Facts the Times won’t face about children who kill
The New York Times has published a nearly full-page editorial arguing that no 14-year-old should face a prison sentence that extends beyond his majority — not even Rashaun Weaver and Luchiano Lewis, suspects in the fatal stabbing of college student Tessa Majors last December.
The Times rewrites history, glossing over the horrific crimes in the late 1970s that spurred New York Gov. Hugh Carey, a Democrat, to let violent juveniles face adult justice.
Trying killer teens as adults is wrong, the Times believes, because “the state can use family courts to base criminal justice for adolescents around rehabilitation instead of punishment, even in cases of murder.”
To support the contention, the paper reaches back to the 1978 Willie Bosket case. The 15-year-old Bosket fatally shot two men and wounded a third on the subway, but because of his age, he faced only five years in juvenile jail. New York tabloids, the Times says, “responded with outrage,” and Carey signed a “draconian” law allowing for courts to try teens as young as 13 as adults, sentencing them beyond age 21.
Older readers may find this summary lacking. Bosket was notorious for cruelty. On March 19, 1978, Bosket accompanied by a 17-year-old cousin fatally shot 44-year-old Noel Perez of the Bronx in the head on the 3 train at 148th Street. As the man was dying, Bosket went through his pockets.
Four days later, Bosket and his accomplice shot and wounded a subway motorman who confronted them in a train yard. Days after that, the two teens shot and killed 38-year-old Moises Perez (no relation to Noel), again on the 3 train. Finally, Bosket and Spates shot and wounded a passenger on the D train in the Bronx. Bosket pulled the trigger all four times. He was not a youth who made a terrible mistake in the heat of the moment.
The Times neglects to mention that Bosket had already had the opportunity to benefit from multiple rehabilitative interventions. As his case worker recalled, “I was almost Willie Bosket’s first murder victim.” In 1977, the case worker claimed, Bosket “took a pool cue by the thin end and swung it like a club, aiming it at my skull. I moved and the tip of the stick brushed by my nose.”
When Bosket wasn’t attempting to bash his guardian’s head in, he revealed a keen intelligence. Yet he failed to benefit from his five years in juvenile lockup after the subway murders. Months after his 1984 release, he assaulted and robbed a man in Harlem. Finally in adult prison, he tried to kill a guard. He will most likely die in prison — for good reason.
The Times repeatedly refers to Majors’ alleged murderers as “children,” as if they were 4 years old. The paper argues that Weaver and Lewis should be tried in family court, since “adolescent brains are different than those of adults, making adolescents less likely to exercise impulse control, assess risk or consider long-term consequences.” Many young offenders, the paper argues, “are readily capable of being rehabilitated.”
While the developing adolescent brain may be a partial excuse for some bad behavior, such as shoplifting or reckless driving, it isn’t an excuse for targeting vulnerable strangers and committing premeditated assault.
Robbing and killing Tessa Majors was a choice. Weaver and Lewis face adult justice not because they are “black boy[s],” as the Times implies, but because this type of crime says something bad about the teens’ moral character.
Could the teens be “rehabilitated”? Anything’s possible, though their behavior offers little encouragement. Weaver, who allegedly committed at least one previous violent mugging, eluded authorities for weeks after the Majors killing, police say. Authorities suspect he did so to allow an incriminating wound on his hand to heal — hardly suggestive of deep regret.
There can be no assurance that the two teens would spend their time in juvenile detention growing into responsible young adults. That’s why murderers, and other teens convicted of particularly violent felonies, face long sentences — and then parole boards, to assess their remorse and the risk they may still pose.
“Locking up Rashaun and Luchiano for life won’t bring Tessa Majors back,” the Times laments, missing the point. The point is simple: to save future Tessas from vicious killers.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal, from which this column was adapted. Twitter: @NicoleGelinas
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