Saturday, November 15, 2008

Violent incidents in South Florida schools

• Miami Edison Senior High, March 2008: Police were called to the school after a violent melee broke out in the cafeteria. Two dozen students were arrested; a half dozen suffered injuries.

• Miami Norland High, February 2008: Javaris Cross, 17, was shot in the left ear while trying to break up a fight.

• North Dade Academy, February 2008: A 14-year-old girl attempted to gun down the principal who expelled her more than a year earlier. The gun jammed.

• Miami Carol City Senior, 2007: Teacher Sergio Miranda was shot in the back while taking a cigarette break outside school. The gunman, who had tried to rob Miranda and another teacher, was not a student at the school.

• William Dandy Middle, Fort Lauderdale, 2007: A 13-year-old girl slashed another, 15, in the face with a razor blade.

• Parkway Charter Academy, Miramar, 2005: On the bus to school, Camille Burke shot and wounded classmate Kaliesha Cheatham. Classmates said Cheatham and her friends taunted Burke about her hairstyle the day before. Burke pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and possession of firearm on school property and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

• Southwood Middle, Miami-Dade, 2004: Knife-wielding Michael Hernandez, 14, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of best friend Jaime Gough. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

• Piper High, Sunrise, 2002: Kern O'Sullivan stabbed and killed football player Courtney Carroll in the heart with a screwdriver. Sullivan was sentenced to six years probation after pleading guilty to charges of manslaughter.

• Lake Worth Middle, 2000: Student Nathaniel Brazill shot and killed teacher Barry Grunow on the last day of school because he was angry about being sent home for throwing a water balloon. Brazill was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

• Miami Killian High, 1996: At least two students were arrested and two others were badly beaten in a fight between blacks and Hispanics that spilled into the streets.

Father's imprisonment took toll on Dillard High shooting suspect


Teah Wimberly was a musically gifted daddy's girl.

The 15-year-old played four instruments and joined the Dillard High School marching band in hopes of one day playing in front of her father, Jevon Wimberly, an aspiring comedian and the girl's primary caregiver.

But Wimberly's goal was dashed after her father was jailed in 2006 for attempted murder. His sudden absence -- worsened by his refusal to let her visit -- sent Wimberly into a depression and triggered a troubling change in her behavior, court documents revealed.

Letters from family and friends hint that Wimberly's life went into a gradual tailspin that ended Wednesday, when she was arrested and charged with fatally shooting her longtime friend, 15-year-old Amanda Collette, in a school hallway.

''I wanted her to feel pain like me,'' Wimberly told Fort Lauderdale police after her arrest. Broward County prosecutors said Thursday they will charge her -- as an adult -- with first-degree murder.

According to friends, the girls had exchanged a series of emotional text messages Tuesday. Among them: messages from Wimberly professing her love for Collette and her rejection of her advances.

Wimberly had faced rejection before.

Her mother, Char Merritt Aukland, entered the U.S. Army after the girl was born and left Wimberly in the care of her paternal grandparents. Aukland, who now lives in Virginia, signed over temporary guardianship of her daughter to the grandmother in 1998 and reappeared in the child's life in 2001.

However, she has not maintained a relationship with Wimberly, who ''rarely visits her mother,'' court records said.


Though Wimberly's grandparents were an important part of her life -- they took her into their Fort Lauderdale home after her father was arrested -- court records show there was an inseparable bond between the girl and her father that, when cut, scarred her deeply. Jevon Wimberly is serving a 25-year sentence.

''Wimberly constantly asks when her father will be home, but no one has the answer at this time,'' wrote Cynthia Thomas, a sentencing consultant who interviewed members of Wimberly's family a year ago about how her life was affected by her father's imprisonment.

``The Wimberlys are concerned for [her] as she has been affected terribly by her father's absence.''

Wimberly's grandfather, John Wimberly, is a retired assistant supervisor for the state Department of Juvenile Justice who had more than 30 years of experience dealing with troubled youths.

Wimberly's grandmother, Shirley Wimberly, is a retired supervisor of the Broward County Office of Information Technology, where she worked for 30 years.

Several letters written by family, friends and clergy -- meant to sway the judge during Jevon Wimberly's sentencing for second-degree attempted murder on Dec. 7, 2007 -- all stress how his absence affected Wimberly.

The formerly promising teen became an uncontrollable behavior problem for her grandparents, according to court files.

The records do not explain the nature of the behavior problem, but they state that even neighbors noticed the change.

Wimberly, who barely knew her estranged mother, became so distraught that she was taken to a psychologist to help her cope, court documents state.

In a Nov. 25, 2007, letter to Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy III, Wimberly pleaded for mercy for her father. Included were pictures of Jevon and Teah Wimberly that displayed how close the two were.

In most of the pictures, the father was smiling as he embraced his only daughter.

''I want to take the time out to say I really love my daddy. All my life I've had my daddy and our bond is really strong,'' Wimberly wrote. ``When I found out he was gone I was really sad. We mean the world to each other, and I really want him back.''

Jevon Wimberly, known on stage as ''J Baby,'' was an up-and-coming comedian who often headlined shows at the Miami Improv.

He was Wimberly's primary caretaker since college, court documents show.

Wimberly developed a love for music and played the bassoon, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone and tuba. Her father was very supportive, becoming a band parent and active PTA member who chaperoned field trips and performances, court documents said.

''He hasn't missed a musical,'' Wimberly's grandfather wrote to Murphy.


In 2006, Jevon Wimberly was engaged, being scouted for a part in a sitcom and had just bought a two-bedroom town house in Lauderhill when his future was derailed by gunfire.

On Oct. 10, police reports state, Wimberly shot a man in the shoulder over a dispute involving a bag of missing DVDs.

Ever since, at Wimberly's request, his daughter was not allowed to see him and had never visited him in jail or since he was moved to a North Florida prison, ''because he does not want her to be subjected to the surroundings of the jail,'' wrote Thomas, the sentencing consultant.

They did speak on the phone frequently, however, records show.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A teen gets life while other killers get deal


All murders aren't the same.

Michael Hernandez, 14 and delusional when he stabbed his classmate to death in 2004, was given a life sentence last week. No parole.

Three days earlier, in Broward circuit court, Lonnie Lauriston, 23 when he beat 4-year-old D'Hamonie Francois to death, was sentenced to three years in prison.

In Palm Beach County this summer, Charles Tyson, 22, managed a 40-year deal after tossing his 9-month-old son from a moving car, then throwing him into a canal.

Charles Tyson will get out of prison. Michael Hernandez won't.

Jordy Foster, 24, of Lauderdale Lakes, also could outlive his prison sentence. In September, he got 45 years for killing a 2-month-old.

Olivia Gonzalez-Mendoza left prison in May after serving 15 years of her 40-year sentence for the abuse and murder of the child Miami knew as Baby Lollipops.


A mentally ill child sentenced to life without parole makes a brutal contrast to so many Florida killers canny enough to cop a plea.

Next week, Angel Toro, 55, a one-time member of the notorious Macheteros terrorist group who took a deal, leaves prison after serving 24 years for killing a bouncer in a Miami strip club.

Moise Opont, 19, of Poinciana near Kissimmee, took the deal. Ten days before Michael Hernandez was given his life sentence, Opont, who had a juvenile record and was on a burglary spree when he raped and murdered a 99-year-old woman, copped to second-degree murder.

Under the conceit of the Florida justice system, Michael was considered competent enough to reject the advice of his lawyer and turn down a 40-year deal for the stabbing death of a classmate at Miami-Dade's Southwood Middle School. As if a disturbed teen was as able as any adult to weigh the consequences of such a decision.

Unlike Michael, all but one of the teenage killers of a homeless man in Fort Lauderdale in 2006 will have another chance on the outside.

It's plain, looking at other murder cases settled in Florida this year, that the quality of the victim influences the sentence.

In Sarasota, two thugs received sentences of 30 and 15 years in February for the rape and murder of a homeless woman.


In September in New Port Richey, Adam Jones, 25, cut a plea deal -- 25 years for the murder and robbery of a drug dealer. In Shalimar near Fort Walton Beach, the kidnapping, robbery and murder of a drug dealer came out to 20 years in a plea deal for a career criminal named Marcus ''Meatball'' Gray. In Jacksonville, Leo Toby got 35 years for robbing and killing a drug dealer. In Palm Beach County, a 16-year-old got 25 years for killing a 9-year-old in a drive-by shooting. But it was a lousy neighborhood.

Earlier this year, Alex King, just 12 when he and his brother were convicted of crushing their father's head with a baseball bat in 2002, was released from state prison. His brother Derek, a year older, gets out next year.

At the same time Michael was on trial in September, a Miami jury heard mob hit man John Martorano testify in the trial of an FBI agent gone bad. Martorano, who admits to 20 murders, had served 12 years.

Martorano also could testify that all murderers aren't treated equally. It helps to be a career criminal, old enough and wily enough and sane enough to take the deal. Everything Michael wasn't.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

THE MADDIE CLIFTON SAGA: Her killer fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family

By Paul Pinkham,
The Times-Union

Few homicides have dominated Northeast Florida's consciousness like the murder 10 years ago Monday of Maddie Clifton.

Just 8 years old, she disappeared on Election Day from her family's Lakewood home. For a week she was simply gone. Hundreds of people searched Dumpsters and woods around the secluded Southside neighborhood. Police sealed off the area and interviewed neighbors. Yellow ribbons sprung up everywhere as people hoped and prayed Maddie would be found.

A week later, Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover made a grim and emotional announcement. Maddie's body had been found, stuffed under the water bed of her 14-year-old neighbor and playmate, Josh Phillips. Josh's mother made the discovery and alerted police. Thousands lined San Jose Boulevard for Maddie's funeral procession.

Phillips was indicted as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in Polk County, where his trial was moved because of publicity in Jacksonville. He was sentenced to a mandatory life term in prison, where he remains today.Phillips' story:

BOWLING GREEN - Josh Phillips remembers the exact moment he wrapped his teenaged mind around his life prison sentence.

At 16, he'd already been locked up two years for murdering his 8-year-old Jacksonville neighbor, Maddie Clifton.

He left the prison chow hall to see a line of gray-haired inmates with walkers and canes. The pill line.

"I was like, 'Wow, that's going to be me,' and that's when it really hit me," Phillips told the Times-Union in an exclusive interview at Hardee Correctional Institution. "I got real depressed when that happened. Then I realized ... it's going to be 60 years before I look like them."

Monday marks 10 years since Maddie vanished from her Lakewood home.

Her disappearance gripped Jacksonville like no other. Hundreds of volunteers combed through her secluded Southside neighborhood. Maddie's Kool-Aid smile graced billboards and T-shirts throughout the city. Images of her agonized parents dominated the news.

A week later, her body was found across the street by Phillips' mother, entombed under her son's water bed. The 14-year-old with no history of violence told police he panicked after accidentally hitting Maddie with a ball while playing because he was afraid of his dad's reaction. He said he beat her with a bat and stabbed her to keep her from crying. Authorities believe he killed her in his bedroom.

He was charged as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to a mandatory life prison term, with no hope of parole. The judge called him "monstrous."

Now 24, the boy who killed Maddie has grown up in prison. Oddly, the experience doesn't seem to have hardened him. But it has changed him.

Gone is the gangly, expressionless teenager who looked on flatly as his fate was sealed. In its place is a seasoned lifer who speaks of empathy and morality and fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family.

"I have this little apology litany that I go through to make certain that she knows that I'm sorry and also that I'm trying to make her life worth something. I'm trying because I'm still here," he said. "I want to be someone who can relieve suffering."

A week in denial Phillips said he thinks about Maddie all the time. It usually happens when he starts feeling sorry for himself.

"I start thinking, 'Man, it really sucks I missed out on this and that.' And as soon as I get there, I think, 'What did she miss out on?' " he said.

Those thoughts are far deeper than what was in his mind the week Maddie was missing.

He wouldn't discuss the murder with the Times-Union but said that week, as cops and strangers swarmed his neighborhood, he was in denial. He had Maddie's missing-child flier on his night stand and even helped hand out fliers.

He said it never occurred to him to run.

"Through the entire time, I was putting myself in a fantasy world that nothing had happened. That was my defense mechanism for everything when I was a kid," he said. "I never made the decision ... to ignore it. I just did."

State Attorney Harry Shorstein used that against him at trial, arguing that Phillips' ability to carry on with his victim under his bed was a sign of coldness.

Once in jail, he wouldn't talk about the case, not even with his lawyer, Richard D. Nichols. And Nichols did little to coax him, Phillips said. Nichols has since died.

"He didn't even really try to find out what happened," Phillips said. "I didn't help him."

He said their infrequent jail visits consisted of chess matches on a homemade board Phillips fashioned in his cell. Neither he nor his parents knew anything about the law, so when Nichols decided at trial not to call witnesses, they assumed he knew what he was doing, Phillips said. He said his mother questioned the strategy, but his father, now deceased, told them to trust the lawyer.

Had Nichols mounted a defense, jurors could have convicted Phillips of a lesser charge like second-degree murder or manslaughter, which would have meant a shorter sentence, said Phillips' new attorney, Thomas Fallis. Nichols' defense strategy is the subject of an appeal Fallis is preparing.

As one of Florida's youngest inmates, Phillips was an anomaly to the prison system. When he looks back now, he realizes he was lucky.

Too naive to know who meant him harm, he said he was fortunate to fall in with a group of older inmates who taught him how to survive and stay out of trouble. And he said he realizes that prison officials were protecting him by limiting his time in the yard and housing him in open barracks instead of a cell.

A chance at redemption

Two of the Jacksonville officials most responsible for Phillips' sentence now have second thoughts.

"It was a draconian sentence," Shorstein said. "If there were a case for executive clemency or parole, I would support it. Not for it to be done today, but for reconsideration of the life sentence."

Shorstein said he has no qualms about charging Phillips as an adult or with first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory life sentence. Those were the right decisions at the time because the crime was so shocking, he said.

But Shorstein said he regrets not offering a second-degree murder plea, which would have given the judge discretion, particularly because Phillips appeared to be a shy, normal teen who liked computers.

He said the law needs to take into account psychiatric research since 1999 that shows teens Phillips' age are less culpable than adults because their brains aren't developed enough to grasp long-term consequences or completely control impulses.

Former Sheriff Nat Glover agreed there needs to be accountability, but also hope for redemption.

"I know some people thought that sentence was appropriate, but that was a tough sentence for someone that young," Glover said. "I never got the feeling that it was a malicious, mean-spirited, calculated murder. It was kind of an impulsive act that, given a different set of circumstances, would never have happened."

Nationally there is a slow trend away from the tough juvenile sanctions wrought by a spike in violent crime in the '90s, said Northwestern University law professor Steven Drizin. Some states have eliminated life without parole in youth murder cases, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down death sentences for juveniles in 2005 based on the new research.

Florida Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, tried unsuccessfully for years to pass legislation that would allow parole for juvenile felons younger than 16. Even mass murderer Charles Manson comes up for parole, Geller said.

One of those who blocked the legislation was state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, former chairman of the criminal justice committee. Wise doubts lawmakers will ever undo the '90s legislation because they don't want to be responsible for releasing someone from prison who then commits a heinous crime.

"At what point do you become rehabilitated?" Wise said. "You can't know the future."

Maddie's mother said Phillips' sentence is appropriate.

"Josh did get a life sentence, but Maddie got the death sentence. She was only 8 years old," Sheila Clifton Delongis said. "He should not be cut a deal just because he was 14."

Delongis said she knew Phillips as a neighbor and has no doubt he knew right from wrong.

The need for hope

Phillips has dreams of freedom, but admits they might not be realistic.

"My sense is I'm going to get out one day. Whether I really believe it or not is not really the point," he said. "I just kind of superficially believe it enough to keep me going.

"I really don't know if I deserve it or not, but I know I want ... a second chance. Maybe I deserve to die in prison ... but I can't look at it like that. Doing that is just a cop-out. ... Why would I try to learn anything? Why would I try to improve myself? Why would I try to help anybody if I'm just going to lay down and die in here?"

Part of him is thankful he was prosecuted as an adult. It's a paradox. If he'd been tried in juvenile court, he'd be free now. But he doesn't think he'd be as rehabilitated or mature if he hadn't had to come to terms with dying in prison. He also said he would have been more easily manipulated in a juvenile facility, where peer pressure is stronger.

"It might have gone worse for me in some respects," he said.

Except for his mother, who visits faithfully, and the occasional letter from one of his brothers, Phillips has had no contact with anyone from his past.

He's also had no contact with Maddie's family. People have suggested he write them an apology letter, an idea he rejects as "cheesy."

"They deserve to hear it from me personally ... so they can see the sincerity," he said. "They won't be able to see it in a letter. They won't be able to see it in a phone call or ... on TV."

Delongis said she has no interest in talking to her daughter's killer, but Maddie's sister does. Now 21, Jessie Clifton said she wants to meet with him to get some answers.

"He changed my life," she said. "I'm not going there to be mean. I'm not going there to be rude. I just want to talk to him."

Maddie would be 18 today, probably in college. She'd likely be driving, working, dating - all the rites of youth.

Despite his incarceration, Phillips has been able to do some of those things. He got his GED, though initially prison officials told him he was too young. He's taken some correspondence college classes, and he works as a paralegal helping other inmates with their appeals.

He also plays guitar in a prison band and participates in a Christian prison ministry, Zen meditation and yoga. He can't imagine hurting anyone now.

"I've grown a lot," he said. "This has taught me to understand just about anybody's pain. I've learned to ... almost completely put myself in someone else's shoes and really feel whatever they're feeling.

"It's taught me to be a better person.", (904) 359-4107

Saturday, November 1, 2008

For Immediate Release - Tyler Edmonds Finally Receives Justice


November 1st, 2008


Justice for Juveniles advocates nationwide applaud the wise 12 jurors who listened to the facts and found Tyler Edmonds, not guilty on all charges in the death of Joey Fulgham. Cari Barichello, Co-Administrator of the nationwide online children's advocate group said " To say we are extremely pleased over
the not guilty verdict today is an understatement to say the least. Tyler has remained one of our largest priorities since his nightmare began at age 13, because we believed that Tyler was a victim of Kristi Fulgham just as Joey was." Barichello says that Tyler has stayed positive because of his Christian faith and love from his many friends, family and supporters throughout his tragic 6- year ordeal.

Donna Gallegos of said " This is a joyous day for Tyler and those who love and support him." Gallegos says Justice for Juveniles is extremely grateful to Barry Synder, a North Miami Beach criminal defense attorney who assisted Jim Waide and Victor Fleitas of Waide and Associates in Tupelo, by providing his expertise to the defense team who never gave up and fought a long hard battle
to prove Edmonds innocence. Without the assistance of The Innocence project of Mississippi, Amy Singer, CEO and founder of Trial Consultants Inc. a Fort Lauderdale Florida Jury Consulting firm, Radley Balko senior editor of Reason magazine and and many others, Edmonds would be spending his entire life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The Mississippi State Attorney insisted on wasting Mississippi's taxpayer dollars and most of Edmonds youth by trying 13- year old Edmonds twice after the Mississippi Appeals court overturned Edmonds first conviction. " As an child advocate for several years, I must say Tyler's prosecution is another sad example of America's justice system losing sight of what justice is suppose to be when children
are suspected or accused of crimes. Children are not adults and need not be destroyed in the name of vengeance, the way this boy's life almost was." Said John Osborn from New Jersey.


In January 2007 the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Tyler Edmonds who was 13 years old when charged with 1st degree murder of his half sisters husband, Joey Fulgham.

Tyler was convicted in July of 2004, with no forensic evidence other than a false confession he made after his half sister begged him to lie for her. Tyler recanted the confession a couple of days later. Tyler's half sister, Kristi Fulgham was convicted in December 2006 for Joey Fulgham's murder and sentenced to death.

The Mississippi Supreme court agreed that Dr. Stephen Hayne who performed the autopsy on Joey Fulgham, over-reached beyond his area of expertise when he stated that two fingers pulled the trigger of the 22-caliber rifle used to kill Joey Fulgham. The Supreme Court found that Dr. Haynes testimony was scientifically unfounded but carried heavy weight with jurors. The rifle was never recovered.

Edmonds adult half sister was convicted of the murder and sits on death row.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Teen faces charges in death of Orange County man

Susan Jacobson

Sentinel Staff Writer

11:12 PM EDT, July 15, 2008

A teenager was arrested late Tuesday on charges of murder, attempted murder and grand-theft auto after a 20-year-old man was found dead at home and his mother seriously injured, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said.

Matthew Braxton, 19, was arrested about 8:50 p.m. by a deputy assigned to the sheriff's Juvenile Arrest and Monitor Unit, said Jim Solomons, a sheriff's spokesman. He is suspected of killing James Walter Hufstetler and hurting his mother, Patricia Warren. A neighbor found them at their east Orange home on the 1100 block of Overdale Street about 10 a.m. Tuesday and called for an ambulance.

Investigators would not say how Hufstetler died or what injuries Warren suffered. Nor did they disclose a possible motive. Braxton was an acquaintance of the mother and son, Solomons said.

Deputies recovered Warren's 1994 Hyundai Elantra, which had been missing.

Braxton was convicted in April and September 2007 of grand-theft auto. Solomons said he also has a juvenile record, but details were not available.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Juvenile Justice

Some changes would improve legislation in the Senate.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

SINCE 1974, federal law has required that juveniles picked up for breaking the law be kept separate from alleged adult offenders -- and for good reason. Juveniles held in adult facilities are more likely to be attacked, more likely to commit crimes once released and more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities that house only minors. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider reauthorizing an updated version of the 1974 bill. The Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008 strengthens protections for juveniles while safeguarding judicial discretion to deal with exceptional cases. It also calls for preservation and expansion of programs that have been particularly effective in combating delinquency and crime among youth, including mentoring and after-school supervision. The bill should be passed, with some changes.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of states have adopted laws allowing juveniles to be charged as adults for certain serious crimes; prosecutors in these jurisdictions often have the last word on charging decisions. Those jurisdictions often also require that these juveniles be held in adult facilities. Under the proposed bill, even juveniles charged as adults must be held in juvenile facilities or out of "sound and sight" of adults in adult facilities unless a judge specifically orders otherwise. A judge must take into account the alleged offender's age, his physical and mental maturity, and the nature of the crime, among other factors; a judge must review every 30 days the decision to send a juvenile to an adult facility. This approach is sensible. The bill should be amended to explicitly allow prosecutors and other state officials to flag for the judge juveniles they believe would be a danger to other minors and so would be better held in adult quarters.

The legislation also takes a step in the right direction by setting stricter limits on detentions for status offenders -- those youths who are picked up for skipping school or running away from home. Such youths have not committed crimes and would not have been locked up for these infractions had they been adults. Studies show that these juveniles -- and the community -- are better served when they are directed to mentoring or school-based programs. As it is, judges in many jurisdictions may hold juveniles indefinitely for status offenses; the proposed bill would limit that to seven days. That's an improvement, but lawmakers should consider eliminating these detentions altogether.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet estimated the cost of the new juvenile justice bill. According to Justice Department figures, the existing version of the law cost taxpayers just under $300 million last year -- real money but a fair price to pay for smart and effective programs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Boy, 12, takes plea deal in tot's beating death

A 12-year-old Broward County boy accused of beating his toddler cousin to death with a bat was sentenced to 18 months in a high-risk juvenile treatment facility Wednesday after pleading no contest to second-degree murder charges.
The plea deal came just moments after the boy was found competent to stand trial.

After being released from the program, the boy will return home to be with his mother, Guerla Joseph, but is not allowed to have unsupervised contact with children under the age of 10.

The boy could have been sentenced to life in prison if he was convicted as an adult.

The boy, whom The Miami Herald will not name because of his age, has spent the past several months at a treatment facility in Tampa after being found incompetent to stand trial in January. Doctors then said he was too immature to understand the legal system.

On Wednesday, the soft-spoken boy said, ''Yes,'' to Judge Charles Kaplan when the judge asked if he understood what was going on.

''He got a second chance on life today,'' said Sandra Perlman, one of the boy's appointed public defenders. ``We are looking for a happily ever after story.''

That story got off to a tragic beginning.

Lauderhill police detectives said the boy, who was baby-sitting 17-month-old Shaloh Joseph at the time, confessed to beating her at the family's Lauderhill home Jan. 4 because she was crying while he was trying to watch television. He was alone with the girl and his 10-year-old brother, according to police.

Guerla Joseph, who has been adamant about her son's innocence throughout the case and had first objected to the plea deal, declined to comment after court Wednesday.

Her son could be returned home even earlier than the expected 18 months, said Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes Jr. His stay in the Tampa treatment facility will depend on his continued progress, he said.

Doctors testified Wednesday that the boy had made tremendous progress sine their last psychological evaluations in January, even understanding complex legal issues like plea deals and different court proceedings.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


"The death penalty is about revenge and hate, and revenge and hate is why my daughter and those 167 other people are dead today."

Bud Welch, father of Julie Marie Welch,
victim in the Oklahoma City bombing

"I have come to believe that the death penalty is not what will help me heal. Responding to one killing with another killing does not honor my daughter, nor does it help create the kind of society I want to live in, where human life and human rights are valued. I know that an execution creates another grieving family, and causing pain to another family does not lessen my own pain."

MVFHR board member, Vicki Schieber, testifying to the Subcommittee on the Constitution,
Civil Rights and Property Rights; Committee on the Judiciary; US Senate, February 2006

Friday, May 30, 2008

PETITION TO SUPPORT HR4300 Ending Juvenile Life Without Parole

Subject: PETITION TO SUPPORT HR4300 Ending Juvenile Life Without Parole

My Dear Friends:

We need to send this link to everyone we know and don't know. We need every signature of every person that can sign their name. After we send it to everyone we know, we should ask them to send it to everyone they know. The powers that be need to know that we mean business and want this legislation.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

End Juvenile Life Without Parole

Here’s a petition in support of HR 4300, which would end juvenile life sentences. We would like you to take the petition to your churches, hair dressers, work, any place you think people would be willing to sign. After the petitions are signed, they are to be mailed to:




Cat will coordinate everything and send on to our national legislators.

Thank You!


P.S. Any of my local friends wishing to sign this petition can sign mine.




(a) In General- For each fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in subsection (d)(1), each State shall have in effect laws and policies under which each child offender who is under a life sentence receives, not less than once during the first 15 years of incarceration, and not less than once every 3 years of incarceration thereafter, a meaningful opportunity for parole. Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall issue guidelines and regulations to interpret and implement this section. This provision shall in no way be construed to limit the access of child offenders to other programs and appeals which they were rightly due prior to the passage of this Act.

(b) Definition- In this section, the term `child offender who is under a life sentence' means an individual who--(1) is convicted of an offense committed before the individual attained the age of 18; and (2) is sentenced to a term of natural life, or the functional equivalent in years, for that offense. (c) Applicability- This section applies to an individual who is sentenced on or after the date of the enactment of this Act as well as to an individual who had already been sentenced as of the date of the enactment of this Act. (d) Compliance and Consequences-

(1) COMPLIANCE DATE- Each State shall have not more than 3 years from the date of enactment of this Act to be in compliance with this section, except that the Attorney General may grant a 2-year extension to a State that is making a good faith effort to comply with this section. (2) CONSEQUENCE OF NONCOMPLIANCE- For any fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in paragraph (1), a State that fails to be in compliance with this section shall not receive 10 percent of the funds that would otherwise be allocated for that fiscal year to that State under subpart 1 of part E of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3750 et seq.), whether characterized as the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Programs, the Local Government Law Enforcement Block Grants program, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, or otherwise. (3) REALLOCATION- Amounts not allocated under a program referred to in paragraph (2) to a State for failure to be in compliance with this section shall be reallocated under that program to States that have not failed to be in compliance with this section.


1. Signature Residence Address (Street & Number) County


Printed Name City/Town/State/Zip Code Date of Signing


2. Signature Residence Address (Street & Number) County


Printed Name City/Town/State/Zip Code Date of Signing


3. Signature Residence Address (Street & Number) County


Printed Name City/Town/State/Zip Code Date of Signing


4. Signature Residence Address (Street & Number) County


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Robert C. Scott (D-VA) [Chairman] 1201 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515
FAX 202-225-8354

Maxine Waters (D-CA) 2344 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515
FAX 202-225-7854

Bill Delahunt (D-MA)

2454 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-5658

Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

2334 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-6923

Hank Johnson (D-GA)

1133 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515
FAX 202-226-0691

Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

1122 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-226-7253

Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX)

2435 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-3317

Artur Davis (D-AL)

208 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-226-9567

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

2446 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-6942

Betty Sutton (D-OH)

1721 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-2266

Louie Gohmert (R-TX) [Ranking Member]

510 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-226-1230

J. Randy Forbes (R-VA)

307 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-226-1170

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI)

2449 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-3190

Howard Coble (R-NC)

2468 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-8611

Steve Chabot (R-OH)

129 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC

FAX 202-225-3012

Dan Lungren (R-CA)

2448 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC


Monday, May 19, 2008

Families of two boys -- one slain, one accused -- share grief

Two couples who feel each other's pain are grieving for sons -- one for their slain boy, the other for the youth who will soon be tried for killing him.


Twice a week, Kathy and Manny Hernandez trek to a jail in western Miami-Dade County. They wait in the grim green lobby to go through a metal detector and two sets of locked doors. Then, for just an hour, they talk with their son through a plexiglass divider.

Four years after Michael Hernandez confessed to killing a schoolmate, Jaime Gough, in a bathroom at Southwood Middle School, the Hernandezes know that gates and guards may keep them apart from their only son for the rest of their lives.

Maria and Jorge Gough make a different pilgrimage to visit their son, heading to the cemetery where Jaime is buried. Maria goes almost daily. She has found comfort there, as she and Jorge cope with the grief in their lives.

Michael's trial is set to begin later this month, and as the date nears, each family grieves for the other.

''I've cried for her,'' Maria said of Kathy. ``I have tried to understand the magnitude of her suffering, but I can't because I've never had a child in jail. And she can't understand the magnitude of my suffering because she's never had a child die.

``We are both suffering, just differently.''

Said Kathy:

``I cried all day Mother's Day for both of us. I'm sure she didn't have a good day, just like I didn't have a good day. I know they're good people. Nobody deserves to have their child go to school and not come home.

``We both lost a son that day.''

Not in dispute is the horror that happened the morning of Feb. 3, 2004. Michael, then 14, lured his buddy and classmate Jaime Gough, also 14, into a bathroom stall in the Palmetto Bay school and stabbed him 40 times.

Michael's attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, will argue that the boy was insane at the time and blame the crime on his mental illness. Prosecutors say Michael, 18, knew that what he had done was wrong and should be punished with a life sentence.

For the Goughs, the trial is an epilogue, the final chance to see justice for Jaime. For the Hernandezes, frustrated that their child is being treated like a monster, it is a final chance to save their son.


Maria Gough often goes to the cemetery in the early evening, after the gates are locked. She slips her petite body through a split-rail fence to reach her son's grave.

''I like to come this time of day,'' she said one evening as the setting sun bathed the grave markers in soft light. ``It's not so hot.''

She sat on the grass and patted the bronze marker. She closed her eyes.

The peaceful moment belies the turmoil that Maria and Jorge have gone through since Jaime's death.

Jaime was a gentle boy who loved butterflies and the Marlins, played the violin, drew pictures of angels, and collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. His violent death left the Goughs so overwhelmed by anger and grief that they retreated into their own pain and couldn't support each other.

''When you are feeling that kind of grief, you have no patience,'' said Jorge, 45. ``We were both hurting so much, we almost got divorced.''

Maria began to attend support groups for grieving parents. Jorge couldn't understand how surrounding themselves with suffering could possibly help.

They disagreed about when to give Jaime's clothes away. Jorge thought six months was the right time. Maria wanted to keep the clothes and hang on to Jaime's lingering scent.

''I could go in his room and hug his things and smell him,'' said Maria, 44. ``. . . It was my son, right there, and I could hold on to him.''

Even sleep became an issue.

''I didn't sleep for a year -- more -- afterwards,'' Maria said.

Jorge slept through the night. It made Maria crazy. ''She thought I wasn't suffering enough,'' Jorge said.

Jorge considered leaving. But he had to think of Brenda, Jaime's younger sister, who had always been daddy's little girl.

''She looks up to me,'' Jorge said.

His resolve to stay was tested when Maria told him she wanted to visit the bathroom where Jaime died.

''It was the last place my son had life,'' Maria said, beginning to cry. ``I needed to see it.''

Jorge resisted.

'I thought, `My God, Maria, who would want to go to such a place?' '' he said. ``But my pastor told me I should go with her and support her. I had to learn people grieve differently. I didn't know that.''

And so they went. Jorge said his head felt as though it would explode on the walk up to the bathroom. When they got inside and saw the cramped stall where Jaime had fought for his life, they fell into each other's arms and broke down.

''We cried and cried,'' Jorge said.

The moment was a turning point.

''Everything changed after that,'' Jorge said.

He began to go to support groups with Maria, even though he remained skeptical. Eventually, he admitted finding solace and strength through the groups.

When Maria told him she wanted to start her own group with a friend whose son had died, Jorge supported her.

Oasis, a bereavement group for parents who have lost children, marked its first anniversary on May 1. The Goughs held a celebration at their church, The Miami Temple, in Kendall. The service featured testimony from several people helped by the group, including a man whose son had died just a month earlier.

''I don't know what I would have done without Jorge's help to make it this far,'' the man said, his voice cracking.

Jorge and Maria don't know where they would be without having the group to pour their grief into.

''I didn't look for this,'' Maria said. 'God put this in front of me and said, `You can do this, and help others, or you can decide not to.' ''

They want to expand the group in the coming year, spreading Oasis' work to other churches in South Florida. Their other hope is to secure grant money so they can help families pay for funeral costs.

When Jaime died, they had no money for a funeral.

''I was at the funeral home the day after, and they told me how much it would be,'' Jorge recalled, his eyes welling up with tears and his face grimacing as all the pain flashed through his mind. ``I said I don't have that money.''

Their friends, family and the community rallied around them.

Now they want to give back.

''We want to make sure no family faces that moment without knowing there is Oasis to help them,'' Jorge said.


As the Goughs arranged Jaime's funeral, Kathy and Manny Hernandez arranged to visit their son behind bars for the first time.

''At that point, we didn't know if he hated us, if we had done something. . . . Did he think we didn't love him?'' Kathy recalled.

Both parents cried. Michael didn't.

''We were trying to find out the reasons why, why did this happen,'' Manny said.

Michael didn't offer his parents an explanation.

''Initially, he was so out of touch with reality, I think he thought this was a big adventure, being in jail,'' Kathy said. ``He was just fascinated with being handcuffed.''

They have visited him hundreds of times.

''It's awful. To see your child growing up in prison, it's heartbreaking,'' said Kathy, who is horrified that her son could spend life in prison.

''Life in prison for a child means until he dies,'' she said.

They've appealed -- without success -- to juvenile justice groups, mental health advocates and civil rights organizations to help Michael.

The couple have spent the past four years trying to comprehend the horrific thing their son had done, reexamining every moment of the weeks and months before the killing.

Court documents and statements to police by teachers, neighbors and friends confirm his parents' impression that Michael appeared to be a typical, albeit quirky, adolescent. He was a whiz at school and popular with the other kids. The only trouble he had in class was talking too much, pestering girls, not always paying attention.

In October 2003, his parents noticed that Michael was becoming fixated on certain things. Much of it seemed harmless, even normal for his age, like watching horror movies, collecting knives and making sure that his older sister hadn't swiped his CDs.

Others were bizarre, however. He would stare at the grandfather clock at certain times of day. He started to count the items daily in the refrigerator and freezer, and open and close the garage door a specific number of times before going to bed.

Kathy wondered if Michael had obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the couple considered taking him to a therapist. They say friends talked them out of it, assuring them that Michael was going through a phase.

If his mind was spiraling out of his control, Michael concealed it from everyone.

Until his arrest on a charge of murder.

His journal and information found on his computer after Jaime's death suggest that Michael was deeply disturbed, and even he sensed it.

The journal included odd to-do lists with tasks running the gamut from ''do homework projects perfectly'' and ''read bible every day'' to ''learn to be a pimp'' and ``switch pens every two weeks.''

He set goals for himself and went back and checked them off, or wrote ''fail'' and ''failure'' in big letters next to the ones he felt he hadn't accomplished.

Then there was the hit list, a list of people he planned to kill -- Jaime Gough; his older sister, Christina; and another classmate, A.D.M, who is expected to testify at the trial. One journal page detailed The Plan, a step-by-step scheme to lure the boys into a bathroom at school and kill them, and then pose their bodies on the toilet.

''I thought that he was very sick and he must have been suffering so much and . . . we didn't know it,'' Kathy said of the couple's reaction to reading the journal after his arrest.

''He had none of the classic signs you read about -- cruelty to animals, setting fires, wetting his bed,'' Kathy said.

His parents would later learn that their son was also cutting himself as punishment for not completing tasks.

It didn't stop there. Michael downloaded descriptions of serial killers, bomb-making manuals and pictures of decapitated bodies.

But Michael sensed that something was wrong, diagnosing himself with mental illness after researching bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsiveness and self-mutilation on the Internet.

A defense psychologist who diagnosed Michael with paranoid schizophrenia said he was insane at the time of the killing. Miami-Dade jail officials recently put him on psychotropic medication designed to quiet the voices in a schizophrenic person's head.

Prosecution experts say Michael has a personality disorder but doesn't meet the criteria for being legally insane.

None of the psychologists who have examined Michael found any evidence that he was ever abused by his parents or anyone else, or that he suffered any trauma, emotional or physical.

On the day of the killing, after first denying any involvement, Michael concocted a strange story about an older kid killing Jaime while Michael helped. Then he admitted he had made that up and confessed.

Michael sounds calm in a taped confession, matter-of-factly admitting he knew that what he had done was wrong and saying he had no regrets.

The lengthy interrogation outraged Michael's parents.

''He should have had one or both of us there,'' Manny said. ``A child is not in a position to waive their rights, a mentally ill child.''

The Hernandezes' only hope now is that Michael is found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental health institution for treatment.

''I think Michael deserves a second chance,'' Manny said. ``I think he can be helped. To me, he's a good boy that did something horrific. He's still our child. We still love him.''

He and his wife know that even a not-guilty verdict won't end their nightmare. Michael will still be mentally ill, and he will still need help.

''It's just never going to be over,'' Kathy said. ``This is our life sentence.''


The Hernandezes and the Goughs -- who had met Michael and his parents only once before the incident -- plan to attend the trial. Both couples are steeling themselves for a painful experience.

The Hernandezes are angry that their son wasn't offered some sort of plea deal that would have avoided a trial.

''I don't know what anybody's going to gain from this,'' Kathy Hernandez said. ``To put both families through this, to open all those wounds again, what is that accomplishing?''

The Goughs say they want to let the system do its job. The Miami-Dade School Board agreed to a $1.7 million wrongful-death settlement, but money doesn't equal justice. They've both forgiven Michael, they said. There is no hatred toward him, but they say that for Jaime's sake, he has to pay for what he did.

''We know it will be hard to sit through this,'' Jorge Gough said. ``I don't say I want Michael to die in jail. But he has to pay for what he did. But it is not for me to judge. What happens is up to God and the jury.''

''I don't know who it will be more difficult for, me or her,'' Maria Gough said, referring to Kathy. ``I know that both families are going to suffer a lot.''

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lionel Tate's attorney running for Fort L commish

Jim Lewis, an attorney who lives in Fort Lauderdale's Harbour Inlet neighborhood, filed his paperwork to run for City Commission District IV, the south part of the city. Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson represents that district right now, but she is in her third term and can't run for the seat. She is running for mayor.

(Mayor Jim Naugle is also term limited; we're not sure what he's doing next. Will someone please ask him to start taking my calls again?!)

Lewis wants "a cleaner, greener, and leaner Fort Lauderdale,'' and is vowing to take no campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists.

Lewis represented Lionel Tate in his murder trial. Tate was tried as an adult for the murder of a 6-year-old playmate. He was the youngest American sentenced to life in prison. Later he was set free, but is back in prison for his involvement in the 2005 robbery of a pizza delivery man.

"Can I please be known for something else?,'' Lewis asked when the subject of Tate was brought up.

Lewis has run unsuccessfully for judge and state Legislature. He also ran for mayor against Naugle in 1994, and lost.

Keep reading to find out more about his candidacy. I'm posting the press release he sent us.

Press release from Lewis campaign:

Fort Lauderdale attorney, Jim Lewis, age 50, has filed to run for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, District 4. The seat is being vacated by Cindi Hutchinson and the election is set for February, 2009.

Jim is a 20 year resident of Fort Lauderdale and a 10 year resident of the Harbour Inlet neighborhood. He has a B.A. Degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida (1978) and a law degree from Stetson University (1980).
Jim’s work experience includes being a local prosecutor, a special prosecutor for former Governor Bob Graham and as an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor for the Florida Attorney’s General Office. Jim has also been an Adjunct Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University since 1990.

Jim Lewis stated “I’m running for the city commission because I want a cleaner, greener, and leaner Fort Lauderdale, I’m going to spread my message of controlled growth, cleaner waterways and fiscal responsibility. In the spirit of being environmentally responsible I’ve bought myself a scooter, and I plan on scootering through the neighborhoods of District 4 to run a grass roots campaign. I am pledging not to spend over $10,000.00 on this campaign and I will not accept any campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists”.

“I’m also committed to resolving the ugly labor dispute between the city and its police. I want our police to be well staffed, equipped, trained and paid but I do not approve of the current tactics of the Fraternal Order of Police, (negative billboards and threatening work slowdowns).”

“I want former Fort Lauderdale residents who have left for the Western suburbs of Broward County to come back and live and invest in Fort Lauderdale. We don’t need more, we need better. Let’s tear up a few unused city parking lots and turn them into nature friendly playgrounds. Let’s do something about our beaches having to be closed because of bacteria and waterways that continue to be polluted.”
“We don’t need more high density developments, we need neighborhood improvement supported by better schools, green space, water-saving landscapes, and recreational opportunities”.

“These lean economic times also dictate that we cut government waste. City departments need to be streamlined to offer more efficient government services.”

Jim Lewis is divorced with 4 children and a South Side Little League baseball coach.
The campaign office is located at:

200 Southeast 6th Street, Suite 102, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301
Telephone 954.523-4081
Cell phone 954.907.2788

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Judge Denies Motion To Delay Teen's Murder Trial

Michael Hernandez Trial Will Begin May
If Convicted, Hernandez Faces Life In Prison

MIAMI (CBS4) ― A Miami judge has rejected a motion that would have delayed next months trial of a South Florida teen accused of stabbing a classmate to death when the boys were both in grade school.

''I'm only sure of a few things - we have to pay taxes on April 15, we all will die one day and that this case is going to trial on May 19,'' said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger.

Tuesday an attorney for 19-year old Michael Hernandez submitted a motion to delay the trial because the teen was recently put on new medication and one of the psychiatrists they planned to use as a defense expert would be unable to give an opinion on his mental state without a full re-examination over a period of weeks.

Hernandez's attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, plans to argue that the boy was insane when he killed Jamie Gough in a rest room at Southwood Middle School in 2004.

Rosenbaum says Hernandez is an obsessive compulsive, mentally disturbed boy, who did not have the capacity to understand what he was doing when he confessed to police about Gough's murder.

Charged as an adult, Hernandez could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Child welfare advocates have argued that children who commit horrible crimes should not be treated or punished as adults because they think, act and perceive the world differently than adults and that confessions probably are made in a state of confusion.

Psychologist Barry Rosenthal of Fordham University says that almost one month before the death of Jamie Gough, Hernandez displayed "bizarre behavior". He said, "Michael created a rigid schedule down to chewing snacks in school, the time he would have to go to bed, how many times he would circle the cul de sac on his bike." Rosenthal then said Michael started "punishing himself for violations of his schedule that gradually increased to cutting himself".

A psychiatrist for the prosecution has admitted that the boy had some bizarre behaviors but his thinking is logical and he is in his right mind to comprehend what he has allegedly done.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Supreme Court turns down boy killer's appeal

By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An imprisoned killer who was 12 years old when he committed a double murder, and then was given a 30-year sentence, was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court Monday.

Christopher Pittman's defenders argued the sentence was excessive for someone that age and claim heavy doses of antidepressants he was taking at the time sent his mind spinning out of control.

Now 19, Pittman was convicted three years ago of killing his grandparents with a shotgun as they slept, then setting the house on fire.

The county prosecutor in South Carolina argued it "was as malicious a murder as you're ever going to find."

The justices, without comment, refused to intervene. At issue was whether the state properly used its discretion to try Pittman as an adult, whether the sentence was excessive, and whether mitigating factors should apply.

Outside a death-penalty context, the high court has offered little recent guidance on how to treat underage defendants.

Pittman's lawyers argued no other inmate in the United States is serving so severe a sentence for a crime committed at such an early age.

The inmate's legal team, from the University of Texas Law School, expressed disappointment at the high court's refusal to accept the case.

Michele Deitch, an attorney and adjunct professor, speculated the justices may "have recognized a growing national trend against sentencing young children to harsh mandatory terms in prison, and wants to give state legislatures the opportunity to correct this problem before it rules on the issue."

Deitch and other lawyers worked on the case for free, since Pittman could not afford to pay the extensive legal costs.

Pittman, now 6 foot 2 inches tall, works grounds maintenance at an adult correctional facility outside Columbia, South Carolina. He received a GED high school equivalency in 2006.

With the high court's denial of his appeal, Pittman has few legal options to have his sentence reduced. Under his current sentence, he would be released from prison in his mid-40s. He has a separate civil lawsuit against the state, alleging his court-appointed trial lawyers were ineffective.

At the time of the crime, the boy had bounced around homes for years, experiencing a half dozen family splits and divorces after his mother had twice abandoned him as a child. She has not been in Pittman's life for years.

Joe Pittman, the boy's father, raised Christopher Pittman and his sister for much of their lives, but the relationship between father and son deteriorated. A state psychologist later testified this was a "young man who'd had difficulty with the adults in his life."

After threatening to harm himself and suffering other emotional incidents, the boy was diagnosed as clinically depressed. His lawyers said Pittman was then given Paxil, a mild antidepressant no longer recommended for those under 18.

In the midst of these episodes, the youngster was allowed to live temporarily with his paternal grandparents in Chester County, about halfway between Columbia, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The family said Joe and Joy Pittman had been a source of stability for young Christopher earlier in his life.

On November 28, 2001, Pittman was sent home early for fighting in school and sent to bed by the grandparents. The boy claimed his "Pop-Pop" also beat him with a belt as punishment.

Christopher later admitted taking a pump-action shotgun and shooting his grandparents to death in their bedroom shortly before midnight. Prosecutors said he then set the house on fire to cover his tracks, took the family SUV, his golden retriever and a cache of weapons, and fled.

He was arrested hours later on a remote gravel road in a nearby county.

Just days before, a doctor had begun prescribing Zoloft, another antidepressant. The family contends the abrupt substitution of drugs caused a bad chemical reaction, triggering violent outbursts.

At trial, a parade of psychiatrists offered conflicting testimony on whether the boy's emotional problems excused his criminal behavior. Prosecutors called the Zoloft defense a "smokescreen."

The jury took less than a day to find Pittman guilty. Because he had been transferred from juvenile to adult court, the judge was not allowed to take his age into account at sentencing. Pittman received the shortest possible term for murder, 30 years without parole.

Juror Steven Platt later told CNN the crime appeared deliberate. "It always seemed like the defense was grasping at straws," he said. "Just because you take prescription medicine doesn't mean you can't be held accountable for your actions."

Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft would not comment on the current appeal, but said after the verdict the drug "didn't cause his [Pittman's] problems, nor did the medication drive him to commit murder. On these two points, both Pfizer and the jury agree."

The Food and Drug Administration in 2004 ordered Zoloft and other such medications to carry warnings of an increased risk of suicidal behavior in children.

Pittman's sister, Danielle Pittman Fincher, said afterward, "I know for a fact that there is no absolutely no possible way my brother in his current state of mind could have done something like that."

South Carolina officials refused a CNN request to interview Pittman behind bars. And state prosecutor Barney Giese's office would not comment while the appeal was pending.

The Supreme Court in 2005 banned the death penalty for underage killers. The justices in that case cited evolving "national standards" as a reason to ban such executions.

Among Pittman's defenders is his maternal grandmother, Delnora Duprey, who travels from her central Florida home once a month to visit Pittman on weekends. She describes a young man who, despite his situation, is coping remarkably well.

"He's working ahead with his life, taking classes," Duprey told CNN recently. "He doesn't feel sorry for himself, but he'd like a chance at moving out of prison and getting a new start for himself."

Along with a network of friends and pro bono lawyers from the University of Texas Law School, Duprey is critical of South Carolina's decision to hold the boy for more than three years before trial, much of it in prisons they say were inappropriately dangerous for someone Pittman's age.

Attorney Michael Sturley said 41 states do not punish 12-year-olds as South Carolina does. And none has allowed as harsh a sentence as Pittman was given.

"There are no 12-year-old monsters," said Duprey. She said Pittman recently told her, " 'Grandma, I think God forgives me. Nana and Pop-Pop' -- that's what he called them -- 'forgive me. But I don't think I'll ever forgive myself.' "

There was no immediate comment from Duprey or Pittman's lawyers to the denial of his Supreme Court appeal.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

State metes living death penalties to children


If children are the future, then why is Florida locking up adolescent offenders in adult prisons and throwing away the key?

Florida has 713 child inmates who have received adult sentences of 10 years or more for crimes committed before their 17th birthdays. The breakdown of the 713 childhood inmates based on age at the time of the offense is four 12-year-olds; 10 13-year-olds; 60 14-year-olds; 179 15-year-olds; and 460 16-year-olds. Of those 713 children, 122 are serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed before their 17th birthdays. These 122 children have been sentenced to a living death penalty.

It is unlikely that every 15-year-old who has committed a crime, big or small, is doomed to become a career criminal. Every parent knows that kids make mistakes and do not always comprehend the consequences of their actions. The Children in Prison Rehabilitation Act is a bill that has been filed during this legislative session by clinical law professor Paolo Annino and a group of law students at the Florida State University College of Law, Children in Prison Project. The act recognizes what the scientific community -- and the rest of the world -- has known for some time: Children are different and children can be rehabilitated.

The act's goal is to provide adolescent offenders an opportunity to prove that they have been rehabilitated and to give those adolescent offenders, who have earned their rehabilitation, the possibility of parole. The act is a measured response to the fact that the United States is the leader in the incarceration of children. The United States has 2,225 adolescent offenders incarcerated and serving life without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only country in the world that continues to sentence children to life without the possibility of parole. We are alone in the world in this practice.

Children are different from adults in their capacity for rehabilitation. Scientific data in neuroscience show that a child's brain continues to mature and develop into the early 20s. The areas of the brain that govern impulse control, planning and thinking are not fully developed by the age of 18, the legal age of majority. This new data expose the fact that the brain is still growing and developing through adolescence.

The proposed act contains tough criteria that each adolescent offender must meet to qualify for parole. The adolescent offender must have been 16 or younger at the time of the offense; sentenced for more than 10 years, up to and including life without the possibility of parole; incarcerated for at least eight years; and must be able to prove rehabilitation. The Florida Parole Commission determines whether an adolescent offender has been rehabilitated by considering the child's involvement in the crime -- follower or leader; the child's mental or developmental disabilities; whether the child has been discipline free while in prison; and the GED program or other educational programs completed while incarcerated.

The focus of the act is rehabilitation for a specific population of adolescent offenders. The act's criteria go on to exclude any adolescent offender who, before the current offense, has been adjudicated as an adult for felony battery; aggravated battery; assault or battery of law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS personnel or elderly people; possession of a weapon or firearm during commission of a felony; sexual battery; abuse, aggravated abuse or neglect of a child; and cruelty to animals. Adolescent offenders do not qualify if they have been deemed habitual felony offenders. This act provides a second chance for those few child inmates who have turned their lives around in prison.

The drafters of the Children in Prison Rehabilitation Act urge the Legislature to enact this proposed bill and to make it law. It is important that as elections draw near and politicians promise to be "tough on crime," we all remember that well placed mercy can change lives. Children are different. Children can be rehabilitated.

Castagliuolo is an intern at the Florida State University College of Law.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life Without Parole...Our View

Monday, March 24, 2008

In Maryland
Sunday's Baltimore Sun had the editorial, "Life Without Parole - Our view: It's an inappropriate sentence for juveniles."

At 35, Marcus Tunstall has spent more than half his life in prison. It's unlikely he'll ever get out unless a governor intervenes or the law changes. That's because Mr. Tunstall is serving life without parole for a crime he committed while a minor. He is among 15 such men who entered Maryland's prison system under this unforgiving term. Arrested as adolescents, they were too young to join the Army, not old enough to buy liquor and ineligible to vote. And yet the state consigned them to an interminable existence; their prison stay will far exceed their years on the outside. It's a living death that harbors no chance for redemption.

The U.S. is the only country that imprisons juveniles without the possibility of parole. It's a sentence that defies the scientific research on teenagers' reasoning and potential for reform. Some states are finally realizing that and moving to repeal these laws. Maryland, unfortunately, is not among them.

Known as kid-lifers, juvenile offenders imprisoned under mandatory life-without-parole laws number about 2,300 in 39 states, according to a study by Northwestern University Law School's Children and Family Justice Center and the John Howard Association. Despite those staggering figures, only Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and California are actively trying to change their laws on kid-lifers. Illinois' law came on the books more than 30 years ago as youth crime was increasing.

Maryland law allowed for a life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile convicted as an adult in 1988, following the Supreme Court's decision to exclude juveniles from the death penalty. Most of Maryland's kid-lifers entered prison at 17 or 16.

The juvenile index is here.

Dozens of children in U.S. Face life in prison

By Matthew Bigg

ALABASTER, Alabama (Reuters) - Underage criminals cannot face the death penalty in the United States but dozens of offenders imprisoned for crimes committed when they were young teenagers will still die behind bars.

The U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for minors in 2005 but 19 states permit "life-means-life" sentences for those under 18, according to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

In all, 2,225 people are sentenced to die in U.S. prisons for crimes they committed as minors and 73 of them were aged 13 and 14 at the time of the crime, according to the group, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama.

Elsewhere in the world, life sentences with no chance of parole are rare for underage offenders. Human Rights Watch estimates that only 12 people outside the United States face such sentences.

Judicial reform advocates say the U.S. provision is an example of how harsh sentences have helped cause a jump in incarceration rates since the 1970s. The United States jails a higher percentage of its population than anywhere else in the industrialized world, these advocates say.

"These kids have been swept up in this tide of carceral control that is unparalleled in American history," said Bryan Stevenson, director of the EJI. "We have become quite comfortable about throwing people away," he said.

Others defend the statute, arguing it is popular with voters and gives comfort to victims to know that perpetrators of serious crimes against them will not one day walk free.

They also use an "adult crime, adult time" argument -- minors who commit adult crimes should be punished as adults.


The case of Ashley Jones, who was 14 when she killed, illustrates the seriousness of many crimes that result in for-life sentences.

One night in August 1999, Jones and her 16-year-old boyfriend, Geramie Hart, angered by her family's disapproval of their relationship, went to her home in Birmingham, Alabama. They set her grandfather on fire with lighter fluid, stabbed him and shot him dead.

They also stabbed and shot dead Jones' aunt in her bedroom and set her grandmother on fire.

Jones' 10-year-old sister, Mary, was asleep in bed but they dragged her to the kitchen to see the attack on her family.

"I had to sit there and watch her (Ashley) torture my grandmother. I saw her in flames," said Mary Jones, recounting her ordeal in an interview in Alabaster, Alabama.

"Geramie ... picked me up by my neck and pointed a gun at me and said: 'This is how you are going to die.' Ashley said: 'No, wait. I'll do her.'"

They stabbed Mary Jones repeatedly, puncturing a lung, and drove off leaving her and her grandmother, whose injuries included burns, stab and gunshot wounds, to stagger outside.

The questions raised by criminal cases involving teenagers are difficult to answer.

Is a young teenager responsible for crimes in the same way as an adult and to what extent, if at all, should courts consider a minor's family situation and background?

"It goes against human inclinations to give up completely on a young teenager. It's impossible for a court to say that any 14-year-old never has the possibility to live in society," said Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.


The Equal Justice Initiative has filed suits in six states challenging the life-without-parole sentences and has brought a case in federal court in northern Alabama over the Jones case, arguing it represents cruel and unusual punishment.

Hart is also serving the same sentence.

The group says a disproportionate number of the minors serving the sentence are black or Hispanic and many were tried as adults with inadequate legal counsel. Also, it says up to 70 percent were given mandatory sentences.

Not all those serving life-means-life sentences for crimes committed as minors are convicted killers.

Antonio Nunez was convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder and also aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to life without parole for his role in a kidnap, police chase and shootout in April, 2001, in which nobody was injured.

Nunez, aged 14 at the time of the crime, grew up in a part of Los Angeles where gang activity was common. In 2000, he was wounded and his brother killed in a gang-related shooting.

His sister Cindy Nunez said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles the life sentence devastated her family.

"He has lost all hope .... We try to keep his spirits up by saying something will change in the law," she said.

Mary Jones, now 19, is attempting to reconstruct her life. She testified against her sister in court but has visited her in jail. She blames Hart for changing her sister from "the sweetest girl" into a murderer.

"She should have a chance to have a life. Her life shouldn't just be taken away from her like that. Sometimes I'm kind of mad and then I'm sad," she said. "I practically lost her too because she is in prison."

(Reporting by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Michael Christie and Eddie Evans)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Does Separation Equal Suffering?

Some state inmates spend years in solitary. Critics say that is cruel and unusual.


Published December 17, 2006


Ian Manuel had just turned 14 when he went to prison for shooting a woman in a botched robbery on a Tampa sidewalk. Mouthy and disobedient, he was sent to solitary confinement a year and a half later.

That was in 1992. He has been there ever since.

Now 29, Manuel has spent half his life in a concrete box the size of a walk-in closet. His food comes through a slot in the door. He never sees another inmate. Out of boredom he cuts himself just to watch the blood trickle.

Attorneys who advocate on behalf of prisoners call Manuel "the poster boy" for the ill effects of solitary confinement.

There are 3,500 inmates in solitary confinement in Florida prisons. More than 1,400 of them are held under the strictest conditions, like Manuel.

They are not allowed out of their cells except for three quick showers a week and five hours in an empty outdoor cage that resembles a dog run.

They are not allowed to stand at their doors and look out the narrow plexiglass window in their cells, bathe in their sinks when it's hot, or use their blankets as a wrap when it's cold.

They are not allowed to call out chess plays from cell to cell or read anything but legal and religious materials. If they violate any of these rules, their time in solitary is extended.

In Florida a larger percentage of inmates - 4 percent - live "behind the door" than in any other state. Their numbers are increasing by about 250 people a year, despite a state plan intended to decrease the numbers. Forty-seven of the inmates in solitary are younger than 18. Seventy-seven percent of the women and 33 percent of the men are diagnosed as mentally ill, raising questions of whether solitary confinement is a dumping ground for inmates whose illnesses are aggravated by isolation.

The Department of Corrections was brought to federal court in 1999 to defend itself against allegations that its use of solitary confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Seven years later, attorneys for the inmates argue the state still has not addressed the issue, despite a court-approved plan to do so. A federal judge will soon decide who is right: the state or the inmates.

During a September federal court hearing on the alleged abuses in solitary, Chase Riveland, former chief administrator for prison systems in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, said: "Prisons have people who must be kept away from the general population. The problem in Florida is not that (solitary) exists, but who goes in and who goes out and why, and how they are treated when they're in."

More than 50 percent of the inmates are held there for years, Riveland said, "because of minor disciplinary infractions, not because they're a threat to others."

Ian Manuel holds the record for being there the longest without a break.

A call to apologize

On a muggy July night in 1990, Debbie Baigrie, 28, was walking with a friend in downtown Tampa. Three boys walked up as she got to her car and demanded money. Manuel, then 13, pulled a gun and fired.

A bullet tore through Baigrie's open mouth and out her cheek, shattering five teeth and part of her gum. Manuel pleaded guilty to attempted felony murder. At his sentencing, the judge cited 17 prior arrests for shoplifting, purse snatching and stealing cars. He gave Manuel a life sentence without parole.

In 1991, when Manuel arrived at the prison processing center in Central Florida, he was so small no one could find a prison uniform to fit him, Ron McAndrew, then the assistant warden, recalled. Someone cut 6 inches off the boy's pant legs so he would have something to wear.

"He was scared of everything and acting like a tough guy as a defense mechanism," said McAndrew, now a prison and jail consultant in Florida. "He didn't stand a chance in an adult prison."

Within months, Manuel was sent to Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, which McAndrew called "one of the toughest adult prisons in the state." At Apalachee, the boy mouthed off to other inmates and correctional officers and made obscene hand gestures, racking up disciplinary infractions that landed him in solitary.

On Christmas Eve 1992, he was allowed to make one phone call. He called Debbie Baigrie, the woman he had shot.

"This is Ian. I am sorry for all the suffering I've caused you," she remembers him saying.

They began to correspond regularly. Baigrie said she was impressed with how well he wrote.

She asked prison officials to let him take the General Educational Development test and take college courses.

"I got a second chance in life. I recovered and went on," Baigrie said. "I wanted Ian to have the same chance."

But the rules of solitary forbade Manuel from participating in any kind of self-improvement or educational program. Instead, he sat in his cell day in and day out, without reading materials or human interaction, racking up more infractions for "disrespect," which only extended his time in solitary.

After several years, Baigrie gave up.

"Not because of Ian," she said, "but because the system made it impossible for him to improve. What does it say when a victim tries to do more for an inmate than the very system that's supposed to rehabilitate him?"

Harsh yes, but right?

But rehabilitation is not the point of solitary confinement, which officials call "close management."

Its intent is "to provide housing that removes inmates from the general population to ensure the safety of staff and other inmates," said James Upchurch, the head of security for the state Department of Corrections.

Under the strictest conditions, he said, inmates are still allowed "numerous privileges," among them, "stamps, mail, paper and (rubber) pens, a prison uniform, bedding, legal and religious material, three 10-minute showers a week and haircuts."

In September, when he was state attorney general, Charlie Crist, with Assistant State Attorney Jason Vail, wrote a brief saying solitary conditions "can be severe, even harsh, without violating the Constitution."

Their example: Sleeping on a concrete floor and "being denied a mattress or a bed for several days does not violate the Eighth Amendment."

Even if the state's "remedial action (is) unsuccessful," they said, the court cannot continue to monitor solitary unless the evidence shows the state "acted with the very purpose of causing harm."

Over nine days in September, inmates testified via video before Federal District Court Judge Henry Adams.

Anthony Sutton, 29, an inmate at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution, told the judge that he first went into solitary in 2002 when correctional officers found a knife in his roommate's mattress.

Sutton recently filed a written grievance because correctional officers won't allow him to wear the knee brace he requires to walk. Their written response: "Limited mobility of (solitary) status makes the knee brace unnecessary."

Inmate Marcus Green, 33, who is on the lowest level of solitary, told Adams, "Their rules aren't on the rule sheet. They make up their own rules. I was denied access to the day room because my pillow fluff wasn't neat the way they wanted. I was denied day room because I put paper on my vent to try to guide some ventilation in my cell."

Attorneys for the Department of Corrections did not dispute inmates' version of events. Vail said their stories "did not add up to systemic violations," which were required to prove cruel and unusual treatment.

"These prisoners don't practice civilized behavior. They don't follow rules. They don't deserve civilized treatment. It's a different world," Vail told the St. Petersburg Times.

Two days later, Vail asked to amend his statement: "What I meant to say was that these inmates don't conform and are there because they don't follow the rules. It's that simple."

Going slowly crazy

On the fifth day of the September hearing, Ian Manuel testified.

"It's my belief," he told Judge Adams, "that the reason I haven't been able to progress off CM (close management) all these years is the way the system is set up. One DR (disciplinary report) will keep you there for six months and those six months add up to years and those years turn into decades."

In the past seven months, prison records show Manuel received three disciplinary writeups: one for not making his bed, another for hiding a day's worth of prescription medicine instead of taking it, and yet another for yelling through the food flap when a correctional officer refused to take his grievance form. Those reports extended his stay on the strictest level of solitary for nine months.

Manuel told the judge that in isolation he has become a "cutter," slicing his arms and legs with whatever sharp object he can find - a fragment of a toothpaste tube or a tiny piece of glass.

Don Gibbs, a psychiatrist for the Department of Corrections, said cutting and watching the blood flow is how hundreds of inmates "relieve the boredom and stress of isolation."

It takes from two to six months, Gibbs said, for inmates in solitary to start exhibiting signs of mental illness, if they are not already mentally ill.

"Nobody can be isolated for long periods of time with nothing to see and nothing to do and not deteriorate," he said. "If you're not mentally ill when you go in, you probably will be when you come out."

In the past year, Ian Manuel has attempted suicide five times. In late August he slit his wrists. A prison nurse closed the wounds with superglue and returned him to his solitary cell.

When the judge asked him why he attempted suicide, Manuel said, "You kind of lose hope."

In early 2007, Adams will rule on whether solitary conditions should continue to be monitored by his court.

About that time, staff at Union Correctional Institution will review Manuel's status to see if, after 14 years in solitary, he will be allowed to go to the day room four hours a week to watch TV in handcuffs and shackles.

"Every day," he says, "I pray for this."

Researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Meg Laughlin can be reached at or (727) 893-8068.