Wasted Youth | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Wasted Youth 

Another Day in Juvenile Court

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

By Barbara D. Newell

There's laughter in the courtroom, up at the front, where guards, attorneys, and the court reporter banter and share a box of cookies. Then Judge Catherine Haberkorn breaks up the festivities by signaling to one of the two guards. He makes his way down the aisle, stopping to announce "She's ready" to the people assembled in the courtroom, then goes outside to the waiting room, returning several minutes later with a small group who take seats in the rear.

"All those testifying today, please approach the bench," says the judge.

The other guard, now standing at the rear, takes handcuffs off two boys and escorts them to the bench. They walk slow and cool, with their chests poked out and their bodies swaying slightly from side to side. Their faces show no emotion. David is wearing dark jeans, a gray shirt, and black boots. His dusty brown hair is combed back into a short ponytail, split ends frayed. Charles sports a Snoop Doggy Dogg-style Afro that stands straight out all around his head. He is wearing black-and-white low-tops with red laces and a print shirt that hangs down past his thighs.

The two boys sit to the left of their lawyers. Charles slouches in his chair, while David sits upright, alert. One of the lawyers leans back, taps Charles on the shoulder, and whispers, and he sits up straight.

"On July 12 at approximately 9:15 PM, defendants Charles Jackson and David Sanders willfully and with malice shot into a crowd of people at 68th Street and East End," begins the state's attorney. "In shooting and injuring Walter Pierce I will show that they intended to do harm." (Names of the victim, defendants, and witnesses have been changed.)

With that Judge Haberkorn tells the state's attorney to call his first witness, and Walter Pierce, a soft-spoken college student of about 20, walks slowly to the stand, pausing to look at the defendants before taking a seat.

"Mr. Pierce, could you tell me what happened on the night of July 12?"

"I was standing with a bunch of guys at the mall--"

"The mall?" asks the state's attorney. "Could you tell us exactly what the mall is?"

"It's a place at 68th between Kingston and East End where people just hang out," Pierce answers.

He tells the courtroom that two guys walked past him, turned around to look at the crowd, and resumed walking before turning around again. That's when one of the guys pulled out a gun and started shooting, he says.

"At this point what did you do?"

"I ran--everybody ran--until I felt a sharp pain in my backside."

The state's attorney moves closer to Pierce and asks in a sympathetic voice: "Were you shot?"

"Yes. I ran to a porch, and a guy drove me to the hospital."

"Can you identify who shot you?"

"Yes."

"Are they present in the courtroom today?"

Pierce looks to his right and points to Charles and David.

"I have no further questions," says the attorney.

One of the two public defenders gets up to grill Pierce, asking him why he was hanging out and what he was doing there.

"Were you drinking, Mr. Pierce?"

"Yes."

"Isn't it true you had also been smoking marijuana?"

"Yes, but..."

"That's all," replies the public defender before the witness can finish his answer.

Pierce shakes his head and stares straight at the judge, who gives no response. Now the other public defender approaches the witness.

"Would you say it was dark that night?"

"Yeah."

"And you had been drinking and smoking marijuana, is that correct?"

"Yeah," answers Pierce, his voice trailing off to a whisper.

"I can't hear you."

"YEAH," Pierce shouts.

"So, it was dark and you had been drinking and smoking, but you say you could see, clearly, my client, even though it was dark and you had been drinking."

"Objection," shouts the state's attorney.

"Overruled."

For 15 minutes the attorney repeatedly asks the witness about his actions prior to the incident-- how his judgment might have been impaired by what he'd consumed-- and his condition after he underwent surgery to remove the bullet.

"The police didn't question you until after you had surgery, is that correct?"

"Yes," answers Pierce, rubbing his hands quickly one over the other.

"And they showed you several snapshots," the defender says. "Now you stated that you only took about five minutes to identify who shot you, but hadn't you just undergone surgery?"

"Yes."

"Did you receive something for the pain?"

"Yes."

"What was it?"

Pierce looks to the state's attorney, back to the defendants, and then to the lawyer standing in front of him.

"I believe it was Demerol," he answers softly.

"Did you say 'Demerol,' Mr. Pierce?"

"Yes."

"Doesn't Demerol impair your ability to think clearly?"

"Objection. The defense is badgering the witness!" exclaims the state's attorney.

"Sustained--you may continue," says Judge Haberkorn.

When the grilling is finished, Pierce steps down from the stand and once again looks at the two boys, who by now have their heads down; he leaves the courtroom shaking his head from side to side.

The state calls another witness.

Andrew Timmons is a short, stout boy of about 15, who's reluctant to testify. According to statements the state's attorney will make later in the proceeding, he had to be told that if he didn't take the stand today he could go to jail. His heavy footsteps can be heard as he approaches the stand. He's dressed in a blue goose-down coat and denim jeans. He sits down hard and leans all the way back in his chair. For a moment, no one says a word.

Andrew corroborates the testimony of the first witness, adding that he saw the defendants run into an alley and throw a gun into a garbage can before taking off toward Jeffery Boulevard.

One of the defense lawyers asks Andrew about the direction the two defendants were supposedly running in.

"I told you," Andrew says. "They went towards Jeffery."

"Is that east, or west, or north, or south?" asks the attorney.

"I told you--they went towards Jeffery," the boy repeats, rolling his eyes and setting them squarely on the defense attorney's face.

"How is it you saw what direction they were going if you don't know where they were coming from?" asks the attorney.

"Look, I said they were coming from the mall and ran down the alley, dropped the gun in a garbage can, and ran toward Jeffery," the witness says, sighing.

"Is that east going west or is it north going south?" asks the attorney. "You said that they were going down an alley, eastbound, but Jeffery is north and the mall is southeast. Which one is it?"

Andrew repeats his statement, verbatim, causing the defense attorney to turn red and dismiss him.

The next witness is a Chicago police officer dressed in an olive green suit, black full-length coat, and olive shoes. He walks confidently to the stand, sits down, crosses his legs, and tells the court that he and his partner encountered the two boys running out of an alley, one with his shirt off and the other with his shirt turned inside out.

"We heard the call of 'shots fired' over the radio when we saw two boys run out of the alley," the cop says.

"Can you identify the two boys running out of the alley?"

"Yes, they are the two sitting over here to my right.

"We gave a brief chase, apprehended the two, and began questioning them when we heard a description come over the radio, whereby we returned to the scene."

The defense takes over and begins questioning the cop about gun-test procedures.

"Sir, I did not conduct a gunpowder or discharge test," says the cop.

"Was there a gun test conducted by the Police Department?"

"Once again, sir, I did not conduct a gunpowder or discharge test," answers the cop.

"To your knowledge was there a test performed on the gun?"

The cop repeats his answer, leaning forward and speaking loudly into the microphone. The attorney looks to the judge and then back to the cop.

"OK," says the attorney. "Is it Chicago Police Department procedure to conduct a test on a firearm to ascertain if the weapon had been discharged?"

"Once again, sir, I did not conduct a gunpowder or discharge test on the weapon," answers the cop, narrowing his eyes.

"What about the department?!"

"What about it?"

The state's attorney rises quickly and brings an end to this line of questioning, objecting that the defense is badgering the witness even after the witness has answered his question directly.

"Sustained," rules Haberkorn.

"I have no further questions," says the defense attorney, glaring at the cop while returning to his seat.

The cop steps down and the judge asks if there are any further witnesses. The state's attorney rises. "The state rests its case."

Judge Haberkorn calls the boys forward to the bench. Charles walks slowly, shoulders back, chest out.

"Guilty as charged."

The defendants lower their heads, and the judge says she's ready to pronounce their punishment. The defense attorneys ask for lenience, noting the boys' youth and reminding the judge that they have been held at the juvenile detention center since the night of the incident.

"David Sanders, step forward, please," says the judge.

David and his mother approach the bench.

"David, these are very serious offenses, and if you don't straighten up your act you could become a permanent fixture of the Department of Corrections, or even worse, dead. But since this is your first offense I am sentencing you to two years of court-supervised probation and house arrest for six months."

She tells the boy that his probation will be revoked if he commits another crime or leaves the house without his mother.

"You got off lucky today; next time you might not be so lucky. You may go home with your mother."

David's mother smiles at the judge, and then turns to her son, giving him a cross look. They leave the courtroom.

"Charles Jackson, please approach the bench," the judge calls out.

As Charles stands before the judge, the state's attorney reads off his five prior run-ins with the law.

"Aggravated assault, assault with intent, aggravated trespassing, possession of a firearm, and unlawful discharge of a weapon."

The defense attorneys stand silent as Charles's family approach the bench. Standing next to Charles is his father, a man in his early 30s, dressed in blue shoes and a denim shirt with matching denim pants, his dark wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail. The boy's great-grandmother, an elderly woman walking with the assistance of a cane, wears a brown cloth coat buttoned up to her neck; standing next to her is Charles's sister.

"Charles, the charges against you are severe, and the fact that you have been here before calls for me to take drastic measures. I understand that today is your birthday, but I must protect you from yourself, for it seems as if you are heading in the wrong direction. Thereby I remand you to remain in custody until a locked facility becomes available, whereupon you will be transferred and remain until your 18th birthday."

Charles's great-grandmother pleads with the judge, saying that she will personally look after him.

"Ma'am, you and Charles have not always gotten along, and our records show that he has run away while in your custody," the judge says. "You yourself have gone to court and asked that he be removed."

The judge continues, implying that the father has been a less-than-positive role model for his son. Now it is up to the juvenile system to "right the wrong before it goes any further."

Charles begins to plead, telling the judge he will stay with his great-grandmother and out of trouble. The judge shakes her head, and he begins to cry loudly, the bravado drained from his face, replaced by freely flowing tears. A guard takes him by the arm, turns him around, places handcuffs on his wrists, and leads him out of the courtroom. His sister cries loudly: Today is his birthday!

At the door leading to the detention room, Charles looks back at his family. Pausing for a moment, he wipes his eyes on his sleeve, pokes his chest out, and swaggers away.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories