Judge spared boy, spoiled justice for the rest

November 19, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

So Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy thinks that sending a 14-year-old accused of murder into the adult system would be "frightening," does he?

If Gordy wants to talk about what's frightening, maybe he should live among the law-abiding residents of the neighborhood that boy - and his cohorts in the gang known as "Cutthroat" - allegedly terrorized.

In June, the boy was only 13. Jerrod Hamlett was only 23. The lives of the teenager and the man crossed paths one morning when someone threw a bottle and hit Hamlett in the foot.

Hamlett did what you and I would have done. He "protested," according to news accounts. I imagine the "protest" was quite loud and not kind.

Police reports say the 13-year-old boy returned later with another boy who handed him a gun. With his face covered by a bandanna, the boy fatally shot Hamlett. When 21-year-old Eric Freeman tried to pull Hamlett to safety, the boy shot him, too.

Hamlett's family should have some justice coming. Alas, they will never get it. Why should they? Their beloved son-grandson-fill-in-name-of-any-other-r elative-here was only the victim. The accused, on the other hand, is a juvenile. And we all know that in this system, concern for victims disappears when the perpetrator is a juvenile.

This week, Gordy took care of any justice Hamlett's family might have had coming. The boy won't face charges in an adult court for the cold-blooded killing of Hamlett and the attempted killing of Freeman. Instead, his case will be adjudicated in juvenile court, where the terminology is different and the penalties are lighter.

If a juvenile judge rules "facts sustained" (the term guilty doesn't exist in this court, which might explain the wrist-slap approach even when the crime reaches the level of murder), the boy would be sent to a juvenile facility, where he might be released when he turns 21.

Here's what's truly "frightening": If this boy shot Hamlett, then Gordy has just given him and his buddies in "Cutthroat" a commit-murder-and-get-out-of-jail-free card.

There's no other way to put it. If the boy is guilty - in the normal sense of that word, not the "facts sustained" newspeak of the juvenile justice system - and he committed this act alone out of some misguided juvenile rage, then perhaps we could make a case that while Hamlett's murder was a horrific tragedy, the boy could be safely rehabilitated with little or no threat to public safety.

But with the specter of the "Cutthroat" gang hanging over the Park Heights neighborhood near the Oswego Mall apartments, we have to wonder how the boy's buddies will interpret Gordy's actions. We also have to look at the history of crime and violence associated with "Cutthroat," whose members, police say, are part of a drug ring run by adults.

In July, police reported that "Cutthroat" was linked to seven shootings that started in May. Five days after Hamlett's killing, cops raided several homes near the Oswego Mall apartments and arrested three juveniles - all allegedly members of "Cutthroat" - and three adults. All were charged with gun and drug violations.

The case was thrown out in August, after a judge found that a prosecutor didn't meet the deadline for handing over a police surveillance videotape to defense attorneys. The three alleged members of "Cutthroat" left the court "beaming," according to a Sun account written by reporters Gus Sentementes and Sumathi Reddy.

Why wouldn't the boys be "beaming"? They probably figured the system can't touch them. And if they and the 14-year-old suspect in Hammett's death are indeed members of "Cutthroat," can you imagine how brightly they beamed when they learned the boy had dodged doing any time in adult prison?

Yes, what could happen to that boy in the adult system might indeed be "frightening.". (Why Gordy thinks there's nothing "frightening" about juvenile facilities is anybody's guess.) Something bad could happen to him in the adult system. But here's a question Gordy probably didn't want to answer, and frankly I can't blame him. And, somebody has to ask it, so here goes:

If that boy did kill Hamlett and is part of the gang that has been shooting and terrorizing its way through Park Heights, why shouldn't we let something frightening happen to him in the adult system? If being terrorized is good enough for the rest of us, it's sure as hell is good enough for him and his "Cutthroat" chums.

That's not going to happen. In fact, there's no need for naysayers to send me nasty e-mails or letters telling me what a beast I am for advocating doing such a thing to juvenile murderers and "cutthroats" (in the case of the gang members, it's their term, not mine) because I could write them for you.

What I will do is offer an alternative: Why not charge the 14-year-old as an adult and, if he's found guilty, let him remain in a juvenile facility until he's 18? Then he can be transferred to an adult facility to finish the balance of his sentence. If that sentence makes him eligible for parole in, say, 20 years, he could apply when he's about 34 years old, with the rest of his life ahead of him.

You have to admit, it's a better break than Jerrod Hamlett got. greg.kane@baltsun.com

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