News article about the original crime.
Scanned from original
Racine is familiar with Arkansas dilemma
R. Cierzan of Racine lives 500 miles away from Jonesboro, Ark., but she is all too familiar with that community's heartache — the echoing horror and sorrow from gunshots fired by children. Her nephew, Darnell Williford, was shot to death nearly eight years ago by a pint-size gunman who was boosted onto the roof of a community center by his gangbanger pals.
It was nearly as shocking a crime to Racine as the killings of four school girls and a teacher were to Jonesboro. Add it led to the kind of legal reform in Wisconsin that is now being debated in Arkansas,
Williford's admitted killer, Terrance Simpson, was just 11 when he ended Williford's life with a single sniper style shot to the back.
It looked like cold-blooded murder to those who saw the shooting, but Simpson was too young to face charges under the state's existing juvenile laws — a well-intended, but short-sighted tract known as the Children's Code. Children had to be at least 12 before they could be accused of crimes, which were classified as "delinquent acts" under the old code. Legally, Simpson was still a child, though his lifestyle included very adult interests,
Here are some sentences I wrote about Simpson for this newspaper as juvenile authorities pondered their pre-teen predicament
Metro on the Beat
BY GARY METRO:
"His days often began with a drink and a cigarette- He started fights at school, when he felt like attending class. And he ran with adult members of the Vice Lords street gang until the wee hours of the morning."
Those few words spoke volumes about Simpson at age 11. But they had no impact whatsoever on his legal disposition. The only legal remedy available at the time was to have Simpson declared a child in need of protective services. That allowed for his long term placement in a treatment center, a place he often fled — though it probably featured the best meals, lifestyle, education and structure of his life. It was an odd result for the taking of a life. Some believed Simpson not only got away with murder, he benefited from it.
Joan Korb, an assistant district attorney for Racine County, still is troubled by the murder of Williford and the apparent lack of remorse in Simpson, "We couldn't send him to a locked facility. He even saw himself as_a Korb explained. "he wanted to write a book. He thought he could sell it. " Korb noticed something about
Sinipson that is now happening in the wake of the Jonesboro killings allegedly committed by Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11.
The accused get the get the attention, the concern, the wringing hands and forrowed brow of juvenile experts concerned about the brutal impact of prison on kids who kill. The victims are mourned and quickly buried. the parents weep privately and forever as they are publicly encouraged to get on with their lives.
This troubles Judge Dennis Barry of Racine County Circuit Court who emerged after the Williford trial as perhaps the strongest support of juvenile justice reform in Wisconsin. "Everyone is talking about those poor young kids on Arkansas now." Barry said "Nobody is talking about the victims. Who were the victims? They were four young girls. too. They say that's the curse of the gods to lose a child. " Barry believes the focus should not be solely on the suspects who almost daily are portrayed as victims of troubled backgrounds, abuses, broken relationships or shoddy parenting. "Truth is, they are not victims of anything at the moment. They are accused of deliberate killings that would almost certainly put any grown man on death row.
Korb and Barry believe that Wisconsin's new juvenile just code, which took effect in 1996, allow for rehabilitation of the suspects tailored to the needs of those with petty offenses and those facing murder charges.
Berry recalls the 10- year- old age limit as one of the sticking points against the new code. Some juvenile advocates though it was too low, too punitive, too draconian.
Barry and Korb see it as realistic.
Some young children are capable of horrible, violent crimes. Some of those who are capable prove to be culpable. It may not save the children to put them behind bars but it certainly saves society from their next horror. It is that public protection aspect that gets overlooked by those who fear harsh punishment., Barry said. Instead on the emotional and inaccurate image of putting young children into adult prisons, Berry believes the emphasis should be on making communities safer. He believes the states juvenile justice code has been effective. But he and Ciezan are sorry it took a tragedy to propel the change. "I just wish it could have happened sooner." Said Cierzan, who raised Williford as if he were her own child.
Simpson is serving time for arson and recklessly endangering safety for starting a fire in the county's juvenile detention center in 1997.
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