Crime’s Poster Children
By Steve Miller
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
June 23, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Finally, Cedrick “C.C.” Green won’t be able to hurt anyone. And it only took 15 years for the legal system to figure out how to deal with him. After terrorizing the victims of his violent crimes, after sticking a gun in the faces of innocent people, and after trying to cover up evidence in one of the nation’s most brutal and publicized murders, the 23-year-old Green is headed for the state penitentiary.
People may recall Green’s baby face from 1993, when he was a 4-foot-10, 80-pound 13-year-old, charged with murder.
He was one of four juveniles arrested in the rest-stop slaying of British tourist Gary Colley. Green later pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 50 hours in the Crossroads Wilderness Program in Naples.
The law took some time to catch up with him, although he previously had spent several brief stints in jail.
But in 1993, he was the catalyst for a wave of juvenile-justice reform that is still amorphous, despite programs with names like Regimented Inmate Discipline, despite dozens of boot camps and despite several books on the subject with names like “The Biology of Violence” and “Cries Unheard.”
Between 1992 and 1997, 45 states passed laws making it easier to transfer juvenile offenders from the juvenile-justice system to the adult criminal-justice system. Politicians pledged a better system as Green wound his way through it, beating and kidnapping a pizza-delivery boy, and finally, committing a string of armed robberies that ended his long crime spree.
State prosecutor Harry Shorstein, who operates a juvenile program of his own in Jacksonville, Fla., concedes that as a society, “we have never done a good job with rehabilitation.”
“After 14 or 15 [years old], it gets pretty difficult. What we can do is put a child in jail for years to incapacitate, because public safety should be our main concern. And if you incarcerate a seriously violent offender at 15, you will prevent more crime than incarcerating a 23-year-old repeat offender.”
Green was a judicial nightmare, starting at age 8, when he was charged with grand larceny and burglary. Three months after that, while still 8, he was charged with aggravated assault. A year later, he was charged with retail theft and trespassing.
He never once received a sentence.
In 1993, many juvenile justice experts saw Green as the perfect example of youth in trouble. They claimed that the trouble was in the system, not in Green.
But law enforcement saw it another way.
“You look in his eyes and there is nothing there,” says Jefferson County Sheriff Kenneth W. Fortune, whose agency arrested Green; his half-brother, Deron “Low Life” Spear, 16; and 17-year-olds John Crumitie and Aundra Akins for the slaying of Mr. Colley.
“They are dead eyes, going nowhere. There is no soul,” Sheriff Fortune said.
He said that, at the time, the arrest was the best chance law enforcement had of preventing possible future crimes by Green.
“We had him,” — the sheriff said, as he clenched his fist as if grasping the danger and controlling it — “Let’s keep him and try to help him now, or it will never happen.”
Instead, Green was sent to Naples and its treatment program, which in exchange for his guilty plea in the tourist slaying imposed certain rules, such as abiding by a 9 p.m. curfew unless under adult supervision; that he attend school; and that he continue to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
To the dismay of Sheriff Fortune, Green, after serving 50 hours in the program, was to be released back to the streets.
The sheriff, appointed to office in 1984 by Florida Gov. Bob Graham, is suspicious of the ability of programs to rehabilitate hardened juvenile criminals, who are then released back into society.
“What bothers me most is: Who is going to have to die next?” Sheriff Fortune asks.
The issue of juvenile crime has attracted considerable public attention during the past decade, prompting many lawmakers to pass legislation in which teen-agers are prosecuted as adults. Three states now require anyone 16 and older to be tried as an adult. Ten other states set that age at 17.
But regardless, someday, those who had been given another chance, such as Green, will be on the streets again.
“We may hope that they are reformed young men,” says Gary Walker, chairman of the National District Attorneys Association Family Law Committee. “But they may also be larger, stronger versions of what they are at the age of 12 or 13.”
Mr. Walker, a prosecutor in Marquette County, Mich., points to the statistics, as many involved in law enforcement tend to do, and praises the reported decline in juvenile crime in the past five years.
“I think we are doing something appropriate,” he says. “There are some bad people that we may never reform, and there will always be kids who will kill. And we won’t rid ourselves of that. But maybe we can impact it, and it looks as if we are.”
Reports, studies, surveys — all of them tell stories of declining crime among juveniles. But as one study by the U.S. Department of Justice points out, “many offenders are not arrested, and many arrested are not referred to juvenile courts, [and] thus are not captured in law enforcement or court data.”
Also, a report released in March noted that although juvenile crime reached its high in the early 1990s, it is now crimes committed by those 18 to 24 years of age that is peaking.
That would include Cedrick “C.C.” Green, who managed to slip through the system and, at age 20, robbed several Winn Dixie grocery stores in 1999.
For these crimes, he was convicted in March 2001 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The prosecutor’s office had “asked for 40 years and he got 12 years,” said Leon County prosecutor Neill Wade. Green is typical in that he fits the pattern of youthful offenders headed for the adult prison system. Murder, Mr. Wade noted, is “the only thing ‘C.C.’ hasn’t done — that we know of.”
Kids who may kill again
Despite the high recidivism rate among criminals such as Green, some analysts of juvenile crime say that rehabilitation for most people is possible.
“You know, the truth of the matter is, most people actually do get rehabilitated,” says Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., group that studies juvenile crime. “I think for a bunch of people, the juvenile-justice system works. And a lot of us would never want to be defined by something stupid that we did as kids. There are a whole bunch of reforms that juvenile justice could make. But all we want to talk about are kids who kill.”
Or youngsters who are incarcerated, get out and kill.
When Brian Bourne, now 23, made his first “juvenile contact,” as it is called in the court system, he was 10 years old. He spent the next 10 years in Michigan’s juvenile-justice system for sexually assaulting a male playmate, wielding a box cutter to force the boy into having sexual intercourse.
For 10 years, psychiatrists, counselors and teachers all tried to figure out what could be done to turn Bourne’s life around. They never could. He was released in June 2000 in accordance with state law. Less than two years later, he killed a Detroit police officer. The killing took place outside a house from which Bourne was selling marijuana.
“Because of Brian’s sadistic attitude, coupled with his lack of empathy, he cannot safely be returned to the community at this time,” reads a 1997 report by Robert Sain, a psychiatric consultant for Michigan’s Family Independence Agency.
Less than a year later, a report from two juvenile-justice supervisors declared that Bourne “is ready for release.”
One of the juvenile judges whose court Bourne passed through was Kirsten Frank Kelly, who was praised in a local newspaper for her attitudes toward juvenile crime, quoting her as saying: “We must become the protectors of our young.”
Judge Kelly echoes the sentiments of other judicial figures around the country, who advocate “restorative justice” rather than adult punishment for children who commit crimes.
Police Officer Michael Scanlon died of multiple stab wounds to the neck in his Feb. 12 encounter with Bourne.
The Family Independence Agency, which operates the state’s juvenile facilities, refused a request by The Washington Times to visit W.J. Maxey Training School, where Bourne spent most of his 10 years of incarceration.
Wayne County prosecutor Donna Pendergrast said that Bourne was released from a system where “there is very little rehabilitation.”
“I think that Brian Bourne is the rule rather than the exception. He was let go and was not ready. He offended almost immediately after he was let out, smaller crimes to start. Now, after he did all that time as a juvenile, he becomes an adult and commits murder. Well, now they will try him as an adult, because that’s what he is.”
For the first time in his life, Bourne will be treated in the criminal-justice system as an adult at his trial this summer.
‘Shame on us’
Prosecuting juveniles as adults “is using a blunt instrument to do surgery,” Mr. Schiraldi says. Some states, such as New Hampshire, are tinkering with placing the age of adult crime at 17 as the media attention to juvenile crime has subsided since the early 1990s, when there was a surge in public outrage over a perceived increase in offenses by youths.
“They should never allow these kids to be tried as adults automatically, and the decision should not rest with the prosecutors. It should be up to the judge,” Mr. Schiraldi said.
Oakland County, Mich., Probate Court Judge Eugene Moore had been on the bench for 34 years when he handed down a sentence that will put a killer back on the streets in five years.
Nathaniel Abraham, at age 11, confessed to killing 18-year-old Ronnie Greene Jr. outside the Sunset Party Store in Pontiac, Mich., in 1997. Before that, police had knocked on his mother’s door 22 times regarding her son’s involvement in cases that included suspicion of arson, burglary, larceny, and assault and battery.
Abraham was convicted by a jury two years later. When sentencing went to Judge Moore, he handed the convict a new life: incarceration with the state’s Family Independence Agency until the age of 21, followed by mandatory release.
“I guess he was just hopeful,” is how one supervisor at the juvenile-services offices in Wayne County put it.
“His attitude was ‘Shame on us if we can’t help him,'” said another.
The judge says both of those opinions are correct.
“His age was a major factor,” said Judge Moore, adding that his decision was an attempt to make the juvenile-justice system accountable to its inmates.
“I said, ‘We have 7 years, and rather than take the easy road, that would be letting the system off the hook.’ Let’s make them work if we really believe in the juvenile-justice system. Let’s give him a chance. Why should we let the juvenile-justice system off the hook?” he said.
Although Abraham was tried as a juvenile, using Michigan’s “blended sentencing” provision, the judge could have sentenced Abraham as an adult, with the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Blended sentencing gives a judge sentencing discretion, allowing use of merged juvenile and adult guidelines, or either one of the two individually. The judge opted to use the juvenile-sentencing guidelines.
In his sentencing opinion, Judge Moore commented: “The legislature has responded to juvenile criminal activity not by helping to prevent and rehabilitate, but rather by treating juveniles more like adults. Is this a good option? Is our adult system successfully rehabilitating people? Do our jails release productive, reformed citizens? We all know the answers to these questions.”
And when Abraham is released in five years, “Judge Moore will be retired,” said Lisa Halushka, who prosecuted Abraham. “What he did was take the decision away from another judge, who will have to release Nathaniel.”
When asked whether she thinks Abraham will commit another crime after he is released from prison, she responds with quiet certainty: “Yes, he will.”
The debate on the Abraham case reveals the crux of the larger argument on juvenile sentencing: How hard does the system need to be?
In the Abraham case, Judge Moore had all the knowledge that he needed to make a justifiable decision, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Program on Youth Justice at the Urban Institute.
“He was the one watching the testimony. He went through all the reports and made a judgment,” Mr. Butts said. “I don’t think any of us who didn’t sit through the trial can question his judgment.”
Mr. Butts, who co-authored a March report, “The Rise and Fall of American Youth Violence: 1980-2000,” questions the wisdom of mandatory sentencing for juveniles in any form, be it through blended sentencing or even the “three-strikes” law, under which a person convicted of three felonies is put away for life.
“We are comforted by the automatic as a society,” he said. “But I don’t want to see someone go away for a crime like stealing a hamburger.”
“The public doesn’t understand things that don’t involve bars and cells,” Mr. Butts continues. “Hopefully, we reserve those for kids we really are afraid of. The bad part of the system is where all we have is lockdown. As long as we have that, you will see mistakes made and you will see people get hurt.”
“C.C.” Green was living in a foster home on the bad side of Monticello when he was arrested for the killing of Mr. Colley, the British tourist. Green was moved there from Tallahassee by the state to provide him with a “safer environment.”
The Jefferson Arms Apartments, 1425 E. Clark St., is a red brick two-story building with little hope and open-air drug deals in the parking lots. The junior high school a block away sits behind a barbed-wire fence. “Drug-free zone,” a faded sign hanging on the chain-link fence announces.
Sheriff Fortune, driving his cruiser through the decrepit streets, waves to a couple of known teen-age thugs.
“People always think that they can help someone, but that’s not the way of the world,” the sheriff said. “There are X amount that you just can’t help, and no one is ready to admit that. Psychology is not an exact science. And neither is rehabilitation.”
Copyright © 2002, Washington Times