- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — When Nathaniel Abraham was arrested in a killing outside a convenience store in this gritty city 30 miles north of Detroit, he stood 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds. He was 11 years old. In the defense chair at his trial, his feet couldn’t reach the floor.

Prosecutors said the boy had hidden the rifle, told people that he intended to kill and voiced worry about gangs coming after him. The defense argued that the shooting of 18-year-old Ronnie Greene Jr. was accidental and that the boy was aiming at trees that day in 1997, not Mr. Greene’s head.

Jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder, making him the youngest person in Michigan convicted of murder as an adult — and one of the youngest in the country.

With the verdict in, Judge Eugene Arthur Moore had to make a decision.

He could send the boy to adult prison. He could combine juvenile detention with adult prison. Or he could send him to juvenile detention until his 21st birthday, when he would automatically be released.

For this defendant, 21 was still a long way off. And Judge Moore, son of a juvenile court judge whose portrait hangs in his courtroom, said the vast majority of children can be rehabilitated.

“If we can’t change a kid’s behavior in 8 or 9 years, then maybe the juvenile system needs to take a good look at itself and what we’re doing wrong,” the judge, now 69, said recently.

In the course of seven years, Judge Moore has watched the boy, called Nate, become a 19-year-old young man. Their relationship has been a kind of periodic parenting for a virtually fatherless teenager who is in the homestretch of his incarceration.

Judge Moore has overseen Abraham’s years of rehab and training, including anger management, and hopes that it is readying him for the adult world that he’ll enter in less than two years.

Sitting just feet apart, the two have met again and again, exchanging frowns, apologies, promises, ultimatums, encouragement and the occasional spontaneous laugh.

Abraham has told the judge of his ever-changing dreams: to become a professional basketball player, entertainer, carpenter, lawyer, barber, inspirational speaker who steers kids from crime.

Judge Moore listens, nodding, looking him in the eye, interrupting with questions. How? Why? What do you need?

And: Who’s the only person who can get you there?

The young man still sometimes stares down at the table in front of him and mumbles confused, teenage answers. But often he holds his head up, meets the judge’s gaze and answers succinctly.

He recently told Judge Moore that he plans to get out of detention, avoid his old neighborhood, go to college and start a business.

“I also want to make you proud,” he said. “And thank you for taking a chance on me.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide