Category Archives: Juvenile Sentencing

Eight Year Old May be Charged as Adult

From the New York Times:

ST. JOHNS, Ariz. — A week after the police charged an 8-year-old boy in the premeditated shooting deaths of his father and another man, the boy’s mother, teachers and others who know him say they are no closer to understanding the roots of such a heinous crime.

“I don’t believe he did this,” said the mother, Erin Bloomfield, 26, who has shared custody of her son with his father, Vincent Romero, 29, since the couple divorced six years ago. She said she talked to the boy every week and visited an average of once a month, driving the 20 hours to St. Johns from her home in Mississippi.

Ms. Bloomfield had just returned from her latest visit when she got a call about the shooting and immediately returned to St. Johns, a windy hamlet of horse ranches, low-slung houses and double-wide trailers about 170 miles east-northeast of Phoenix. The largest buildings are a few churches and schools along the single main road, which has no stoplights.

“People like their independence and freedom here,” said Wendy Guffey, 60, a substance abuse counselor at a local health clinic. “It’s sort of the redneck ethic. A lot of people haul their own water and live off generators and candles out here. Back to the land.”

Many of her clients struggle with unemployment, drugs and tedium. “A lot of people around here say there’s nothing to do,” Ms. Guffey said.

Ms. Bloomfield described her son as a “normal boy” who played video games nonstop and doted on his new dog, a boxer. But in recent months, she said, he “seemed to be changing.”

“There was a distance with me after a while,” she said.

Whenever she spoke with her son, Ms. Bloomfield said, “I had to go through Tiffany,” a reference to his stepmother, Tiffany Romero. “Tiffany would always sit there while he talked to me on the phone, and after a while, he became more and more distant.”

She worried, she said, that the boy might be being abused although she had no proof.

Before Judge Michael P. Roca of Apache County Superior Court blocked anyone connected to the case from talking to the news media, Police Chief Roy Melnick of St. Johns said there was no evidence that the boy had been abused at home or in school.

A person answering the door at the Romero home on Tuesday said Tiffany Romero would not discuss the case because of Judge Roca’s order.

Ms. Bloomfield said that after her son told her that his father and stepmother quarreled often, “I called Tiffany about that, and I think I got my son into trouble.”

“The next time I talked to him about it,” she added, “he said that Tiffany told him that ‘what happens in this house stays in this house.’ ”

Ms. Bloomfield also said that her son was close to his father, and that the two regularly played softball and basketball, and went hiking and hunting together, sometimes joined by the other man who was killed, Timothy Romans, 39. Mr. Romans worked in construction with Mr. Romero and rented a room in the family house.

Ms. Bloomfield confirmed that after first seeking permission from their parish priest, her ex-husband recently bought their son a .22 rifle for hunting, a common pastime of young boys and their fathers in this town of about 4,000 people.

The boy “took his religious faith very seriously,” said Sister Angelina Chavez, who has known him since he was a baby and taught his religious class every Monday at St. Johns Catholic Church. It is the church where the Romeros were married in September, and where hundreds of townspeople turned out for Mr. Romero’s funeral on Monday. “I just don’t know what happened to him spiritually, emotionally,” she said.

“This is going to take a while to get over,” Sister Angelina said. “Parishioners have come to me asking why it happened. I just don’t know.”

Ms. Bloomfield expressed disgust at rumors sweeping the town, among them that her son killed his father because he had not been allowed to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. “This town is too small,” she said. “Everybody thinks they know what happened. They’re saying all kinds of things about my son. They have smashed him down to nothing.”

Chief Melnick has said only that the boy unexpectedly confessed to the killings during the second of two interviews on Nov. 5. Neither a lawyer nor a family member was present either time, the chief said, because the boy was being questioned as a witness, not a suspect.

Prosecutors charged the boy as an adult, and Ms. Bloomfield said she was terrified they would also attempt to try him as one. The boy is scheduled to undergo three psychological examinations in the coming weeks to determine whether that is possible.

A Phoenix defense lawyer, Karyn Klausner, who is a former municipal judge, said that for the boy to be tried as an adult, the tests must show that he is competent to understand the charges against him, has a basic understanding of the court process and is able to assist in his defense. In addition, prosecutors must prove that he cannot be rehabilitated by the time he turns 18 and leaves the juvenile justice system.

Ms. Klausner said she was appalled that the authorities were considering such an option. “There’s no way on God’s green earth that an 8-year-old should be subject to the adult system,” she said.

Prosecutors also have what Ms. Klausner called the unlikely option of deciding that the boy is incompetent to stand trial, detaining him in a psychiatric facility until he is deemed competent, and then trying him as an adult.

In a separate case, a county judge in Bisbee, Ariz., on Monday denied a motion to try as an adult a 12-year-old boy accused of killing his mother. In that case, court mental health evaluators determined that the boy could be rehabilitated by the time he turned 18.

The sight of her young son being led into court in shackles on Monday was especially upsetting, Ms. Bloomfield said. His hands were bound to a security belt that had to be looped around his waist three times because of his small frame. The judge ordered the restraints removed.

“I blew some kisses at him and told him to put some in his pocket for later,” the mother said. “Later he told me he needed more kisses to put in his pocket.”

The next hearing, set for next Wednesday, is to focus on requests by defense lawyers for DNA, blood samples, ballistics and other forensics evidence from the crime scene.

Two of the boy’s friends, Lucas Graf, 12, and Jude Chavez, 11, said they, too, were baffled as to how someone with whom they wrestled and swam in the scorching summer just past could have committed such a brutal act.

“He’s a nice kid,” Lucas said. “He’s normal.”

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Juvenile LWOP in Israel

Juvenile LWOP in Israel, isn’t really LWOP — exactly. See this post from the University of San Francisco:

“The Center For Law and Global Justice has issued a report on the sentencing of child offenders – those convicted of crimes committed when younger than 18 years of age -to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole (“LWOP”). The sentence condemns a child to die in prison. It is the harshest sentence an individual can receive short of death and violates international human rights standards of juvenile justice.

NEW INFORMATION ON JUVENILE LWOP GLOBAL PRACTICE

FEBRUARY 2008–The Center has now confirmed with Israeli officials that children given life sentences, including those in the Occupied Territories which have been the subject of serious concern by the Center and other human rights groups, are entitled to parole review. There remains the concern that parole review is difficult to pursue and rarely granted. The new confirmation by Israel means that the United States, with 2,381 such cases, is now the only country in the world known to either issue the sentence or to have children serving life without parole.

Authors:

Michelle Leighton
Director, Human Rights Programs
Center for Law and Global Justice
mleighton@usfca.edu
University of San Francisco School of Law

Professor Connie de la Vega
Director, Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic
delavega@usfca.edu
University of San Francisco School of Law

This report may be accessed in .pdf format here.”

National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers

Several weeks ago, I spoke with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of Illinois.victims.org after she commented on a post I’d done that she felt had portrayed murder victims’ families as vengeful.

That hadn’t been my intent, but after speaking with Jennifer, I realized that my reference to victims’ families in the post had been insensitive.

My stated purpose for the creation of this blog is to create a dialogue, but doing so has proven easier said than done.

I realized that with very few exceptions, there was no conduit for meaningful dialogue between the advocates for eliminating the sentence of Juvenile Life without the Possibility of Parole and the living victims of those inmates serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles. Continue reading

The Life Cheryl Dreams Of

I asked Cheryl Armstrong (her story is here) what kind of life she imagined for herself, if she were to be released from prison. This is what she said:

The kind of life outside I picture myself living & things I’ve grown to know…

When I get out of prison, I picture myself living a simple but productive life. I want to end up building a career for myself that corresponds with my life experience and educational background. I would like to help teach others by Continue reading

Cheryl Armstrong’s Inspirations

Cheryl Armstrong is currently serving a 96 year sentence in the Colorado Womens Prison. Her story is here. I asked Cheryl Armstrong,  if she was inspired by anyone. This is what she told me:

I always say that very few people have truly inspired me in my life, but as I evolve spiritually, I’m finding that even the people I don’t care much for who don’t care much for me can be inspiring. This is because I’ve changed how I Continue reading

Finding Gratitude Within Prison Walls

cheryl-with-college-staff-graduation-nov-13-07.jpgcheryl-with-college-staff-graduation-nov-13-07.jpgCheryl Armstrong is serving a 96-year sentence in Canon City, Colorado for two counts of second degree murder. She did not kill anyone, but drove the getaway car and was accused of being the “mastermind” in a double homicide in 1995 when she was 16 years old. Cheryl is now 29.

I’ve written to Cheryl and she agreed to allow me to post her responses to questions I’ve asked about her life in prison. The following was what she told me when I asked if she found things to be grateful for.

The first thing I did when I opened my eyes this morning was simply to tell God “Thank You.” I have begun to make this a normal practice throughout my days also. It really is amazing how much it was so easy to see the negative in Continue reading

From Inside Supermax: The Corrections Staff (9 of 18)

I recently did an eight part series of posts with Jacob Ind, who was sentenced as a juvenile to LWOP and is currently incarcerated in the Colorado State Penitentiary, a Supermax prison. These posts reflect a series of my questions (bolded) and Jacob’s responses.

Jacob has been incarcerated since he was 15. He’s 30 now. The eight part series of questions and answers is quite long, but can be read in its entirety here: from-inside-supermax-feb-08.pdf.

Clearly, inmates have to watch their backs with other inmates and have a very adversarial relationship with the prison staff. Many current and Continue reading