A 13-year-old boy pleaded guilty Tuesday (Nov. 16) in Juvenile Court to charges stemming from his shooting of a fellow student at Cummings K-8 Optional School in September. The victim also was 13.
The teen appeared diminutive and frail in juvenile detention blues during the virtual hearing.
Charged with criminal attempt first-degree murder and related offenses, a guilty plea ended confinement for the defendant in the Shelby County Juvenile facility and opened a new chapter of life under a strict, rehabilitative and probationary regimen.
Before proceedings began, Magistrate Mitzi Pollard admonished media representatives allowed in the courtroom that the shooter was not to be named or, otherwise, identified in subsequent news stories.
Cameras, cell phones and other recording devices were not allowed into the courtroom.
Virtual participants appeared on a screen in boxed images transmitted from their various locations.
Defense attorney Blake Ballin submitted a waiver of trial and admission of delinquency on behalf of the teen. Signatures had been signed by Ballin with the permission of both the defendant and his mother.
“Mr. (defendant), by submitting this waiver of trial, you are pleading guilty to your charge. Is that what you want to do?” Pollard asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” the teen said.
In another question, the magistrate asked, “Mr. (teen), did you know that what you were doing was wrong at the time?”
“Yes,” the defendant answered.
Under the plea agreement, the teen’s movements are restricted to home and school. He must also complete “intensive, in-home services” facilitated by Youth Villages. After intensive case management, intensive after-care must also be satisfactorily completed.
“Cease fire class” must be completed, and the teen’s mother must participate, the magistrate said.
Emory Hammond, the victim’s father, also attended the hearing. Hammond said because of “grace and mercy,” his son survived, and Hammond wanted to see that same grace and mercy given to the shooter.
Pollard acknowledged Hammond’s presence and gave him the opportunity to address the court, but he declined comment.
According to Hammond, the shooter and his son had been fighting for several days. On the morning Hammond’s son was shot, the two teens were supposed to meet in the hall of the Soulville-area school in South Memphis to fight again.
Somehow, the teens ended up alone in a stairwell, where the shooter pulled a gun and shot the victim in his abdomen.
The shooter fled the scene in a waiting vehicle outside. Eventually, he turned himself in to police, identifying himself as the person who had shot a student.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray got the mother of the shooter together with the parents of the victim and prayed with them.
The moment was extraordinary.
Hammond said, “In the midst of accountability, I want us to remember mercy.”
Hammond said the shooting was a wake-up call for him to step up and be a better father.
After the teen’s first hearing on Oct. 1, he just wanted to go back home with his mother. And so, he did.