A 15-year old boy in Syracuse, NY will receive two to six years in juvenile detention for a robbery that won he and his accomplice the princely sum of just seven cents. The boy also gets to live the rest of his life with a felony record.
Anthony Stewart was not treated by Judge William Walsh as a juvenile offender. Some speculate that the ruling would have been different if Stewart had pleaded guilty in advance instead of fighting his case. Now, the case stays on his record until he’s an old man.
Walsh’s 16-year old accomplice, Skyler Ninham, was sentenced as a youthful offender and given one and one-third to four years in state prison. Ninham and the 73-year old man that they robbed identified Stewart as a participant in the robbery, “And yet you still denied it,” Walsh said to Stewart. “Well, that cost you.”
The jury convicted Stewart of first-degree robbery in July. Prosecutors allege that Stewart and Ninham ran up to their victim and knocked him to the ground on December 22. Ninham kicked the victim and Stewart punched him in the face, breaking his glasses, when the victim handed the assailants seven cents.
The two teens had handguns during the robbery, but they were later identified as BB guns. A probation officer recommended youthful offender status for Stewart before his sentencing.
Lawyer Laurin Haddad, who represented Stewart, said afterward that she was disappointed by the judge’s decision to deny youthful-offender treatment. In a presentencing report, a probation officer also recommended treating Stewart as a youthful offender.
“For seven cents, now you’re making someone a felon for the rest of his life,” said Laurin Haddad, Stewart’s attorney.
This case is interesting for at least a couple of reasons. First, we must obviously remain concerned about a justice system that severely punishes its citizens for utilizing their right to fight for their own freedom. The “confess or pay” model of justice has sent many innocent men and women to prison because they couldn’t afford an adequate defense attorney.
Given that both the victim and co-defendant identify Stewart as a participant in the crime, it is highly likely that he played a part in what happened to this innocent senior citizen. The idea of being attacked in such a brutal and senseless way both frightens and angers anyone who hears about this case.
The second interesting thing about Stewart’s case is that the amount of money Stewart received from his victim is not nearly as relevant as the brutality of the crime. Even if he’d walked away with nothing, that doesn’t take away the fact that he attacked his victim in such a horrible way, while at least appearing to be armed with a weapon. I argue that he is being sentenced for what he did, which has nothing to do with the fact that the robbery was a bad investment on the part of the perpetrators.
Finally, it must be considered that in spite of the brutality of his crime, Stewart is still just 15-years old. This is where the “fear of the scary black teenager” comes into play. Those who run our legal system want to believe that Stewart is beyond redemption, and that ruining his life is a small cost of maintaining law and order. On the other hand, there are those who correctly and accurately note that he is still a young man can be redeemed into a productive member of society.
Unfortunately, the hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of dollars that will be spent incarcerating Stewart and making him into a worse criminal could have been spent on an equally aggressive rehabilitation program. I can guarantee that in spite of the heinous nature of Stewart’s crime, he is about as normal as any other 10th grader. I can also guarantee that if he were a wealthy white kid, Stewart’s life might have redeeming value to those who are so anxious to destroy it.