13-Year-Old Killer Gets 8-Year Sentence
(CNSNews.com) - A judge on Thursday spared a 13-year-old murderer from spending the rest of his life in prison by ordering Nathaniel Abraham to be held in juvenile detention until age 21, when he will be released.
Wire service reports say that Abraham was convicted of an adult charge of second-degree murder, but Judge Eugene Moore called the law under which he was charged "fundamentally flawed.''
Abraham was 11-years-old when he shot Ronnie Greene Jr on October 29, 1997, outside a Pontiac, MI, convenience store. He has been held in a juvenile facility since he was arrested two day later.
The case gained national attention when Abraham became the first youth charged with first-degree murder to be prosecuted under a 1997 Michigan law that allows adult prosecutions of children of any age in serious felony cases.
In the debate over how to treat young offenders, some law officers said Abraham proves the need to get tough with kids who are a menace to society. But Amnesty International chose his frightened face to illustrate the cover of a 1998 report condemning America's justice system as being too harsh on juveniles.
Judge Moore had several options, ranging from life in prison with a chance of parole to a sentence of time already served. Prosecutors had sought a blended sentence of juvenile detention until age 21, followed by a decision on possible adult imprisonment.
But Moore said if society is committed to preventing future criminal behavior, rehabilitation through the juvenile system is the answer.
"The real solution is to prevent an adult criminal population ever from coming into existence,'' Moore said. The blended sentence "safety net removes too much of the urgency. We cannot see incarceration as a long-term solution.''
The prosecution had argued it was impossible to know if the boy would be rehabilitated. "Why bind your hands? It doesn't make sense,'' assistant prosecutor Lisa Halushka told the judge.
Defense lawyer Geoffrey Fieger argued against any adult sentence. "The eyes of the world really are on you, judge,'' he said. "I'm asking that this court take a stand ... the stand of justice.''
Moore said the juvenile system is the best answer for Abraham, although there are no guarantees.
"You clearly need to learn to think before you act. You have probably done the worst thing that can be done ... you are going to have to come to terms with this,'' Moore told the boy.
The prosecution based its sentencing recommendation in part on Abraham's record. He had been charged only once with a break-in but was suspected in nearly two dozen crimes, including burglary, larceny, home invasion, and arson.
Susan Peters, a social worker with the Department of Corrections, testified that the boy deserved a blended sentence. "What it actually came down to is my belief that this offense was too serious to take a chance that he might not be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, then at age 21 leave this court without any options,'' Ms. Peters said.
But Dr. Jerome Miller, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense, said an adult or blended sentence would not be effective.
"I think it would be setting up Nathaniel for failure,'' Miller said, adding that any infraction could be taken as basis for imprisoning Abraham at age 21 even if it wouldn't normally be considered a criminal act.
Thursday morning, a dozen people from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People showed up outside the court to protest the possibility of an adult sentence. "I hope the judge will show mercy and sentence him as a child,'' said H. Bill Mazey, a member of the chapter's executive committee.
At the trial in October, defense lawyer Fieger called the shooting a "horrible accident'' but argued that Abraham had no motive to kill Greene. Abraham had claimed he was aiming at trees when he fired a rifle and struck Greene, who died within hours.
Prosecutors said the boy bragged about the shooting.
Robin Adams, Greene's mother, said she hopes Abraham learns from his crime. "I hope he realizes what he did was wrong. He took a life,'' Adams said. "I think he needs to put God in his life.''