Dear Frontline:Shame on you for your very biased piece on "When Kids Get Life". Apparently Ofra Bikel chose to embrace the "victim" culture for these juvenile murderers that deflects any personal responsibility and by doing so did a great disservice and great disrespect to the memory and family of the real victims.
First, I would like to address the piece on Trevor Jones. Regardless of what Trevor's sister, Jennifer, said through her tears of it being an accident, it most certainly was not. And, she knows that because she was sitting in the front row, middle isle of the courtroom during his trial. Here are the facts, as brought out during his trial. These are undisputable; they are a matter of record. He met Matthew Foley to sell him a gun with every intention of taking the gun back and keeping the money - this is known as "jacking", and he did just that. But, only after spending the afternoon at a friend's house smoking marijuana and polishing the bullets that he used to murder Matthew. After he took the gun back, he loaded it, scooted across the back seat of the car, walked all the way around the back of the car and put the gun up to the back of Matthew's head through a window that was open a few inches. Even with Matthew pleading for him not to do it, he pulled the trigger. After he pulled the trigger he turned to run away, but turned back and put the gun back in the window and pulled the trigger to shoot JP, Matthew's friend who was driving the car. The gun jammed. JP drove away as fast as he could to get Matthew help. Trevor and his girlfriend drove to the corner store and bought cigarettes and then went to dinner at Village Inn - paying for both with the $100 that he stole from Matthew. These were the facts that came out at the trial testified to by Matthew's friend, JP, Trevor's friend, John, and Trevor's girlfriend. What did not come out during the trail was at a party a few weeks prior to Trevor murdering Matthew; he put this same gun to a kid's head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed, which is the only reason that kid is alive today. Trevor was charged with First Degree Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Burglary, Burglary, and Felony Murder. In her instructions to the jury the judge told the jurors they could also come back with a lesser charge than First Degree Murder, which they did with Reckless Manslaughter, and they also found him guilty of Burglary.
I would suggest that before anyone fall on a sword for the five offenders you spotlighted they should read the police report and trial transcript for each one. They may come away with a whole different opinion.Your presentation of the victim's families was extremely exploitative, callous and bias. Apparently, most of Gail Palone's interview with Frontline ended up on the cutting room floor. While showing Trevor's sister crying through most of the interview, I did not see where you showed Gail Palone breaking down and crying when she spoke to you of her son and how she thinks about him every single day and misses him with every fiber of her being. I also didn't see the part where she told you he was her best friend and because she was a single Mom for a long time how close they were. Everyone knows that any subject can be slanted in more than one way. Ask any person who has been on a debating team....same topic, different slants. You most definitely slanted your story away from the victims and in favor of the juvenile murderers.
The Pendulum Foundation was started by the affluent parents of Erik Jensen, after their son was sentenced to life without parole. Here's food for thought - could it be they are trying to buy their son's release from prison before Erik's self-imposed 10 year deadline and know they cannot do so without including all 45 of these juveniles? Just something to ponder. The fact that Mr. Jensen blamed his son's conviction on the Columbine massacre is insulting to the jurors in his son's trial and to the families of the Columbine victims. Erik Jensen was convicted for participating in a murder, not because his name is Erik and he lives in Littleton as did Eric Harris.
Here's another fact you failed to present. Last year in the State of Colorado there were 221 murders by juveniles since 1990 and only 45 of those juveniles are in prison without parole. Statistics clearly show that the laws as they stand are working. The number of juveniles arrested in violent crimes has seriously declined since the prosecutor's direct-file discretion was made into law. These violent offenders are where they belong, away from my family and yours.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
FRONTLINE contacted producer Ofra Bikel regarding Ms. Schneider's account of the Trevor Jones case. It should be noted that Ms. Schneider is member of Gail Palone's family; she was present at Ms. Palone's interview with FRONTLINE, and she provided images of Matt Foley which FRONTLINE used in the broadcast, for which we are very grateful.
Ms. Bikel and her production team reviewed the transcript from Jones' trial in making the film and found no record of any allegation that Trevor pointed the gun at Matt Foley's companion that night. It is true, however, that testimony confirms Trevor polished the gun and bullets earlier that day, and that after the shooting Trevor bought cigarettes with a $100 bill and then went to a restaurant.
In the end, the jury concluded that Matt Foley's death was a terrible accident when they found Trevor guilty of reckless manslaughter instead of first- or second-degree murder. However, Ms. Bikel insisted that Ms. Palone's assertion that it was not an accident be included in the program, and we did so.
As discussed in our profile of the Trevor Jones case, the conviction which resulted in felony murder and its sentence of life without parole was robbery, not burglary. Had Trevor been convicted of the lesser charge of theft instead of robbery, felony murder would not have applied, and he would have received a lesser sentence, from two to 15 years.
Contrary to Ms. Schneider's assertion, FRONTLINE used far more of Gail Palone's interview in the final report than is customary. Ms. Bikel felt great sympathy for Ms. Palone and her son, and attempted to represent Matt Foley as much as possible in the report. To this end, she included several photos of Matt Foley as well as Ms. Palone's memories of her son.
It is true that Trevor Jones' sister is tearful in the broadcast, but she was tearful in her interview. As Ms. Bikel recalls, Ms. Palone was less so, and Ms. Bikel feels that her portrayal of each woman was fair and accurate. She is sorry to learn that Ms. Palone may feel otherwise.
I'm now the Director of Washington, DC's juvenile justice system but in 2001, I coauthored a meta-analysis on the media's coverage of juvenile crime, part of which reported on a study of Denver's 1993 "Summer of Violence". One of the fascinating findings of that report (http://buildingblocksforyouth.org/media/media.html) was that juvenile homicides in Denver were actually lower in 1993 than in '91, '92, and '94. Still, there was a 168.5% increase in the number of articles about youth crime between the summers of 1992 and 1993, and then a 220% decline in articles about youth crime in the summer of 1994. The difference between '93 and those other years was actually a small number of homicides were committed in white suburban communities, as opposed to in the inner city where most of the homicides occurred in the non-1993 years. The reporters from the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post were remarkably frank with researcher L. Greiner; Denver Post reporter Steven Lipscher said, for example, "Inner city crime is not nearly as shocking as suburban crime and the only reason why is look at who is writing the stories and look at who is assigning the stories."So, not only did the "Summer of Violence" profoundly affect public policy in Colorado, and the lives of the young people featured in "When Kids Get Life", but 1993 actually witnessed a decline in youth homicides versus surrounding years. The furor was a media-driven one, based more on the race and class of victims and offenders than on a statistically valid crime trend rendering the public policy that arose from it even less defensible.
Dear Frontline,Please take a look at a book profiled on your sister network NPR, entitled "Last Chance In Texas, The redemption of Criminal Youth." It chronicles a program in Texas as an alternative to prison for violent young offenders. It has been very successful and has been proven to reduce recidivism to an astonishing 10%. I realize those profiled in your program are in for life with no parole, but this kind of program should be considered in Colorado and other states!Thank you for your consideration and excellent programing!
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Listen to the NPR segment here.
Do you really think if your child, mother, father, brother was killed by one of these young adults, you would think they should be free in 12-15 years? My mother was stabbed to death by a 16 soon to be 17 year old. She was protecting his grandmother who he was stabbing for money for drugs. He killed them both. Then bragged about it! Just a young boy! You think he should be out on the streets to kill your loved one? He was put in prison without parole. We thought he would never be able to kill again, but wrong! He killed his cell mate so he could show how tough he was and be a part of a gang. You really think he should be out on the streets to kill again? I think you are not thinking of the victims at all. After the tial he escaped because he was put in juvenile detention. We sat all night with a gun afraid he might come after us, as we had testified during the trial. You who have not been through it have no idea the fear, and trauma you go through when your loved one is murdered.
After the fact is not the time you should make a difference. It's when these kids are getting in trouble at school with their peers. That is when the professional help is needed.Make a difference when they are in elementary school. Before they take the life of your mother, child, sister, brother or father.
I watched with interest the parts of your series regarding Nathan Ybanez and Erik Jensen. All in all, it was very similar to the piece in Rolling Stone magazine last fall, containing the same truths, and unfortunately, the same inaccuracies and biases.
As the parent of Brett Baker, I feel it is my duty to correct some of these untruths. What was not mentioned in the series was the fact that Erik admitted to striking Julie Ybanez with the fireplace tool himself. This is in his own court testimony. This is but one example of the misleading presentation. Once again, Brett is portrayed as "the rat" for testifying against both Nathan and Erik, but especially against Erik. In other media, Brett has been portrayed as a liar who flunked a polygraph test. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the district attorney's own words, Brett passed that polygraph "with flying colors". Please do not take my word for it - check with the Douglas County District Attorney's office. Obviously, this does not sit well with the Jensen family. I have always found the Jensens to be kind, intelligent, loving parents, but this has put them in an impossible situation. Their son has told them a story, and it is only natural that they would want to believe him. They would no sooner stop believing him than they would stop loving him.
As for claims of sexual abuse by Nathan, there is no way for any of us to know for sure. If true, it is truly deplorable, but in any case, why was there no mention of this until years after his trial? I did witness the incredible temper of Nathan's father firsthand, and in fact called the authorities to intervene in the volatile situation at their house, but nothing was done, and Nathan was returned to his parent's home. I would not have been surprised to see Nathan lash out at his father, but to attack and murder his mother was totally unexpected and incomprehensible.
All in all, I found the segment to be very slanted. That is the danger of taking the defendants' stories at face value. I am disappointed that the producer and interviewer did not take the time and effort to research the entire situation before choosing to present this version as "the truth". Even small statements cast a very misleading light on many of the people involved. For example, the statement that Brett was facing "two other charges", and the subsequent inference that this would force him to bend his testimony to the will of the prosecution, is incomplete, but very derogatory. The charges that Brett faced were for a traffic accident and for "flipping off" a neighbor who happened to have a history of violent and erratic behavior. This elaboration of the truth does not make for as good a story as was presented.
My final thought on all this is that there is, indeed, a great deal of inconsistency in sentencting between states, and in many cases, between cities and counties within the same state. Do I think that Nathan is a threat to anyone else? No. It is tragic that things escalated to the point that they did, and I am certain that neither boy thought very far ahead as to the consequences of their actions. There are many victims here, and no good outcome for any of them, especially Julie Ybanez.
Ms. Bikel is correct on the fact that I used the word Burglary instead of the word Robbery. Other than that correction, I stand behind what I previously stated.
Dear Frontline,I was so overwhelmed by the documentary "When Kids Get Life." But, I must say after reading the comments on this web site, I felt compelled to write in response to some of the comments made by people who clearly did not take into consideration the age, circumstances nor the mental state of mind of these teenagers at the time they committed these crimes. Yes, I agree there are no winners in this. But as an educator of this age group of boys in high school, I felt the need to address some of the questions as to their ability to cold-heartedly commit these crimes. I have seen some of the hardest cases of teenagers in my classroom and outside of the class. I am always struck by the immediate response to these kids, yes kids, by adults. They can laugh at one moment and cry the next, their bodies demonstrate a physical maturity that leads one to believe that they are indeed in control and mentally capable of being in the adult world. However, mentally, they are still experimenting with ideas and concepts so deeply complicated that they react then reflect....a learning process that each and everyone of us progressed through during teenage years. As a mother of four boys, myself, each of them having their difficulties during their teen years, some of it not so nice and there were times I would question their ability to make into adulthood. But, they are now grown and have children and look back and feel so embarrassed or humiliated by their immature actions. Keeping in mind, they thought, at the time, they knew exactly what they were doing. Again, as a parent, I know the worst thing in the world is to lose a child, especially like this. But, please don't forget that we are dealing with children, yes children in a state of growing up. They are not capable of sorting out the consequences of a lifetime at 14 or 15, they only know what is day to day and that becomes their reality. Punishment is meant to punish, and they deserve that; not a lifetime of suffering without hope.
I've noticed quite a few comments on here about how the boys featured in your stories should not be referred to as "children", and someone even gave an appropriate age bracket in which a child is actually to be considered a child.
I agree that someone on the cusp of 18 is not necessarily a child, but in Colorado, if a 17 year 11 month girl has sexual intercourse with anyone she is still considered a "child" when Colorado wants to prosecute her partner.
A person is a "child" in Colorado when it's prosecution-friendly. These boys were prosecuted as adults, so again, they weren't children because that wasn't prosecution-friendly!
I am convinced that life w/o the possibility of parole is a very appropriate sentence for a kid who has committed murder. In my opinion, the problem is not the penalty but the fact that the law is not giving room to the analysis of the circumstances involving the crime. Circumstances involving abuse, for instance, ought to be consider. However, if a 15 or 14 year old child in Detroit or New York pulls the trigger with the clear intent of killing someone (and there are people like that in the streets). I have absolutely no problem seeing this person rot in prison for the rest of his life. The two kids from Columbine, for instance. If they had been arrested, I think life w/o the possibility of parole would have been a very appropriate sentence.
Dear Frontline: Give Me A Break!! You want us to believe that these convicted murderers are not perfect and deserve a second chance to become a productive part of society. I think another poster said "family men". Some of the victims were painted as if they were the criminals, it was all there fault. Well you know what, nobody is perfect, that is a fact of nature. These victims might not have been perfect, yet they ended up losing their lives. They do not get the chance to become productive members of this society, they do not get the chance to be family men or women, they do not get the chance to go to church every Sunday. Because one of the five young men that you interviewed decided that it was within their rights of imperfectness to take their lives.
No that these adolescents have had time to think about what they did, they do not like the sentence, they want to be bailed out, they want a second chance. I'm sorry but they do not deserve it. If you had in fact portrayed a true picture of the events of the individual murders, even if you had focused your 90 minutes over the next 5 weeks to just one case at a time and truly gave both sides of the story some would see that.
Like Ms Bikel, I have a very biased and slanted opinion. But unlike Ms Bikel, my bias comes from the fact that Trevor Jones murdered my cousin Matt Foley and I live with what this has done to my family every day. There people on this discussion board who claim that keeping these "kids" in prison for the rest of their life is nothing but a vengeful act by the victims families.
My question is since when is holding someone accountable for their actions a vengeful act?
I have been impressed by the quality of the messages published on these pages; both from those who feel that a life sentence without parole may, in some instances, be appropriate; and from those who feel that there is nothing more important we do as a culture than take care of our children and nothing more shameful than to throw them away. Both sides have been argued articulately.
Those who present the point of view that lifelong sentences can sometimes be just and fair give two arguments; the first being that the issue must be seen from the perspective of those who have lost loved ones to violent crime, and the second being the question of whether Frontline was fair or balanced in its presentation. Taking the second argument first, Frontline has offered many excellent documentaries over the years. "Monsters Among Us," for example, raised awareness about the nature of sexual predators and didn't, as I recall, plead for for lenience in their treatment.
We have heard a good deal in recent years about Victims' Rights. This is as it should be. Victims of crimes and their families deserve our unquestioning sympathy and support. Victims have received much more attention than youngsters given life without parole. It is fitting and proper that this be the case, but that doesn't meant that individuals like those outlined in "When Kids Get Life" should not receive attention. This gets us back to the first argument of those who take issue with this presentation: only a victim or famly of a victim of a juvenile offender gets to decide the issue. Their passion dictates that only their opinion has weight. But we are a nation of laws. We think of ourselves as humane. The passions of those personally involved in either side of this issue should be a part of this discussion, but not the only part.
As a society we have put things like slavery and public hangings behind us. How tragic it would have been if at the time we wrestled with those issues, we accepted the status quo. It was passion, tempered by calm reason, that moved us forward. In the case of what we should do about kids who commit crimes, let's temper passion with calm and reason, and also with mercy.
Full disclosre: For the last six years I have maintained a vibrant written communication with a young man who was sentenced to life without parole for crimes commited when he was fifteen. I have come to know him as a whole, complete, complex human being with the capacity to love, learn, work, regret, and hope. Tomorrow I will be sending him a card congratulating him on the attainment of his B.A. The world will be a poorer place for his lifelong banishment from it.
Troy, New York
I was deeply disturbed by the question, "Did you enjoy it?" asked of Nathan Ybanez by Ofra Bikel. She asked this question of Nathan as he was describing the sexual abuse he survived with his mother being the perpetrator. Nathan was amazingly patient with Ms. Bikel after she asked this monstrously inappropriate question. I'm wondering if Ms. Bikel would've asked the same question of a female victim of sexual violence? I think not. The question was abusive and is an example of the fact that we are often not interested in asking the question, "How in the hell did you survive as long as you did?" It also illustrates the attitude male survivors of sexual abuse must confront when they report the abuse. No wonder they so rarely do.
Farmington , Maine
The tragedy of Matt Foley's death should not ever be dismissed. With that said neither should the loss that the Jones family has endured. I knew Jennifer and Trevor both. Trevor was no different than any of our brothers at that time. They were trouble makers. Always on the shady side of the law but not always across it either. IT COULD HAVE BEEN ANY OF THEM!!! Trevor was the one that got caught. All of the kids that he ran with are family men now. They are productive members of society. The work, raise their families and go to church. We know how lucky we are that it was not them.
Life in Prison for a child. That is a horrible inhumane thought. Who has a concept of life at the age of 17? Does his punishment fit his crime? I think not. He did not premeditate the murder. I know that he wasn't capable of it. He was trying to scam someone. That is all.
Why does he not deserve a second chance? Because some DA made a promise to the family? The law changes all the time. Promises are broken all the time.
It must be so exhausting for Ms. Palone to remain so terribly angry. I do truly feel for her. I hope at some point in her life she finds peace. I don't think that keeping Trevor in prison will bring that to her though.
I look at my best friend's son who is 14 and try to picture him in the situation that all these young men found themselves in. All I can think is he is just a little kid. He can't remember to turn in his homework much less plot to murder someone.
If he had committed these crimes in another state he wouldn't still be in prison. Does it not strike anyone odd that Texas who executes people on a regular basis has no juveniles serving life without parole? It is time for the law to change.
I do not believe that the presentation accurately presented the problem. The viewer was left to reflect on the judgement of the case, and not the ability of the justice system to reabilitate children.
Dear Frontline,After watching your show I was left pondering why wasn't there more facts onto some of these KILLERS, other crimes, exactly how old were they when they were sent to prison. What would be the difference between somebody who say is 3 months shy of turning 18 and somebody who is 18 today? Having been that age I can answer the question is no difference. We are taught at an early age what is right and what is wrong, kids know that if you kill someone that you go to jail and it could be forever. I also would have liked so see you interview the parents of all of the victims as well, for this would have given the audiance a better picture of how hannis these crimes were. To all of the Trevor Jones fans who may have commented on this, here is something to keep in mind. My family lost a bright and shining light on that fatefull night that none of us will ever forget. You can go see your precious peice of scum and talk to him, hug him. We cant for Trevor did KILL Matthew which is indisputable and is now paying the price
Dear Frontline, I have been watching your program for many years. In fact, Frontline is my favorite hour of television each and every week. My DVR is pre-scheduled to record Frontline every time it is aired. It is because I value the program, I felt compelled to write in response to "When Kids Get Life.". This was the most slanted piece of pseudo news documentary trash I have ever seen. It most certainly did not come close to reaching the level of insightful journalism I have come to expect from Frontline. One of our poor subjects kills a supposed "friend" while attempting to rob him of his cash during the sale of a loaded pistol. Where did Trevor get the pistol? We are never told, but I would bet it was stolen. Another "child", as they are conveniently referred to throughout the program, is some how handed a murder weapon by his friend, after the friend kills his own mother. We are never told why this subject is eventually charged with murder, probably because the reasons would not fit the pre-conceived framework of the producers view. Another "child" is involved in the carjacking of a youth, which results in an execution style murder. Again, none of the circumstances of the case are revealed. We are only left to feel sorry for him because he is eventually transferred to a real prison and his mother is unable to hug him or buy him a snack. I don't think the victim's mother can hug her son or buy him a snack either. But, we are supposed to sympathized with poor Andy because he wrote an apology letter, which blew his attorneys plans to claim "He wasn't even there". Terms like "vengeance" and "justice" are thrown about loosely throughout the program, but the term "truth" is never mentioned, because if the "truth" had been layed out in each of these cases, the result would not have been as intended by the producer. After viewing "When Kids Get Life", I felt sick to my stomach. Obviously, nobody close to the producer has ever been bludgeoned, beaten, or executed by some spoiled suburban punk trying to live a "Thug Life". Obviously, this producer has never spent time with law enforcement or educators who deal with the youth of this country on a daily basis. This would be way too much work for her. Not only were the victims of these crimes violated, so were the viewers who wasted ninety minutes of their lives experiencing this infomercial.
Simi Valley, California
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
For more on the cases featured in the report, see the written profiles on FRONTLINE's Web site.