Boy pleads guilty in NYC shopping-cart shove case

November 18, 2011 - 8:30 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A 12-year-old boy admitted Friday to his role in a stunt that seriously hurt a stranger — dropping a shopping cart that plummeted onto a woman's head from a walkway four stories above.

The day before a 13th birthday he'll spend in custody, the boy pleaded guilty to assault in a case that has spurred soul-searching and commentary well beyond the city limits. Another 12-year-old also has been charged, both of them as juveniles.

The boy who pleaded guilty could face a punishment of up to 18 months in a juvenile facility, time that could be extended annually up to his 18th birthday. A judge is due to decide Dec. 6; he remains in detention in the meantime.

With his mother and lawyer beside him, the boy acknowledged he'd held the shopping cart over a walkway railing Oct. 30 at a shopping center in struggling East Harlem.

"I knew people was down there and somebody could have got hurt," he said in a quiet voice.

Somebody did get hurt, and badly: Marion Salmon Hedges, a real estate broker and active volunteer with the Junior League, a community center for needy children and senior citizens, and other charity organizations. While she lives in a brownstone across town, she was at the shopping center with her teenage son to load up on Halloween candy at a discount store, since her block was a magnet for children from a range of nearby neighborhoods, her friends and family have said.

After the shopping cart plunged onto her, the 47-year-old Hedges was in a medically induced coma. She remained in serious condition Friday, said Leah S. Schmelzer, an attorney with the city Law Department. It represents the government in Family Court here. Hedges' son wasn't hurt.

The boy who pleaded guilty was at the shopping center that day without his mother's permission when he and the other accused boy flung the cart over the rail, Schmelzer said. The Associated Press generally doesn't report the names of minors charged with crimes.

The case made headlines in New York and spurred some commentary elsewhere.

"When 12-year-olds are dropping heavy objects on innocent passersby for sport . . . at least one of society's wheels is completely off the rails," read an editorial in The Augusta Chronicle, in Georgia. In The Washington Times, columnist Marybeth Hicks cast the case as a reflection of "a society that is loath to label children good or bad."

Shahabuddeen Ally, the lawyer for the boy who pleaded guilty, said the preteen was deeply sorry and "did the responsible thing" by owning up to his actions.

"He understands what he did," Ally said outside court, after unsuccessfully asking Judge Susan Larabee to release the boy temporarily for his birthday or Thanksgiving. She noted, though, that the boy had gotten a good report from the facility where he's being housed.

"You have leadership potential," she told him. "Keep that in mind."

Crying as she left court, the boy's mother declined to comment.

The other boy is due back in court next week.

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Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz.