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Teen's Murder Conviction Tossed Out

December 11, 2003 MIAMI -- Lionel Tate, the 12-year-old killer who transformed the national debate over juvenile sentencing laws, won a new trial Wednesday.
 
"That's fantastic," Tate screamed, according to his lawyer, who called him Wednesday morning to break the news.
 
Defense attorney Richard Rosenbaum, who argued Tate's case in front of an appeals court and made the congratulatory call, said he also could hear guards and fellow inmates cheering on Tate's behalf when they heard the news at the Okeechobee youth facility where Tate is serving his time.
 
"I don't think anyone believes that a child should go away for life," Rosenbaum said.
 
But that's what happened after Tate killed his 6-year-old playmate, battering her as his mother slept upstairs. A grand jury charged Tate as an adult with first-degree murder charges. Tate then relied on advice from his mother and trial attorney Jim Lewis in rejecting a generous three-year plea deal.
 
He instead tried his luck with an improbable defense -- claiming he had been mimicking the moves of televised professional wrestlers. When that failed and a jury convicted him, the judge said he had no choice but to send Tate to jail for life.
 
The series of questionable decisions helped propel the case into a national symbol of Florida's juvenile justice system. About 40 advocacy organizations wrote friend of the court briefs supporting Tate's petition for a new trial.
 
The Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach said the facts showed Tate, who turns 17 next month, deserved a more thorough evaluation of his competency to understand the legal process.
 
"The record reflects that questions regarding Tate's competency were not lurking subtly in the background, but were readily apparent, as his immaturity and developmental delays were very much at the heart of the defense," Judge Barry Stone wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.
 
The competency issue has become a significant focal point in the larger debate over juvenile trials and advocates said Wednesday that they were hopeful Tate's case would prompt more judges to evaluate children who show up in adult courts -- to make sure they understand the consequences of important legal decisions they make.
 
Tate was 12 when he fatally beat his 6-year-old playmate, Tiffany Eunick, in his Pembroke Park home in 1999.
 
The appeals court acknowledged the brutality of the act -- the 35 injuries including a broken skull, bleeding in the brain and injuries to most of her organs. -- By Noah Bierman for Knight Ridder Newspapers in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What to Do with Juvenile Killer?

July 14, 2003 -- On July 2, Shun Tanemoto, a four-year-old boy, was found dead at the corner of a parking lot in Nagasaki City. He had been thrown naked from the rooftop of an 8-story parking building. On July 9, police arrested a 12-year-old junior high school student in Nagasaki City as a suspect in the murder.

What led up to the Nagasaki murder? Since Japanese law prohibits identifying juvenile criminals under 20 years old, in this story we'll refer to the 12-year-old suspect as Boy A.

Boy A was living with his parents in a public residential apartment in Nagasaki City. A neighbor of Boy A said, "I have known him since he was a primary school student. He was a nice and active boy. So, when I heard of his arrest, I was shocked."

This spring, he entered a public junior high school. A source at his school said, "In the term-end examination, Boy A scored 465 out of 500. He was one of the top students and a member of the Health Committee at the school. His favorite book was a Chinese historical novel, the 'San-kuo-chih.' But he was somewhat isolated. He had only 2 or 3 friends."

After he allegedly killed Tanemoto, Boy A kept going to school as normal.

One neighbor said, "In the last two years, we were told that there were almost 20 cases of sexual abuse of infants in our neighborhood. In April, we heard that such cases occurred two days in a row at a supermarket which is a tenant of the apartment building."

On April 26, somebody took a 4-year-old boy from the supermarket and injured him. On April 27, a 3-year-old boy was taken out of the supermarket and left naked on the stairs of the building.

Police are investigating Boy A, suspecting that he might be responsible for these two cases as well as others.

Alarmed at the increase in sexual abuse cases, the town association recently started patrolling by themselves, watching children on their way home from school.

One member of the association said, "Two or three days after the killing, around 4:30 p.m., I recognized Boy A in a junior high school uniform on his way back from school. I said to him, 'Hello,' and he replied. I was surprised that he was attending school after killing the boy."

On the morning of July 9, Boy A left his home to go to school as usual. Having identified him from video surveillance footage, police came to the school and arrested him in front of other students.

The case was reminiscent of the 14-year-old-boy that killed some children in Kobe City several years ago. That boy was put in a reformatory for juvenile criminals and will be eligible for release in November when he turns 20.

Professor Shin Oda of Tezukayama University, an expert in criminal psychology, said, "In the Kobe case, the 14-year-old boy started off satisfying his sexual drive by killing animals. Such behavior is called 'zoophilia.' Zoophilia develops into sexual love for infants and killing them. Boy A's case in Nagasaki City is similar to the Kobe case."

Even if Boy A is found guilty, he will not incur criminal charges. The investigation is not a criminal investigation as well. It is limited to interviews by police. The actual investigation is remanded to a family court.

Takeshi Tsuchimoto, former prosecutor of the Supreme Prosecution Office, said, "The family court will send Boy A to the Infant Independence Support Center. The kind of treatment criminals receive at the center depends on the criminal. They have choices. If he should try to escape from the center, he will be put into a confined facility.

"He will stay in the center for 180 days maximum. The family court will not disclose his motivation for the murder and how he committed the murder. Adult criminals who kill someone after kidnapping them are liable to face the death penalty in Japan, but Boy A in theory could return to society after six months in the Infant Independence Center. Of course, that would be intolerable for the victim's family. So the government will have to do something in this case." -- Kyodo News in Japan Today

Camp Owner Moves To Halt A Lawsuit in Teen's Death

Brown Schools want an arbitrator to handle the case if parents sue over restraining death

Austin TX, June 20, 2003 -- The owners of a Hill Country wilderness camp where a teenager died in October have filed a pre-emptive legal strike in an attempt to avoid litigation by the boy's family and to keep the case in Mason County.

The Brown Schools, a Delaware corporation with operations based in Austin, filed a petition in state District Court in Mason County earlier this month, asking a judge to rule that any dispute over the death of 17-year-old Chase Moody at the On Track therapeutic wilderness program be turned over to a binding arbitration panel. The court filing, which names Chase's mother and father as defendants, says the family agreed to as much in a contract signed by Chase's mother before the teen was enrolled in the camp.

Lawyers for the Brown Schools, which operates youth-oriented therapeutic programs across the country, filed the petition June 6 the same day they met with the Moodys' lawyers, who include Johnnie Cochran, the high-profile attorney who successfully defended OJ Simpson.

Howard Falkenberg, the Brown Schools' spokesman in Austin, said company officials filed the petition to make clear their opinion that any dispute with the family should be handled outside the courtroom. Should a judge disagree, Falkenberg said, the company wanted to establish grounds for the case to be considered in Mason County.

Chase was sent to the camp to work out anger issues and other behavioral problems. He died there Oct. 14 after being physically restrained by at least three camp staff members because of what the company said was a violent outburst. According to an autopsy, Chase suffocated on his own vomit. Brown Schools disputes the report.

Officials with the company have said their staff acted appropriately in handling the situation. State investigators disagree and have accused the staff members involved of physical abuse in connection with the death.

Chase was the fifth youth to die after being restrained in the company's Texas facilities since 1988. -- Edited from the article at Austin American-Statesman

Page Contents:
  • What to Do with Juvenile Killer?
  • Boy in Nagasaki Murder Case to Undergo Mental Checks
  • "The Exact Opposite Of What A Juvenile Court Is Supposed To Do"
  • Ban Physical Restraint, Parents Plead
  • Camp Owner Moves To Halt A Lawsuit in Teen's Death

"The Exact Opposite Of What A Juvenile Court Is Supposed To Do"

The Indiana Court of Appeals has rebuked Marion Superior Court Judge James Payne for a sentencing policy the appellate court found to be wrongly sending some local juveniles to the Department of Correction.

The decision in the case of E.L. vs. State (minors names are not disclosed in court records) reversed a Marion County Juvenile Court sentencing of a 17-year-old girl after she admitted to the misdemeanor offense of disorderly conduct. Although the crime was minor, and the girls school and home record were exemplary, juvenile court magistrate Carol Orbison said that she was obligated to sentence E.L. to the Department of Correction.

In open court, Orbison cited a policy set by Judge Payne that juveniles like E.L., who had been released from the Indiana Girls School two and a half years earlier, must be re-committed upon any subsequent offense.

Ban Physical Restraint, Parents Plead

Holly Steele's hands trembled, her voice wavered, as she held up the photos of her 9-year-old son, Randy.

The first one showed a happy, smiling youngster before he was sent to a San Antonio treatment center that was supposed to correct his hyperactivity and behavioral problems. Another showed him just before Christmas 1999, still smiling.

Randy died two months later after two orderlies at the Laurel Ridge residential treatment center physically restrained the boy, who had launched into a furniture-tossing temper tantrum after refusing to take a bath. The orderlies held Randy chest-down until he started vomiting and eventually stopped breathing.

State officials say about nine children have died since 1998 during or shortly after being physically restrained in institutional settings such as residential treatment centers, hospitals and wilderness camps. Many of the deaths occurred in facilities licensed by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, even though that agency has regulations that prohibit such restraints. Other agencies in Texas have been operating without such rules, and there is no reliable system for keeping track of deaths or use of restraints.

Senate Bill 59 seeks to change all that. It would outlaw restraints that obstruct a person's airway, impair breathing or interfere with someone's ability to communicate. It would restrict the use of prone restraints or restraints that place a person on his back. It also would establish a multiagency committee to write regulations governing the use of restraints and seclusion.

Even so, similar bills have died in the House of Representatives twice before amid opposition from corporate lobbyists and some medical and psychiatric groups. And despite calls from grieving parents to make the use of some physical restraints a crime, Zaffirini's bill stops short of doing so. She said that is because it could possibly send more people to Texas prisons and, in budget-cutting times, such bills stand little chance of passing.

Boy in Nagasaki Murder Case to Undergo Mental Checks

Judicial Treatment of Juvenile Murderers Varies by Country, State

July 24, 2003 NAGASAKI -- Japanese police on Wednesday were questioning a teenager about the shocking murder of a four-year-old boy whose naked bleeding body was found a week ago.

Police in the southern city of Nagasaki suspect a 13-year-old was involved in the kidnap and murder of Shun Tanemoto, who went missing from a shopping trip with his family.

The child had visited an electronics store with his parents and sister in the center of Nagasaki on July 1. He went missing after he left his family to go to the store's games section. His body was found dead, bleeding from the head, at the foot of a multi-story carpark building. He is believed to have been pushed off the building. The electronics store was about four kilometers from where his body was found.

The Nagasaki Family Court on Wednesday decided to conduct psychological evaluation tests on a 12-year-old boy suspected of kidnapping and murdering a 4-year-old boy in Nagasaki, court officials said.

At the first hearing on the junior high school student, the family court accepted a request for the tests filed by his lawyers, who stressed the need on Tuesday to make the cause of the crime clear.

Japan's juvenile law bans criminal prosecution of anyone under the age of 14. If police are convinced the boy broke the law, he would be sent to a welfare office, which would decide whether to turn the case over to a family court.

Calls for stiffer penalties against young criminals grew after a gruesome murder in 1997 by a 14-year-old boy. He beheaded an 11-year-old boy and placed the head on the gate of the junior high school he attended in the western Japan city of Kobe. A revised juvenile law took effect in April 2001, lowering the minimum age subject to criminal punishment to 14 from 16.

Other cases around the world bear terrible similarities to this tragedy. One is the 1993 case of 2-year-old James Bulger, who was snatched from a Merseyside shopping mall by two 10-year-old boys. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson tortured the child, beating him with bricks and metal bars and pouring paint in his eyes, before leaving him on a Liverpool railroad track to be cut in half. These two were released by the UK criminal justice system in 2001, after spending eight years in a secure children's unit.

Another case is that of Eric Smith, who was 13-years-old when he strangled and bludgeoned 4-year-old Derrick Robie to death after sodomizing him with a stick. In a controversial move by New York State, Smith was tried and convicted as an adult for second degree murder. He received the maximum sentence of nine years to life, and was denied parole the first time he was eligible in 2002.

New York State just passed Penny's Law, which toughens penalties for juveniles convicted as adults. The law, which takes effect in November of this year, will authorize the courts to sentence a juvenile who is convicted as an adult for second degree murder to a minimum of 7-1/2 years to life and a maximum of 15 years to life. -- Edited and excerpted from Kyodo News, in Japan Today and News24.com

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