little criminals

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1513 Little Criminals
Air Date: May 13, 1997 Produced by Virginia Storring
Written and Directed by John Zaritsky

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Hey, Brandon, my name's Steve. And you know what?


STEVE HARRISON: We need to talk about some things. Okay? The first thing I want to let you know is that nobody here is going to beat you up. Nobody here is going to hurt you. Nobody here is going to do anything like that to you, okay? You're safe. All we're interested in doing is finding out the truth.

NARRATOR: In the spring of 1996, in a juvenile interrogation room, police sat down to question a 6- year old. They would later charge the boy with the attempted murder of a 1-month old baby.

TELEVISION REPORTER: The 6-year-old kicked, punched and beat the baby with a broomstick. EXPERT: There's literally no hope for the baby right now.

TELEVISION REPORTER: Everyone involved is stunned.

NARRATOR: It was a case that shattered the very idea of childhood. How could someone so young be so violent?

1st TELEVISION REPORTER: Some neighbors have described the boy as mean and a troublemaker. 1st NEIGHBOR: Very, very bad.

2nd TELEVISION REPORTER: He was the victim of a broken home, allowed to run the streets. 2nd NEIGHBOR: He's not an evil child.

1st TELEVISION REPORTER: --and police say showed no remorse for the beating. CHILD: He was mean. He sometimes--

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Can you show me how you kicked the baby? Show me.

NARRATOR: The crime set off a national debate. Should the 6-year-old be treated as a disturbed child or punished like a criminal?

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Good morning. I'm Ron Owen. This is KGO.

1st CALLER: He should be put away, permanently if necessary, because he is a danger.

2nd CALLER: I don't think the kid knew exactly what he was doing. 3rd CALLER: You've got to do something with this child.

FOX BUTTERFIELD, New York Times: This is not an anomaly. This is in some ways a very classic case. We've seen a big downshift in the age at which people are committing murder. And over the past year, I think the statistics would show that there's something like 100 children under the age of 10 who have been charged in some way with murder.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Can you show me how you hit her? Like that? Three times? Okay. So you hit her like that three times after you kicked her two times. Then what else?

NARRATOR: It all happened in Richmond, California, near San Francisco, in a poor neighborhood of blacks and Latinos called the "Iron Triangle." It began with a 6-year-old boy who wanted a Big Wheel, the favorite tricycle in his neighborhood. Late on a hot day, the boy's grandmother let him out to play while he waited for his mother to come home from work. The 6 year-old was soon joined by 8-year-old twin brothers who were being watched by their older sister, Roxanne.

ROXANNE: The day that this incident happened, it was my birthday, so I came home from work, which was about 5:30 or something like that, and they was in the house. And it was hot outside and I told them they could go outside. They was good, normal kids. I mean, I ain't saying they was perfect kids, but they was normal kids.

NARRATOR: Down the street, the three boys were spotted by a neighbor, Ophelia Stringer

OPHELIA STRINGER: I was sitting on my porch. It was an average day_ you know, everybody sitting outside, kids playing. You know, we were just sitting there. We saw them playing out all day.

NARRATOR: Later, outside this apartment building, another neighbor saw one of the boys hiding a Big Wheel tricycle in a bush. Suspicious, he rushed inside, where he discovered a baby, bloody and unconscious. He ran outside and started screaming at the three boys.

OPHELIA STRINGER: You know, they ran down here and they were like, "I didn't"_ you know, "It wasn't me! It wasn't me!" because, you know, they_ of course, you react to a man coming outside, yelling at you and everything. The adults are going ask questions like, "What did you do to make a man react like that?" And they were just, like, "I didn't do it! I didn't do it" and laughing, laughing and joking. And they ran up and down the street and then when they saw the police, they got scared and they ran in the back yard of the twins' house.

NARRATOR: Ignacio Bermudez and his wife had left the baby with their older daughter while they went shopping.

IGNACIO BERMUDEZ: [through interpreter] I saw a lot of police by the house and people were gathered around the house, right? And then-- then I got closer and I asked the children, "What happened?" "Your boy," they said, "they hit him." "But all my children are here. It's not my child. All my children are here." I never_ I never imagined it was my youngest child.

NARRATOR: Bermudez rushed to the hospital, where his month-old baby boy was in critical condition with severe head injuries.

IGNACIO BERMUDEZ: [through interpreter] A little while later, my wife arrived. She was crying by then and she tells me_ "Nacio," she says, "they're saying that the boy was hit. They say he was hit really bad. With a stick, they say." "No, that can't be. That someone would hit a child? A child doesn't do anything, right?"

Mrs. BERMUDEZ: [through interpreter] I got near him and I told him, "You're going to get better. You're not going to die. I want you to come home with me." He just blinks his little eyes. I touched his face and his feet and he shrunk away.

NARRATOR: As the baby clung to life, the people of the Iron Triangle gathered to pray for his survival and to wonder how this could have happened. The Richmond police knew exactly who they were looking for. The next day they picked up the three boys. Captain Ray Howard headed the investigation.

Capt. RAY HOWARD: We weren't prepared. Nothing had prepared us for anything like this because it never had occurred. We had no idea exactly how we were going to handle this thing. We knew what we had, but how do you handle it when it involves a suspect or suspects this young?

NARRATOR: The police videotaped their interrogation of the boys. This is the first time those tapes have been seen. Detective Darryl Jackson started with the 8-year-old twins.

Det. DARRYL JACKSON: They were giving different stories, minimizing their involvement in the incident itself. One child initially told us that he never went inside. Another stated that_ that he just took the bike and he left. And then one of them put everything off on the other. [police interrogation] So you walked into the bedroom.

TWIN: Yeah.

Det. DARRYL JACKSON: Okay. So you did go in the bedroom. [to interviewer] You talk to one kid, you may or may not believe everything he's telling you, but you take it and you set them down off, and then go back with the rest of them and you bring someone else in, listen to what that person has to say. And you say, "Well, So-and-So just told me this." [police interrogation] Your brother told us earlier today that you were actually standing in the room with him when all this was happening.

TWIN: I wasn't in the room.

Det. DARRYL JACKSON: Your brother said you were. [to interviewer] You can't forget what you're involved in. You're still on a fact-finding mission. And as police officers, you have hearts. Some things you see, you want to break down and cry, but you can't because you have a job to do and if you don't do your job, it doesn't get done. [police interrogation] I'm not going to talk to you again. I'm going to give you one chance to tell the truth. And when you walk out that door, that's going to be your last chance.

NARRATOR: The twins finally confessed that they were in the apartment, but said it was the 6-year-old who had beaten the baby.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Look at me. Are you telling me the truth or a lie?

BRANDON: The truth.

STEVE HARRISON: I don't believe you. I want you to tell me the truth, okay?

Capt. RAY HOWARD: He looked like a 6-year-old. He didn't look like and didn't act like a child who could commit this kind of an act. He looked like a kid who I might have taught in a Sunday school class, you know?

Det. DARRYL JACKSON: [police interrogation] How many times did you kick the baby?


Det. DARRYL JACKSON: You kicked the baby around the head four times? Did you punch the baby, too? How many times did you punch the baby?


Det. DARRYL JACKSON: About seven times? [to interviewer] He tried to state that he just thought it was a doll, he didn't believe that it was actually a baby. Whether I believe that or not, I don't know.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Can you show me how you kicked the baby? Show me. Just two times?

BRANDON: Uh-huh.

STEVE HARRISON: Show me again. Show me how you did it.

Capt. RAY HOWARD: I'm still not convinced that these kids knew the gravity of what they were doing. To this day, I still don't believe they knew how bad this situation was, in terms of what they did to that infant and what they did to themselves.

HAROLD JEWETT, Prosecutor: [press conference] This 6-year-old boy invaded, basically, another person's house and mercilessly beat an infant. And we have a responsibility in the interests of public safety to try to do something about that and that's what we're trying to do here.

REPORTER: You continue to prosecute this case?


NARRATOR: The prosecutor, Harold Jewett, decided to charge the 6-year-old with attempted murder.

HAROLD JEWETT: It doesn't matter whether you're 6 or you're 106. If you do something that hurts somebody else, with knowledge of the wrongfulness of it, you're responsible for it, period.

MARCO GONZALES: I knew a different kid than I heard about in the news, where he was portrayed as being a sort of menace to society or a danger because of his_ you know, they were worried about his impact on society, which I just found incredible. That wasn't the kid I knew.

NARRATOR: Marco Gonzales is principal of Lincoln Elementary School, where the 6-year old attended kindergarten.

MARCO GONZALES: Excuse me. Excuse me! What is going on between the two you? BOY: He got_ he got my brother like this and grabbed his neck and_

MARCO GONZALES: [to interviewer] I've seen other kids who kind of show a more-- sort of a little more mean streak in them, a little more apt to react strongly to somebody else. You know, "If somebody pushes me, I'm going to try to hit him." [to boys] In fact, I didn't see him hit you, but I saw you hit him. You hit him right in the jaw just now. [to interviewer] But that wasn't his nature, as I knew it. He wouldn't necessarily turn around and say, "Was that an accident?" but he wouldn't turn around and slug you just because you might have run into him. I guess I thought of him as a normal kid, hyperactive, a little bit_ a little bit over-energetic. He liked to draw attention to himself, kind of goofing around, being a little bit of a class clown.

NARRATOR: But the boy did have some problems at school. Tests showed that he was mildly retarded and had to repeat kindergarten.

MARCO GONZALES: I don't believe a 6-year-old understands the concept of life and death like we, as adults, know it. So I don't think that a 6-year-old, and this particular one, understood that what he did could lead to the death of child. Did he believe he was able_ maybe able to shut the kid up because the kid started crying, because the baby bassinet was apparently knocked over, and now they're being-- suddenly there was a tip-off that they were in the house that they didn't belong in, looking for a tricycle or a Hot Wheels? Yeah, you know, I can believe that. But that he went in there with the intention to kill a baby_ no way. I just don't think it's possible. I don't believe that that's how it happened.

NARRATOR: In the Iron Triangle, most of the neighbors agreed with Gonzales.

OPHELIA STRINGER: He was a nice kid-- happy, you know, always looking for something to do, always looking for somebody to play with, you know? Average, you know?

NARRATOR: But there were signs of trouble.

OPHELIA STRINGER: All the kids used to play during the day and stuff and sometime, when it came the evening time, when all the kids-- you know, the doors were closing up and down the block, kids were being called in for dinner, he would kind of be kind of left out. But he would just walk on along, probably to the next house or the next block, because I'm quite sure he had more friends than just on this block. But later in the evening, when the kids did go in, he would be_ just continue his journey.

NARRATOR: One evening just days before the beating, the 6-year-old showed up at the Bermudez apartment.

IGNACIO BERMUDEZ: [through interpreter] One day he came to the house -- it would have been around 8:00 or 8:30 at night -- with a stick in his hand, like this. There were all of us talking in the living room. He knocked on the door, so I opened the door and he got in, like this, and went running with a stick in his hand saying "The police!" and "I'm going to kill him." It was a boy playing, of course, right? And I told him, "Boy, go home."

JOHN BURRIS, Defense Attorney: [press conference] This is a child who is presently in kindergarten and this is on his second time in kindergarten and he has had testing that suggested he is a kid that is in need of a lot of help_

NARRATOR: John Burris, a noted civil rights attorney, offered to represent the 6-year-old pro bono.

JOHN BURRIS: What it was like to have 6-year-old child as a client was the most challenging experience I have ever had because the hallmark of representation is the ability to communicate with the client, the ability to get some understanding of what the case is, the ability to talk to you about it. And the challenge we had here is that we had a 6-year-old that we couldn't talk to. I never got an account of what happened, not that I didn't try. I tried. Every session in some way was designed to get back to the event. I was on the floor with him. He was in my lap and I read to him, played toys with him. I did all those things, but not successfully.

Det. DARRYL JACKSON: [police interrogation] What's the truth? I want to know the truth.

NARRATOR: The boy's mother was present during some of the questioning.

LISA: [police interrogation] Look-- look, stop lying right now. Do you understand that? Stop lying right now. What happened?

NARRATOR: Lisa was 26, a single mother and a part-time child care worker.

LISA: [police interrogation] Look at me and tell me the truth right now. Did you hear the baby crying?

NARRATOR: Court records would report that the boy had been neglected and characterize the mother as a well-intentioned but inadequate parent.

LISA: [police interrogation] Why did you knock the baby crib over? You did it on purpose, didn't you?

JOHN BURRIS: My instincts were that this was a decent lady, that_ who was trying to do the best she could with what she had and that she wasn't a woman who maybe was abusive, a drug addict, et cetera, et cetera, that what happened happened, but it wasn't a function of this boy not having a mother.

BRANDON: [police interrogation] Are you okay?

LISA: No, I'm not okay. Are you okay?

NARRATOR: The 6-year-old never knew his father, a drug dealer from another part of Richmond. When the boy was 4, his father was murdered on the street, shot six times in the head.

JOHN BURRIS: And the issue was, how much of that information did the kid know? And the kid did know that his father had died violently, but the kid also fantasized about it. He thought that he was present and that he had seen it, when the truth of the matter is he had not seen anything about the kid's-- the father's death. And that was symbolic of this child's state of mind.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: He played violent-- you know, the Transformers and the Mutant Ninja Turtles and hitting with sticks. I used to watch him. He could do this for hours and hours and hours. And I think this was_ whatever you wanted to call that_ rage, you know? Loved sticks, loved hitting-- not people, not animals, things. He'd pound on this brick until it was, you know, pulp.

NARRATOR: Archie Anderson is the boy's great-uncle.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: He had to get totally exhausted.

INTERVIEWER: Like he was angry, though.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: Oh, very angry. Got every reason in the world to be angry. If he ain't angry, then he ain't paying attention, you know? Yeah, he's very angry. He_ my grand-nephew should have been seeing a shrink from the day he was born.

NARRATOR: The boy lived here in this house with his mother and grandmother, a house where crack was plentiful.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: You know, you had some situations where my nephew_ they'd be over there, getting ready to get high, and he'd be in the house and they'd say, "Go outside and play." Man, it's 9:00 o'clock at night. Play with what? Nine P.M., it's a school night. This kid's standing outside on the sidewalk, don't know what to do.

NARRATOR: The 6-year-old always called Anderson "Uncle Skeets." He says the boy's grandmother, his own sister, Phyllis, was a crack dealer with a violent temper.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: His grandmother, Phyllis, was off the hook, as they say out here. She'd yell and scream over anything_ violent. No shit. "You motherfuckers, well, get out there!" You know, no cut-right-to-the bone arguing with you. You know, no holds barred. You know how you don't want to say_ you just get a_ none of that. She'd just slice you right up.

NARRATOR: Uncle Skeets says the boy's mother, Lisa, didn't use drugs, but she brought a series of violent boyfriends into the house.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: Brandon role-modeled himself after Lisa's boyfriends, who all split her lip, put her in battered women's homes-- you know, choked her, you know, threw glass at Brandon, you know, yelled at him, you know, tied him up. And all this Lisa didn't either believe was happening or wasn't aware of what's happening until after the man would be out of the scene. I can't tell you how many men that Sam, her brother_ "Touch him again, I'm going to kill you."

NARRATOR: Skeets says that given all the drugs and all the violence, it was inevitable that his nephew would get in some kind of trouble.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: The number one rule of the game in Richmond is_ ain't no rules. That's the number one rule-- there are no rules. I don't have to do anything. You don't have to trust me. I can lie, cheat and steal and that's okay. And that's how it works out here and that's what my nephew-- that's what my nephew got exposed to from a diaper.

FOX BUTTERFIELD: We're learning more and more about what produces violence in children. Typically, there would be_ the child himself would have witnessed violence. The mother might have been beaten herself and the child would have seen this. Or somebody would have beaten the child, whether it's the mother or the father or a live-in boyfriend who would have beaten the child. And this sets an example for the child. The child models their own behavior on this.

NARRATOR: Fox Butterfield is a national correspondent for "The New York Times." He specializes in the criminal justice system.

FOX BUTTERFIELD: Another thing which produces violence in kids, which is somewhat surprising to us, is if a child has a father who's in prison, this too can be a kind of powerful, if perverse, example. And the child starts to fantasize about the father, even the absent father, and wants to emulate him. And we know that now can influence the child and, in fact, about half of all kids who are locked up in juvenile reformatories around the country today have fathers or other close relatives who have been previously incarcerated. Criminologists like to talk about risk factors. The more risk factors that you have, the greater the probability of something going wrong in your own life. And this boy seems to have had virtually all of them.

NARRATOR: People from the Bay Area were shocked by the 6-year-old's brutal assault on the baby, but it was not the first time they were confronted with the horror of childhood violence. Twenty-five years earlier in San Francisco, in a basement in the Fillmore district, police had discovered the battered body of a 20-month-old baby boy.

1st OFFICIAL: The body was found on a crucifix. The feet and the hands and neck were tied. The boards were not joined at the intersection. but it has the appearance of a crucifixion type of a homicide.

NARRATOR: When the body was found, the baby had already been missing for five days. Police discovered that the baby was last seen with two young boys. The boys were brothers, 7 and 10, and they soon confessed to what came to be known as the "crucifixion murder."

2nd OFFICIAL: There was some play going on and, according to them, the infant was struck accidentally with a brick. We believe that the boys panicked, struck him again repeatedly and, to stop his crying, cupped their hands over his mouth until what they describe_ he stopped breathing. They then took him over to another end of the sub- basement and removed his clothing and tied and wired him to a wooden cross and then put a rope around his neck and tightened it.

BOBBY: It gets hard when, you know, I have to talk about it or the thoughts or images come to me. It gets really hard to put those away, but they're still there. I mean, I'll_ they'll be there for the rest of my life.

NARRATOR: This man we call "Bobby" was the 10-year-old killer in the crucifixion murder. To protect his privacy, we have altered his appearance. Bobby still remembers the day 25 years ago when he and his younger brother, Billy, were playing in the park.

BOBBY: I saw this kid playing by himself and went over and played with him for a little while. And then we asked him where his mom was and didn't quite get an answer. And so we took him by the hand and started walking around and we asked a few people and nobody knew. About a block and a half away we had a little spot that me and Billy had been to a couple of times. It was underneath a building. It was kind of like a fort area, I guess. The baby started crying and_ and we tried all the ways that I could think of to get it to stop crying and I think eventually just started getting mad that it wouldn't stop crying. I tried to use physical violence to make it be quiet. I think I slapped it and it got worse. I started getting more physical and more violent.

INTERVIEWER: And where was Billy while this was happening and how was he reacting to this?

BOBBY: I think he didn't know what to think, really, at first. And I think seeing his big brother doing this probably felt like this was the thing to do and joined in. At that point, when I saw a bruised baby and it wasn't moving, and the only thing that I can think of was, you know, I really didn't mean to do this, I didn't want this to happen. And I don't remember being very religious, but I felt like this was the only thing to do. And it was along the lines of resurrecting. You know, I wanted it to be undone. I wanted the baby back alive. I wasn't absolutely sure it was dead, but it wasn't moving and it wasn't bruised. So I put it in a cross formation and I hoped.

INTERVIEWER: Hoped the baby would come alive?

BOBBY: Yeah.

NARRATOR: Despite the horror of the crime, the baby's mother said she forgave the young killers and hoped they would receive the therapy they needed. Twenty-five years ago, the public's mood was equally forgiving, but a lot has changed.

FOX BUTTERFIELD, New York Times : Society has definitely become more punitive over the past 25 years, with kids in particular. We are trying more children as adults in adult criminal courts. We are giving them longer sentences. We are faced with more and more very violent children and we're uncertain how to deal with them. We have not found very good answers. And it's profoundly scary.

PROTESTERS: [chanting] Harold Jewett you can't hide! We charge you with genocide! Harold Jewett, you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!

NARRATOR: In 1996, the prosecutor's decision to charge the 6-year-old with attempted murder set off a public protest. The attempted murder charge also ignited a debate among legal and mental health professionals about what to do with the 6-year old.

JOHN BURRIS, Defense Attorney: From the prosecutor's point of view, he wanted what we consider to be a finding, a determination in the criminal side of the juvenile justice system that this boy had committed a crime. That's what he wanted. And he wanted to be able to do that and to use it in a political way, to show that he was tough on crime and regardless of the age of the person, they were going to be punished in his court.

HAROLD JEWETT, Prosecutor: I felt it was important that the other kids in his neighborhood or wherever he is living be protected from him. He has a complete lack of remorse_ at least, he did during this time_ and a history that suggests that there's no impediment to his re-offending. And it was clear that something had to be done before somebody else got hurt.

JOHN BURRIS: We had a kid in trouble. That meant to me that you don't punish the kid in trouble like he is a criminal. What you then do is how can we address ourselves to that need?

Det. DARRYL JACKSON: [police interrogation] We're here because we need to find out the truth. We don't want to hear any more lies. We hear lies every day.

NARRATOR: As the case proceeded, the performance of the police also came under scrutiny.

JOHN BURRIS: When the videotapes were brought to my office and I had an opportunity to review them, and review them in the context of legal significance, I was really shocked-- shocked in the sense that this young boy was being interrogated by seasoned police officers as if he was a 20-year-old. There was no real effort made by the police agency to give due recognition that they were really talking about a 6- year-old.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Are you going to want to tell me the truth? Good. Before you do, I need to tell you some things, though, okay?

HAROLD JEWETT: He was not being overbearing in any way. It was not my impression at all that he was trying to intimidate or otherwise coerce, in some sense of the word, any information from the kids. And I thought they did a_ they did a great job.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Do you know what a lawyer is? That's somebody who will help you and represent you in court and things like that. And your mom knows what a lawyer is and since she's here, I'll tell her, too, that you have the right to have a lawyer with you before and during any questioning.

JOHN BURRIS: We all recognize that one of the most sacred principles that we have here is called the Miranda warnings, that a person cannot be compelled to give testimony or even talk without a clear understanding of his legal rights. Well, Miranda requires that it's a voluntary waiver and a clear understanding of what those rights are. There is no way in a snowball in hell that this 6-year-old ever understood what his legal rights were and anything-- he would only nod when the weight and the presence of the law was on him.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] You want to tell me the truth? Can you say yes or no?

NARRATOR: The central question in the case would become whether the boy was competent to stand trial. The juvenile court judge decided to appoint three mental health experts to answer that question. One of them was Dr. Martin Blinder, a forensic psychiatrist, who reviewed the police videotapes and spent an hour with the boy at juvenile hall.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: I must say, in truth, I was surprised after I completed my assessment to find the 6-year-old competent. My bias going in was, "This is ridiculous. How can a 6-year-old be competent to stand trial? How could he have even understood what he was doing, no less what a trial is all about?" But the kids watch television and they watch the cop shows and they watch the lawyer shows and they have_ they may not watch them like they watch "Sesame Street," but kids are tremendously aware these days. So this kid certainly was aware that he was in deep trouble and that there were certain procedures that were likely to befall him.

NARRATOR: The other experts, including Dr. Edward Hyman, a child psychologist, disagreed.

Dr. EDWARD HYMAN, Psychologist: There's a real question in my mind, not in terms of soft, humane factors, but rather just in terms of what developmental studies tell us about children, whether a 6-year old should even be involved at any level in the juvenile justice system.

To elucidate that, I turned to a gifted 6-year-old and asked him what might happen to him if he had done something very, very wrong. He said, "You mean like killing somebody?" and I said, "Yes." And he turned to me and he said, "I'd have to go to the principal's office for a really long time." Even when we turn to a very gifted child, a child in understanding this, understood that it was wrong, but really didn't have the specific understanding of the magnitude of transgression or how we as a society react to something that we call attempted murder.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: He understood that society considered what he had done wrong, which is why he was being locked up at juvenile hall. He knew the judge's task. He knew his lawyer was there to help him. He knew the prosecutor was going to gather the evidence against him. And he understood that if things didn't go his way, he might not go home to see his mommy for a long, long time. So despite his juvenility, I felt that he grasped the essentials of what a trial proceeding was, why he was going to be tried and what the penalties might be.

JOHN BURRIS: He attributes a level of communications with the boy, and even about me, that was preposterous. It was a flat lie because_ and to be kind, what he did was suggested all the answers and the kid undoubtedly had to nod and then he put it in the news_ in the report, seemingly. And I can say this because I said it in court. The kid did not have a conversation about who I am and that I was going to take care of him, that I was looking out for his rights, all the things that I said in court, because it didn't happen. To that day, as I told the court, the kid referred to me as "Mrs. Burris." He didn't have a clue that men are "Mr." and women are "Mrs." and he had no clue that "Mrs. Burris," as he referred to me, was a lawyer. So how can he say he was looking out for him? And so for this person to come back with a report that suggested that he was competent really offended any notions of professionality and I said so.

NARRATOR: While the experts argued about what should be done with the 6-year-old, he remained locked up in a juvenile hall unit with 19 other offenders, most of them teenagers. Guard Walt Parker took a shine to the boy.

WALT PARKER: Most of the time_ the 6-year-old, most of the time he would call me "Mr. Walt" or either he would_ every once in a while the kids call me "Swamp Dog." He couldn't really say "Swamp Dog." He would say, "Hey, Dog! Hey, dog!"

NARRATOR: In the exercise yard, the 6-year-old liked to play catch with Swamp Dog.

WALT PARKER: If you'd start throwing football with him, you'd have to throw it mostly for 30 or 20 minutes without stopping because he wanted_ he wanted to show you that he can catch every pass you throw to him. He enjoyed that.

JOHN BURRIS: We were always surprised, frankly, how happy he was, but it was a very strange signal. I mean, most kids who are 15 or 16, they go to juvenile hall, they're, like whining and crying, if they're the first time out of the box. But not him. Not him. My opposition to juvenile hall that was rooted in the fact that he was the youngest kid there by six or seven years and that he was there with older kids and learning about things that older kids are talking about. He really got into the genre of teen-aged kids liking each other and girls and boys and God knows what else he was learning there.

NARRATOR: But there was one thing the 6-year-old didn't like. At 10:30 each night, he would be locked up in his cell until the next morning.

WALT PARKER: He hated it. He hated it. I couldn't see myself locking him up and knowing he was going to cry. But once_ like, after about two weeks he got kind of used to it and every once in a while, what we would do is we'd pull the door, but we wouldn't lock it all the way and he would open the door and look out and say, "You didn't lock my door." He wants to play with you and then we'd kind of lock it a little bit and tell him, "It's time to go to bed now." He was a likable little man. I kind of took him under and he was my son.

NARRATOR: The boy remained locked up for two months while the experts argued over the proper diagnosis for his mental condition.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER, Psychiatrist: He had a somewhat ominous track record even before he committed this. He was something of a bully back at school, fascinated with guns. He drowned the family cat, set some fires, had some bed-wetting problems, all characteristics of individuals who later on, at the age of 18, 19, 20, commit a series of crimes, finally get to the scrutiny of folks like me and then are definitively diagnosed anti-social personality.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Can you tell me why you punched the baby and why you kicked the baby?

BRANDON: Because I decided to.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: He injured the child simply because -- quote -- "I decided to." It's the Himalayas. It's Mount McKinley. "I did it because it was there."

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Can you show me how you put the baby on the floor?

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: I felt that he was a psychopath in the making. I certainly have never used that term before, but this young man was so evidently suffused with all of the findings that, when they fully blossomed later in life, would call for this diagnosis, that I was comfortable in talking about him having a nascent sociopathic personality or a psychopath in the making. I was able to make the diagnosis here because I had seen so many sociopaths over the years. I can almost smell them.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Did you decide to because you wanted-- because somebody hurt you?

EDWARD HYMAN, Psychologist: One element that emerged in this case was the suggestion that a 6-year-old could be diagnosed as a psychopath. And from the perspective of science, this is one of the most ludicrous assertions that we can contend with. Not only is this determination for a child absolutely forbidden by all the research, contradicted by all the research in development, but forensically, to think that this could be generated by an hour-long or even a two-hour-long interview is the height of abuse.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: What do you do with a 6-year-old like this? One thing that works is you sequester them so that they no longer have the society to attack. There are obviously a variety of ethical, moral and psychological reasons why this may not be a good or a permanent solution, but it's very tempting, to make sure that they don't have the opportunity to do the kind of damage that we know they will be capable of.

EDWARD HYMAN: There's no doubt in my mind but that we can effectively influence the life of any 6-year-old, the most violent 6-year-old included. And to desist from this, to reject that challenge, to turn away from that child is, I believe, very, very abusive.

NARRATOR: Can very young and very violent children be helped? Can they change? Like the 6-year-old in Richmond, Bobby and Billy grew up in a tough neighborhood. They, too, were physically abused and neglected. After the crucifixion murder, the brothers received two years of therapy and were then returned to the custody of their mother. Bobby is now 36 years old.

BOBBY: People change. People with the right direction can change in the right direction over time. I'm a productive citizen. I'm doing well as a father. I'm doing well as a worker. I make a living for myself and my family. I stayed out of trouble with the law. I know that I've got control of myself enough and I know myself well enough to know that I would never harm anybody like that again.

NARRATOR: A thorough search of the record confirmed that Bobby has been a law-abiding citizen since the murder, but his younger brother, Billy, was a different story. Billy had appeared in juvenile court repeatedly on a variety of charges. As an adult, Billy committed four felonies. Two of them were for the physical abuse of children, including his own 3-month -old. Billy spent two years in prison, where he sought treatment for drug and alcohol problems.

BOBBY: He's a good person. I mean, the core of him is a good person. He's just headed down some wrong roads here and there. I can't really say what's really different about our lives. As far as_ as far as how he handled the past, I know it probably had a deeper effect, more definitely had a different affect on him. He was younger. But our environments were similar enough. That's the hard question. I really don't know how to say why.

FOX BUTTERFIELD, New York Times : I think Bobby and Billy represent where we are, which is that_ I mean, there's_ some can be changed and some children, obviously, can be saved and that's the wonderful hope and some it's very difficult to save. And we still don't know precisely why.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] Can you show me how you kicked the baby? Show me.

FOX BUTTERFIELD: Generally, as a rule of thumb, the earlier the kid starts and the more violent the offense is that the kid commits at that early age, the more difficult it's going to be to change them and the more offenses they are likely to commit later.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: He was not ever going to get the kind of help he was going to get and probably the_ probably one of the things that_ maybe there is a God and a spirit world because he_ and God forgive me, I'm very sorry what happened to that_ that kid, that baby. I mean, it_ for the life of me, I'd give my right arm for all of this not to have happened, but you know something? The positive is it got that kid out of this community and it might have saved a whole family's life one day when he was 16 and decided to climb through somebody's window.

NARRATOR: Uncle Skeets says he wasn't surprised by his nephew's brutal attack on the baby. He says it was not a question of if, but when the boy would turn violent.

ARCHIE ANDERSON: Every adult male member of my family has a police record for assault. And then when he caught his beef at 6 years old, I said, "Oh, my God. This covers every adult-- every male in my family from 80 to 6." Every one of us has at one point in our lives assaulted somebody. We have done GBH_ GBI_ GBH to somebody_ great bodily injury_ GBI, every one of us.

INTERVIEWER: Every male member of your family--

ARCHIE ANDERSON: Every male member in my family has_

INTERVIEWER: --from the age of 80 to_

ARCHIE ANDERSON: _down to 6 has shot or stabbed or assaulted somebody, including me.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: The problem, to me, stems from my conviction that this sort of character disorder, and certainly a character disorder of this early severity, is probably largely genetic. There is something to be said for the phrase "natural born killer." It's my view that most of what I found was predestined by his genetic endowment.

INTERVIEWER: He was born that way.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: I believe he was born that way, yes.

FOX BUTTERFIELD: I don't believe there's any scientific evidence that there's a genetic basis for violence, that there's such a thing as a "natural born killer." Perhaps someday science will get there, but we're certainly not there yet. However, there is some evidence that biology, as opposed to genetics, may play a role.

STEVE HARRISON: [police interrogation] You showed me earlier that you punched her face. Is that where you punched her all three times?

FOX BUTTERFIELD: For example, a boy like this boy, watching his mother being beaten or himself being beaten, that that kind of environmental stress can actually produce a biological change in the boy, can have some effect on the child's brain. So it's not nature versus nurture, it's not one or the other, it's a combination of the two.

TELEVISION REPORTER: The boy's mother and family friends came to court for this crucial ruling on whether the 6-year-old is competent to stand trial for assault.

NARRATOR: After two months of psychiatric debate and legal maneuvering, the judge finally ruled in the case of the 6-year-old. He said the boy was not competent to stand trial and suspended the criminal charges indefinitely. But he also ruled that the boy should be removed from the custody of his mother on the grounds that she had provided inadequate supervision. The boy was transferred to a group home for disturbed children to receive intensive therapy.

LISA: You know, I'm glad he's getting help that he needed and he's not, like a_ you know, locked up like a criminal, which he isn't, you know, and, you know, get the help that he needs so he'll be able to come home soon, you know, when he gets better.

NARRATOR: But the prosecutor said he would still press charges if the boy were later judged competent.

HAROLD JEWETT: We are not going to just, you know, separate this child from his mother out of some base desire to hurt him or something. We want to help him. But I'm persuaded, based upon everything that I've read, that it's counterproductive to return him back to home when he so desperately needs professional assessment and influence in his life, that apparently he didn't get or didn't want while he was still living at home. And I don't think you can do that overnight. I think it's a long, slow, brick-by-brick process that will take years. And if years go by and we see progress, and it may be at that point we'll say, "Okay, there's no further good that can come out of continuing this criminal prosecution, and justice dictates that we let is go." But it's going to take years before we reach that point, in my mind.

JOHN BURRIS: It doesn't end the case, but it does give me what I wanted to get done, and that is that he gets treatment, he gets help and sort of away from the glare of the publicity, away from everyone asking questions about it, and for the treatment to go forward and that's what's happening now.

TELEVISION REPORTER: Bundled in a blanket, fast asleep in his mother's arms 2-month-old Ignacio Bermudez, Jr., left Children's Hospital in Oakland today. Doctors say the baby's condition is stable enough to allow Ignacio's parents to take care of him. PHYSICIAN: The areas that have been damaged are permanently damaged and he has had a severe brain injury and multiple areas of his brain on both sides of the brain have been injured.

NARRATOR: A year later, the baby's condition hasn't improved. He still can't sit up and suffers from seizures. The doctors fear he may never learn to walk or talk.

IGNACIO BERMUDEZ: [through interpreter] Maybe he is going to be like that all his life, you know, and it's going to be sad for him, like it will be for us. And sometimes it makes me want to cry and I cry, see, but there's nothing you can do. It's total sadness.

NARRATOR: Despite the tragedy, Mr. Bermudez says he forgives the 6-year-old boy who beat his son. He doesn't want the boy prosecuted and hopes he receives the therapy he needs.

IGNACIO BERMUDEZ: [through interpreter] My wife and I were already suffering more than enough with our son. I don't want to see anyone suffer for their son, even the son who hit my child. I don't want him or his mother suffering because I think that what we were already suffering was enough.

NARRATOR: The prognosis for the 6-year-old is also guarded. After nine months of intensive treatment, therapists report he is only now beginning to talk about the physical abuse he suffered. And so far, they say, he hasn't responded well to therapy.

Dr. MARTIN BLINDER: Given the severity of his disorder, I tend to be pessimistic that we're going to make enough of a change to substantially improve his chances of leading a productive life.

JOHN BURRIS: I think the kid can be saved. I'm confident that we can put him on the right track so that he can be a good citizen as he grows up. But we know that it's a long process. You know, the kid has suffered a lot, suffered in ways that probably are unimaginable for us to think and so we have to undo that.

HAROLD JEWETT: I continue to hold hope for Brandon T., just like I was holding hope for Ignacio Bermudez that he will come around. And I don't want to condemn him by saying, "No matter what we do, he will kill again." Time will tell, I guess.

ANNOUNCER: Check out FRONTLINE's Web site and join the discussion on kids, violence and crime. Find resources there for parents and families. There's a Q&A forum with national experts about what puts a child at risk. And can a violent child be saved? Read the interview with the psychiatrist of the 6-year-old, profile of a treatment center handling troubled children. Explore FRONTLINE on-line at Next time on FRONTLINE_ This is where the story of heroin begins. This is where it ends. And in between is a complex network of power, greed and corruption. FRONTLINE investigates the empire of the men who control most of America's heroin and why we can't stop them_ "The Opium Kings."

The mailbag was full after our program, "The Fixers," a report on influence peddling and shady fund-raising by an Asian-American couple on behalf of the Democratic Party. Here's a sample.

FRANK R. HIEBER: [Munster, IN] Dear FRONTLINE, As a lifelong Democrat, I am ashamed of my party for resorting to the tactics described in your broadcast. Unfortunately, there was no mention of similar tactics used by the Republicans in the same election.

ANNOUNCER: Another Democrat was offended enough to complain to the president and he sent us a copy of that letter. Here's an excerpt.

ROBERT M. LOWEN, M.D.: Dear Mr. President, Corruption, influence buying, cover-ups-- everything I want you and the Democratic Party to be against seems

closer to you and your associates than I ever thought possible. I'm a Democrat and I want you to know that this thing smells.

ANNOUNCER: But there were a few comments like this one.

JANNA SHREVE: [Poulsbo, WA] Dear FRONTLINE, Whatever the Lums did, or any other donator, for that matter, does not change the fact that this country is fortunate that Mr. Clinton is again our president. Please give him the credit he deserves for all the hard work he has done to pull this country out of the pit we fell into before his presidency.

ANNOUNCER: And then there were some viewers who felt the program unfairly targeted Asian Americans.

NAME WITHHELD: [Sacramento, CA] Dear FRONTLINE, This one-sided racist scapegoating must stop. The trash you broadcast tonight disguised as "journalism" was just another in the endless stories which single out Asian-Americans for scrutiny not enjoyed by the major campaign contributors who truly do influence policy in this country.

ANNOUNCER: Let us know what you thought about tonight's program. [fax: (617) 254-0243; e-mail:;
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Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].



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