Family of Slain Barnard Student Criticizes Sentence for 14-Year-Old

  • In US
  • 2020-06-16 12:18:10Z
  • By The New York Times
Tessa Majors
Tessa Majors  

NEW YORK - A teenager who admitted taking part in a mugging that preceded the stabbing death of a Barnard College student was sentenced Monday to up to 18 months in a juvenile detention center, where he will undergo mental health counseling and be able to continue his education.

Under the sentence imposed by a Family Court judge, the teenager, a 14-year-old boy who The New York Times is not naming because he is a minor, must serve at least six months and will be credited for the time he has already spent in juvenile detention since being arrested.

The boy pleaded guilty this month to robbery for his role in the deadly attack on the Barnard student, Tessa Majors. He is one of three teenagers to be charged in the murder of Majors. The other two have been charged as adults with second-degree murder and robbery.

The sentence did not satisfy Majors' family.

"There are no minor actors in the murder of Tess Majors," the family said in a statement that was read in court. The statement also took issue with language used during the proceedings that Majors' family said made it sound as if she had not been killed intentionally.

"Tess Majors did not die in an accident," the family said.

Majors, an 18-year-old from Virginia, was a first-year Barnard student when, authorities say, she was fatally stabbed in a struggle with the teenagers in Morningside Park in Manhattan on the evening of Dec. 11.

The circumstances of the killing recalled an earlier era, when violent crime was rampant in the city and parks were considered dangerous after dark.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Carol Goldstein of Family Court in Manhattan acknowledged the crime's seriousness and the loss experienced by the Majors family. But she also said the teenager had "never touched" Majors and had no previous arrests.

The judge sentenced him to 18 months of confinement in a "highly structured and attentive supervised residential facility" with a minimum of six months. Citing presentencing reports, she said the teenager needed "therapy and educational support and possibly drug therapy."

Majors' family did not attend the sentencing, which was conducted via video because of the coronavirus pandemic. But in the remarks, which were delivered by a city lawyer, Rachel Glantz, they criticized the deal that resulted in his plea to a robbery charge rather than the second-degree murder charge facing the other two defendants in the case.

As Glantz read from the statement, the defendant could be seen sitting quietly in front of a video camera at the city-run juvenile center where he is being held. He pursed his lips and leaned forward occasionally, but otherwise showed little emotion.

An aunt and uncle who are the boy's legal guardians, Shaquoya Carr and Roosevelt Davis, were visible in another video panel.

In their statement, Majors' family questioned the point of several days of pretrial hearings - many of them attended by the defendant's family and the victim's father, Inman Majors - during which public defenders sought to have the teenager's confession thrown out.

"These hearings have amplified our pain," Glantz read from the family's statement.

The teenager who was sentenced Monday told the police shortly after the killing that he had taken part in the mugging that preceded it. Prosecutors originally charged him as a juvenile with second-degree felony murder. He was 13 at the time, and he pleaded not guilty.

Under state law, prosecutors have the discretion to try defendants as young as 14 as adults in certain cases of violent crime.

One of the other teenagers charged in the case, Luchiano Lewis, held Majors in a headlock and the other teenager, Rashaun Weaver stabbed her at least four times after she refused to give them her cellphone, with one thrust piercing her heart, according to prosecutors. Majors was heard yelling "Help me! I'm being robbed!," according to court documents.

In entering his plea on June 3, the defendant sentenced Monday described how he and his two friends had gone to the park to rob people and had zeroed in on Majors as a target as she began to climb a set of stairs.

Minutes earlier, the boy told the court, he had picked up a knife that Weaver had dropped and handed it back to him.

"Rashaun went up to her and said something to her and Tessa yelled for help," he said. "Rashaun used the knife that I had handed to him to stab Tessa and I saw feathers coming out of her coat. Then I saw Rashaun take a plastic bag out of her pocket."

On Monday, Neville Mitchell, a lawyer for the defendant, urged the judge to consider his client's age in sentencing him.

"Our client is a child," Mitchell said. He also disputed statements by the Majors family, and by Glantz, that the defendant had shown no remorse and regretted only being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

His client, Mitchell said, was "heartbroken" and his "affect" in interviews "shouldn't be interpreted as disinterest or nonchalance."

In the statement read by Glantz, the Majors family said, "There are no words adequate to describe the pain and suffering" of her surviving family, who took her to college that fall and "100 days later they brought her home to Virginia in an urn."

"Her absence is palpable and unrelenting," Glantz continued, adding that "the family cannot help wonder what would have happened if that knife had been left on the ground."

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2020 The New York Times Company


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