A Family Court judge on Tuesday sentenced a York boy – who was 11 when he stabbed another child with a steak knife – to juvenile prison, where he could stay until he turns 21.
The boy’s sentence, handed down by Judge David Guyton, could be shorter if he changes his behaviors, which to date have included fighting to get into a juvenile prison gang, sex with multiple partners starting before he turned 10, more than 35 school suspensions and expulsions and other “bad behaviors,” according to court testimony.
The sentence until age 21 is the longest allowed under state law for a juvenile, and its severity outraged the defendant’s family.
The child’s mother – who has repeatedly called police to report that her son had run away, that he would not mind her, and that he would not go to school – asked Guyton, “What that mean?” when the judge said that the sentence could be shorter if the boy shapes up.
Sentencing has to balance protecting society with trying to help the child, Guyton explained, then put the end result as simply as possible.
“It means he will be ‘behind the fence’ at the Department of Juvenile Justice,” Guyton told the boy’s mother. “How long he is there depends on how well or poorly he does. He might be there for two years. He might be there for six years. He might be there longer.
“It all depends on him.”
Guyton spoke directly to the boy, who is now 12, just a few times, but he made specific reference to a child so young having sex.
“The worst thing you can do at this time in your life is father a child you cannot take care of,” Guyton told the boy.
The boy did not speak in court and, unlike previous court hearings, displayed almost no emotion.
While in custody since before Christmas, court testimony showed, the boy has been in at least 35 fights.He had been suspended from school more than 30 times before the stabbing that left the victim hospitalized for a week.
The boy pleaded guilty to assault of a high and aggravated nature last month after first being charged with attempted murder in the Dec. 23 stabbing of a 15-year-old boy. At the time of his arrest, he was the youngest person ever charged with attempted murder in South Carolina.
Because of their ages, The Herald is not naming the defendant or the victim or their families.
The victim and his family were not in court Tuesday, but juvenile prosecutor Whitney Payne asked for the defendant to be jailed because of the severity of the crime, his long history of violence at such a young age, his claims of hearing voices, and his continuing to blame the victim in the stabbing because of a previous fight.
The defendant associated with “Bloods” gang members before his arrest, Payne said, and admitted to “throwing rocks at cars, then running from the police for fun,” before his arrest.
The boy’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Stacey Coleman, told Guyton that the defendant had a “very traumatic upbringing” that included being sexually assaulted as a child, witnessing domestic violence and substance abuse by adults almost daily, and the death of his mother’s felon boyfriend, who shot repeatedly at police before being killed.
Coleman said she was “appalled” that schools in York “repeatedly” socially promoted the child, despite his almost inability to read or even put together complete sentences.
The boy’s mother has claimed since days after the arrest that the stabbing was a result of her son’s being bullied by older children. She told Guyton that her son fought in juvenile jail to avoid being sexually assaulted, not because he was the aggressor.
She accused the judicial system of “not being concerned for my son’s welfare, but you all just want to keep him locked up.”
Guyton responded by saying that bullying can’t be tolerated, but it is not an excuse for stabbing someone with a knife.
Treatment for the boy while in custody, the judge said, will be crucial to his having any chance at an adult life that does not involve violence or other anti-social behaviors.
The possible end result of a calculated stabbing by an 11-year-old who grew up around such violence – a crime that was just inches from a murder two days before Christmas – was summed up by Guyton when he told the mother:
“It is my hope that your son is not in jail for the rest of his life for murdering someone.”