been problems in the past trying to control the boy. The attorney also noted that the teen's parents wanted the sentencing closed to the media. "There's already been a significant amount of coverage of this event," he said. But the judge replied that given the nature of what had happened, "the public has a right to know what we do here." The killer's mother shook her head.

Finally, the judge decided that because of "the enormity of what's at stake," he would wait until the murdered youth's mother and father could come to court and speak. He rescheduled the sentencing for October. In the meantime, he cautioned the boy, who had been sitting glumly at the defense table, to straighten up before the next hearing. If the errant behavior continued at the juvenile facility, it might not go well for him at sentencing. "Do you understand?"

"Yes," the boy answered.

Two weeks later at the sentencing, the victim's mother was still missing. The prosecutor told the judge that although the teen killer had toned down his act after the lecture, his attitude remained the same.

"The most troubling thing about this entire case was that about two days after he pled guilty, I got a call from the juvenile facility," the prosecutor said. "I have never gotten a call from them. They said something was wrong. 'He's going around bragging about what he did'...At that point in time, I kind of chalked it up to, 'Well, maybe he's having a tough time dealing with it, or maybe they're misinterpreting things.'

"But when I talked to them a couple days ago, Your Honor, they said, 'No, that behavior continued throughout the entire thing.' And I kept asking them question after question, trying to rephrase it in any way that would help me understand what it was that he was actually doing and why the people at the facility thought he was bragging about it. No matter how I asked it, their analysis always came up the same, 'He's going around saying, hey, he just killed someone; hey, he's only going to get two years.'

"But the worst part was when I asked them, 'Have you noticed any signs, anything at all, of any sort of remorse?' And I quote the supervisor when she said -- and she sort of laughed when she said this -- she said, 'You know what? He has shown the remorse of someone who stole a candy bar.'

"Yes, he cries at times," the prosecutor went on, "but it's interesting he only seems to show that when he thinks people are watching."

When it was his turn, the defense attorney insisted that his client had shown him "nothing but remorse" and was "a very sad child who was having a very difficult time dealing with the fact that his actions led to the death of one of his best friends."

"Your honor, [he] did take some actions to try and cover this up, but these were the actions of a terrified child who made a most horrible mistake, not the actions of somebody with the intent to do harm to anybody."

The defense attorney said he didn't want to go into much detail in open court about his client's past, but said that he "would just like to tell the Court that he has had quite a rough start in life." Looking over at the boy's parents, he quickly added, "He does have two loving parents, but his family situation has not always been the most stable."

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Steve Jackson