9/27/2011

Keaire Brown

She was only 13-years-old when she shot and killed Scott Sappinton Jr. during an attempted car jacking. Two and half years later, a judge sentenced Keaire Brown to life in prison.

Just two days before Scott Sappington Jr.'s 17th birthday, Keaire Brown shot him in the head at point blank range. Tried as an adult, a Wyandotte County jury convicted the now 16-year-old of first degree murder. On Thursday, a judge sentenced her to life with a hard 20, which means Brown has to serve 20 years before she is even eligible for parole.

"Well I think justice has spoken, I'll never be completely healed from this so I just hope she never, ever gets the opportunity to do this again," said Scott Sappington Sr., the victim's father. "Scotty will never have a second chance so in my mind she doesn't deserve a second chance."

Brown's lawyer asked for a new trial, arguing among other things that Brown didn't understand the law well enough as a teenager.

"She's still a kid. She doesn't even understand what's even going happening or the language, she completed 7th grade," said Cheryl Brown, Keaire's mother.

The judge rejected that, ruling Brown was clearly competent and received a fair trail.

Showing no remorse and claiming her innocence, Keaire Brown turned to spectators in court and said, "I am not an animal or a murderer, I love people, I'm a kid too, God has my back."

At that moment most of the Sappington family left the court room. For now Scott Sappington Sr. said he will take it day by day in prayer. Kearie Brown's family says they plan to appeal the case.

An inmate's journey from gangbanging to praying


'I participated in the action of that night. I shot. And as a result of my shooting, Frankie lost his life,' says Albert J. Yancey during an interview at the Jester III prison in Richmond.
Annette Yancey knew from the time her son was a child that he had a special anointing on his life.
Although he did not come from a particularly religious family, a few Easter Sundays spent listening to hearty sermons by lively Southern preachers made a lifelong impact on the then young boy.
"There was always a calling on him," Annette Yancey said about her son Albert Yancey. "But if a mother doesn't know how to protect that spiritual calling, it can really hurt."
At 37, Yancey has seemingly matured into the Christian man his mother hoped he would become, having accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and savior, applying Biblical Scriptures to his life, and most importantly, sharing his life testimony in hopes of leading others to Christ.
But not everything about Yancey's life is quite how his mother envisioned it.
He teaches others about the Biblical principles of forgiveness and doing unto others while serving a life sentence in prison for the first-degree murder of Frankie Sanchez.
Yancey, an inmate at the Jester state prison unit, committed the murder when he was 17 years old.
"I'm not a pastor. I'm a teacher," said Yancey, who said he is now a changed man. "My prayer is that kids idolizing Li'l Wayne and Lady Gaga understand prison is a place that is real."
Sept. 7 marked the 20th anniversary of Sanchez's murder.
THE ROAD TO PRISON

Growing up, Yancey routinely told police he would never go to jail for drugs or guns, but rather for murder.
He was the oldest of three children being raised by a single mother who fled an abusive relationship with her children's father. She worked multiple jobs just to take care of her children's basic needs.
Trying to fill the vacant patriarchal role in his family, Yancey would often mow yards to earn money to help his mother with the bills.
Although his father was not in his life on a daily basis, Yancey would spend summers with him.
The visits came to an abrupt halt, when Yancey turned 11.
His father, who was an alcoholic and drug addict, was found dead in the Colorado River.
His father's death started the downward spiral in the pre-teen's life.
"Every child has a hero. Even in his absence, he was still my hero," said Yancey, as he leaned back in the chair of an empty visitation room at the Jester Unit in Fort Bend County under the watchful eyes of a stern-faced prison guard looking for an excuse to restrain the inmate.
The troubled youth soon began developing a rap sheet and becoming a familiar name among law enforcement.
"He was just a kid when I knew him, a really likeable kid," said Pama Hencerling, chief juvenile probation officer for Victoria County.
Hencerling was Yancey's first probation officer.
"He took advantage of the fact that his mother was not always around to give him supervision," she said. "He had too much freedom and no parental involvement."
He was influenced by movies like "Colors," "New Jack City" and "Boyz in the Hood" as well as gangster rappers like Ice Cube and N.W.A., all who portrayed gangster life as being cool.
Yancey, who excelled in academics and as a star athlete at Stroman High School, became one of the original members of the Under the Hill gang, South Side Posse, whose members were recognizable by their uniform of Los Angeles Raiders clothing and Addidas shoes.
As a gang leader, Yancey committed countless burglaries and sold drugs.
"It was the thrill. The high that came with doing wrong," he said. "I was hurt on the inside over my dad's death, but I didn't know how to express it on the outside."
Despite a brief move to Bastrop, a few conventional fast food jobs and his mother's futile attempts to discipline her son, the lure of fast money continued to draw him deeper into the gangster lifestyle.
Yancey's rule as a gang leader came to a violent end the night of Sept. 7, 1991.
While hanging out in front of The Last Word nightclub in south Victoria, he saw a Jeep carrying four men, including Sanchez, come slowly down the street pulling a boat.
While Sanchez's family contends the men had gotten lost during a traffic detour, other theories say the men were in the area for other reasons.
"It was a known drug area. If you saw a car going at a slow pace, you were going to ask them if they were looking for drugs," said Yancey, as he explained why members of his gang initially stopped the Jeep.
After two brief stops, members of the South Side Posse, excluding Yancey, mobbed the Jeep, attempting to rob the men of their gold chains around their necks and the beer from coolers in the boat.
Shots rang out as the Jeep turned north onto Depot Street from East Second Street.
Yancey admitted to shooting rounds in the direction of the Jeep.
Unknown to Yancey, Sanchez, who was in the backseat, had been shot.
Several hours later, 25 to 30 cops stormed the Yancey home and arrested him.
As cops dragged her son away, Annette Yancey said she grabbed her son's wallet, only to be surprised by what she found folded neatly inside of it - a yellowed, brittle newspaper clipping about his father's death.
THE VICTIM

Friendly. Outgoing. Best friend.
That's how Odlia Sanchez, 67, described her son, Frankie Sanchez.
Although the two were always close, their relationship strengthened after Sanchez's older sister left for college, leaving the two alone while Sanchez's father worked the late shift.
Odilia Sanchez said her son not only participated in catechism classes, Little League sports and school plays, he also excelled in academics.
After graduating from Stroman High School in 1988, Sanchez attended Victoria College with dreams of one day becoming a corporate lawyer, but money problems prompted him to join the U.S. Army Reserve and work at various fast food restaurants and Walmart.
The night before the shooting, she was not happy to hear that her son had planned to go to Coleto Creek Reservoir the next day with three of his best friends.
"I had a feeling something was going to happen," the mother said.
Unable to change her 21-year-old son's mind about the excursion, she recalled her son telling her, "Mama, I always listen to you, but this time I have to go."
About 8:30 p.m. Sept. 7, 1991, the worried mother's worst fears came true.
She received a call informing her of the shooting.
By the time she arrived at the hospital, she said she saw the family's priest with a rosary in his hands and her son lying on the hospital bed covered in blood.
"I had flashbacks for years," his mother said. "I would see him covered in blood right before my eyes."
Sanchez, whose spinal cord was severed by the bullet, died three days later.
"He just killed him," she said through tears. "He didn't do nothing to deserve to be killed like that."
CONVICTION

"If I had any doubt about whether he was guilty, I would not have proceeded with the prosecution," said George Filley III, the former Victoria County District Attorney who prosecuted the case against Yancey.
Yancey's murder trial began on Dec. 27, 1991, and ended on Feb. 5, 1992, during which time the state called close to 30 witnesses, while the defense called none.
Although Yancey had admitted to his court-appointed attorney Steven Ross that he had indeed shot a gun that night, he said, he was advised not to say anything because of the lack of gun powder residue on his hands or the lack of fingerprints on the bullet shells.
It was a plan that Yancey said proved to be detrimental almost immediately.
"Once I saw my friends get on the stand and testify against me, I thought my chances of winning had gone straight out the window," said Yancey, as he described hearing testimony that put him at the scene with a gun in hand. "I wasn't expecting a betrayal. I thought you lived by the street code. You don't snitch.
After the trial, Yancey filed two appeals, both were denied.
LIFE IN PRISON

For Yancey, the past 19 years in prison have been far from a cakewalk.
"It's day in and day out mental and psychological torment," he said.
Being away from his family and the constant thoughts of what happened the night of the shooting have kept Yancey not only physically in prison, but also a prisoner of his own mind.
"Having to live with that in my psyche, that I took a life, something I haven't brought into this world, it's not something I take lightly," he said. "Knowing my actions caused so much collateral damage not only to my family, but also to Frankie's family, is not easy for me. I can still see my mother for my birthday or the holidays even if it is just for a two-hour visit. The Sanchez family can't do any of that."
Although he is serving time for the shooting, he is still unsure whether he was truly the one who shot Sanchez that night.
Testimony given during the trial by a former Travis County medical examiner showed the bullet that killed Sanchez was either a .38-caliber or a 9 mm.
Yancey, who said he didn't aim to shoot anyone, had a 9 mm.
He credits the re-introduction of religion into his life as being a saving grace.
"On April 6, 1994, I gave my life to Christ," said Yancey, as he described slowly making his way from the back of the Terrell Unit prison chapel to the front pew.
"At first I was afraid to embrace it. I was afraid to walk away from the life I had succumbed to."
Today, Yancey serves as a praise and worship leader at the Jester Unit where he occasionally preaches sermons.
He also shares his testimony about his path to destruction with others through his organization, Prisoners Making Changes, a faith-based program designed by inmates to prevent youth from engaging in violence, drug abuse, gang involvement and other actions that could lead to prison.
Since last year, Yancey said he has made contact with 15 organizations to get his story out, including the Victoria County Juvenile Probation Department.
The department regularly shows juveniles in their care a taped interview Yancey did with Trinity Broadcasting Network, Hencerling said.
"Once a kid who doesn't have a lot starts making a little bit of money, it's hard to say 'go to work for minimum wage' when they are making thousands of dollars," said Hencerling. "The message means more knowing he is from here and not just someone on TV."
She hopes once he is out of prison, Yancey continues to create more programs.
Since gaining a new lease on life, Yancey has not only obtained his high school equivalency, but also a diploma in Biblical studies from Grace Bible College and an associate's degree from Alvin Community College.
Additionally, he has obtained vocational skills such as desktop publishing and machine washer.
He hopes to one day obtain his MBA as well as study civics to become an entrepreneur and at-risk youth counselor in Victoria.
When he is not in the chapel, he busies himself writing letters to family and friends and making personalized leather goods to raise money to buy products from the commissary.
"I can't even identify with the person I used to be," he said. "I was on the path to destruction. Had I continued to live my life the way I was living, I wouldn't have seen my 18th birthday.
"I like to say I wasn't arrested. I was rescued."
COPING

"I survive on pills. That's how I've coped with life since my son died," said Odilia Sanchez, as she opened up a black, purse-sized bag full of medicine bottles. "(Annette) can go see her son in prison all the time, and I have to buy flowers to take to my son's grave."
Since her son's death, the grieving mother said she has suffered two nervous breakdowns.
Coping with the whole ordeal has also been taxing for Yancey's family.
"For 20 years, I've been going up and down the highway. I wonder how my old car has made it," said Annette Yancey, who said she has had to lean on family, friends, church members and God to make it through the years. "I'd say it was more emotionally draining."
Despite the establishment of Yancey's program and things he has said in media interviews, including his recent admission of the probability of his guilt, Odilia Sanchez has found little comfort.
"If he had not denied killing him, I would have found a little relief, but I think he's not under God's grace," she said. "It's just a cover up. He's very manipulative."
The rift between the two families also remains, as both mothers admitted to seeing each other around Victoria through the years, but not speaking.
Annette Yancey shared advice for mothers whose children may be heading down similar paths as her son.
"Be truthful, even though sometimes the truth hurts, and hold them accountable," she said.
Yancey's parole hearing could be any day now.
His friends and family have rallied to advocate for his release, creating both a Facebook page and T-shirts donning Yancey's picture and the words, "Free Albert."
The emotions of both families continue to run high as the day approaches.
"I want him in. He didn't give my son a chance to achieve his goals. He cut off our name," said Odilia Sanchez. "I believe in God and His justice. I don't wish him harm, just that God helps him."
Meanwhile, Yancey's family remains confident he is now an upright man, not the troubled 17-year-old gangbanger who walked into prison so many years ago.
"As a mother, I don't think he's going to leave Jesus on the bunk when he leaves. When God walks Albert out of prison, he will be the man God created him to be, and he won't go back," his mother said confidently.

History of America's Juvenile Justice System


A grasp of the current conflict surrounding the responsibility and direction of the juvenile justice system becomes more obtainable when one takes into consideration how the system has progressed since its inception. The juvenile justice system was created in the late 1800s to reform U.S. policies regarding youth offenders. Since that time, a number of reforms - aimed at both protecting the "due process of law" rights of youth, and creating an aversion toward jail among the young - have made the juvenile justice system more comparable to the adult system, a shift from the United State's original intent.

Progressive Era Reforms

The Progressive Era in the United States was a time of extensive social reform. The period, which formally spanned between 1900 and 1918, was preceded by nearly a century of discontent. During the Progressive Era, Americans saw the growth of the women's suffrage movement, the campaign against child labor, the fight for the eight-hour workday, and the uses of journalism and cartooning to expose "big business" corruption.
Prior to the Progressive Era, child offenders over the age of seven were imprisoned with adults. Such had been the model historically. But the actions of political and social reformers, as well as the research of psychologists in the 18th and 19th centuries, began a shift in society's views on juvenile delinquents. Early reformers who were interested in rehabilitating rather than punishing children built the New York House of Refuge in 1824. The reformatory housed juveniles who earlier would have been placed in adult jails. Beginning in 1899, individual states took note of the problem of youth incarceration and began establishing similar youth reform homes.
Such early changes to the justice system were made under a newfound conviction that society had a responsibility to recover the lives of its young offenders before they became absorbed in the criminal activity they were taking part in. The juvenile justice system exercised its authority within a "parens patriae" (state as parent or guardian) role. The state assumed the responsibility of parenting the children until they began to exhibit positive changes, or became adults. Youth were no longer tried as adult offenders. Their cases were heard in a somewhat informal court designed for juveniles, often without the assistance of attorneys. Extenuating evidence, outside of the legal facts surrounding the crime or delinquent behavior, was taken into consideration by the judge. Early reform houses were, in many ways, similar to orphanages. Indeed, many of the youth housed in the reformatories were orphans and homeless children.

"In re Gault" - 1967

By the 1960s juvenile courts had jurisdiction over nearly all cases involving persons under the age of 18, and transfers into the adult criminal system were made only through a waiver of the juvenile court's authority. Juvenile courts aimed to make their 'civil proceedings' unlike adult 'criminal trials.' The civil proceedings, however, did not afford youths who were indeed facing a potential loss of liberty the due process of law rights explicated in the 5th and 14th Amendments. The right to trial by jury and the freedom against self-incrimination were guaranteed to citizens in 5th Article of the Bill of Rights (ratified 1791). This Article, the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, states that "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor shall [a person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." The 14th Amendment required that all citizens of the United States receive equal protection under the law. The Amendment states, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.
A 1967 decision by the Supreme Court affirmed the necessity of requiring juvenile courts to respect the due process of law rights of juveniles during their proceedings. The ruling was the result of an evaluation of Arizona's decision to confine Gerald Francis Gault. Gault (age 15) had been placed in detention for making an obscene call to a neighbor while under probation. The Arizona juvenile court had decided to place him in the State Industrial School until he became an adult (age 21) or was "discharged by due process of law." The Supreme Court decision, delivered by Justice Abe Fortas, emphasized that youth had a right to receive fair treatment under the law and pointed out the following rights of minors:
  • The right to receive notice of charges
  • The right to obtain legal counsel
  • The right to "confrontation and cross-examination"
  • The "privilege against self-incrimination"
  • The right to receive a "transcript of the proceedings," and
  • The right to "appellate review"
The dissenting voice, Justice Potter Stewart, expressed concern that the court's decision would "convert a juvenile proceeding into a criminal prosecution." He held to the historical intent of the juvenile justice system, which was not to prosecute and punish young offenders, but to "correct a condition," and meet society's "responsibilities to the child."

The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act - 1968

In 1968 Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act. The act was designed to encourage states to develop plans and programs that would work on a community level to discourage juvenile delinquency. The programs, once drafted and approved, would receive federal funding. The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act was a precursor to the extensive Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that replaced it in 1974.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act - 1974

By 1974 the United States had developed a strong momentum toward preventing juvenile delinquency, deinstitutionalizing youth already in the system, and keeping juvenile offenders separate from adults offenders. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created the following entities:
  • The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
  • The Runaway Youth Program, and
  • The National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NIJJDP)
In order to receive funds made available by the act, states were required to remove youth from "secure detention and correctional facilities," and separate juvenile delinquents from convicted adults. Part of the rationale behind the separation of juvenile and adult offenders was evidence that delinquent youth learned worse criminal behavior from older inmates. Such logic was voiced in the Progressive Era by the writer Morrison Swift, who commented on the practice of jailing young offenders with adults, "young and impressionable offenders were being carried off to Rutland with more hardened men, there to receive an education in lawlessness from their experienced associates." ("Humanizing the Prisons," August 1911, The Atlantic).

"Get Tough on Crime" Legislation

A steep rise in juvenile crime occurred between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. The increase in crime hit a peak in 1994 and then began to gradually decline. In response to a fear that juvenile crime would continue to rise at the rate seen between (roughly) 1987 and 1994, legislatures enacted measures designed to "get tough on crime." The 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was amended to include provisions that would allow states to try juveniles as adults for some violent crimes and weapons violations. Minimum detention standards were also put into place in some states. The anti-crime sentiment of the period caused changes to be implemented to the juvenile justice system that made it increasingly similar to the adult (criminal) justice system. The shift Justice Stewart had predicted in 1967, with the implementation of formal trials for youth, reflected an increasingly common view that juvenile offenders were not youth begging rehabilitation, but young criminals. Rehabilitation became a lesser priority to public safety in the aggressive campaign against crime of the 1990s.
In the late 1990s Americans faced growing concern over highly publicized and violent juvenile crime. A series of school shootings and other horrendous offenses caused the public to fear a new breed of "juvenile superpredators," defined by the OJJDP as "juveniles for whom violence was a way of life - new delinquents unlike youth of past generations." The OJJDP's February 2000 "Juvenile Justice Bulletin," acknowledged that the threat of juvenile violence and delinquency was grossly exaggerated in the 1990s; however, the fear experienced at the time resulted in significant changes to the United State's approach to juvenile crime.

If I Get Out Alive - Children Sentenced to Adult Prison - Press Play to Listen

Broken on all sides

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