For immediate release
December 11, 1997
NPR Examines Childhood on Trial
Stunning Look at the Effects of Trying Young Offenders as Adults
On Monday, December 15 and Tuesday, December 16, NPR's® ALL THINGS CONSIDERED® explores the national trend toward trying violent juvenile offenders as adults. In a two-part series, host Robert Siegel reports from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where last year a new Code of Juvenile Justice took effect, mandating that homicide defendants over the age of 10 be tried in the adult system. Produced by Margaret Low Smith, the series tells the stories of two teenage murder defendants, including interviews with them.
On Monday, December 15, in the only interview she has granted, listeners meet Latasha Armstead, who is 14-years-old, pregnant, and charged with First Degree Intentional Homicide for the slaying of her grandmother's visiting nurse, Charlotte Brown. Siegel reports in horrifying detail the murder Armstead is charged with committing at age 13. The homicide detective who took her statement says that, given the cruelty of the crime, the teenager deserves to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The daughter of a drug-addicted mother, and a father who is prison, Latasha was barely out of sixth grade at the time of the offense. In supporting the decision to try her as an adult, the Milwaukee County District Attorney cites as one argument her "spousal relationship" with a 17-year-old boyfriend who has already been convicted for his role in the killing. Armstead's lawyer, Robin Shellow protests that the "spousal relationship" of a 13-year-old is defined under the law as statutory rape because 13-year-olds are developmentally incapable of entering into a voluntary conjugal relationship. Such are the conflicts in reconciling adult standards of trial and punishment with the cases of defendants who are too young to legally smoke, drive, or drink.
On Tuesday, December 16 Siegel reports on the case and trial of Jeremy Armstrong, another of Shellow's teenage clients charged with homicide. Armstrong was 15-years-old at the time of the offense with which he was charged. A straight-A student at an inner city Catholic high school, Armstrong is the son of drug addicts. Because he was tried as an adult, he faces the possibility of spending decades in prison, in the same institutions as adult offenders. Were they tried or sentenced as juveniles, Jeremy Armstrong and Latasha Armstead would be assured of their freedom by the age of 25.
"These are two tough cases that raise an important question: Can we still think of murderously violent young offenders as children?", says Siegel. "Both kids came out of unspeakably awful households. Are they accountable for their crimes in the same way that an adult is? As always, grand questions of social policy are tougher to answer when they come attached to the real stories of real people."
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