The Kid Bounces Back

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The attorney ended by saying that his client wanted to make "a very brief statement." The admitted killer then stood up and mumbled, "I would like to say I'm sorry to his father and to his mother for what happened." He then sobbed and sat down with his parents.

The killer's father asked to speak. "Well, I'd just like to say that, you know, I know that he is very sorry, and I'm sorry," he said. "If there's anything I could do to help them, I will.

"And I'm worried about my son because, you know, I know what he did was wrong and stuff like that. Me and my wife were just hoping he can get help. He needs help -- he has for some time -- and I couldn't find any help for him. And it's led to this.

"And I apologize, because it's probably as much my fault as it was anybody else's."

He sat down, and then it was his wife's turn. "I apologize immensely for what has happened. It really is a tragedy, and I'm sorry that child is gone. Like his father said, I know [our son] needs a little help. He's had a tough time with, you know, in his life...I feel real guilty for that...I'm very sorry to [his] family for the loss of their son, because I don't know what I would do if I lost mine."

After the fourteen-year-old's parents spoke, the victim's father addressed the court. He didn't believe the accused's claim that the shooting was an accident. The boy might not have meant to pull the trigger, he said, but he'd pointed a loaded gun at his son's head. His ex-wife was still too upset to attend the sentencing, he added, so he and the boy's maternal grandmother were going to have to do the talking.

"Me and my family have been going through a pretty hard time, too," he said. "And my son will never come back. And there's not a day that goes by that, you know, any little thing can trigger memories and really upset me and stuff.

"And my daughter's having a real hard time. His mother is having a very hard time...He'll be missed forever. And when [this older boy] gets to go on with his life, it will still be in my heart every day that my son is not there forever."

The man tried to continue but choked on his words and had to pause before he could go on. "He looked just like me. He sounded just like me, same sense of humor, and I can never get him back."

The victim's grandmother was next. She was haunted by the image of her grandson lying on the bloodstained couch. The families of the two boys had spoken briefly about a week after the shooting, but there'd been no contact since. She felt that someone needed to speak on behalf of her daughter who, she told the court, "is having a real, real hard time accepting all of this."

"She would like to have justice done, but in the process, no harm to the [killer], you know, just some help through the community. It's a great loss. I can't even handle the situation...My daughter and my grandkids are hurting."

The judge ordered the youth to stand at the lectern. "Your irresponsible behavior, your criminal behavior, has destroyed the lives of two families...Frankly, I don't think that you're remorseful at all. And that's consistent with what your behavior has been like throughout your early life."

The judge turned to the youth's parents. "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I have to say that while I believe that you folks bear some of the responsibility because he didn't have the life that a lot of kids in the community have had and deserve...I also am aware that there are other children who come from broken homes, or the support system isn't there, and their conduct isn't as irresponsible or as criminal as was your son's conduct in this case."

Turning back to the youth, the judge said his case "screams for the maximum sentence. If I could give you a longer sentence, I would." But all he could hand out was two years in a Division of Youth corrections facility, and one more unusual requirement based on a request from the victim's father, who wanted the slayer to be reminded once a year of what he'd done and whom he'd hurt.

"I will make it a condition of this sentence that you do write a letter of apology," the judge said and, nodding toward the slain boy's father, added, "and that on every Father's Day, you send him a Father's Day card."

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Steve Jackson