little criminals

press reactions

From New York Daily News
By David Bianculli

"As part of its examination into the homicidal impulses of the very young, tonight's installment of FRONTLINE present something never before televised: the actual police interrogation of the 6-year-old boy charged with attempted murder in the infamous 'Big Wheel' case.

It's a shocking, sad sight."

"...How and why could a kindergarten child kick and beat an infant so ruthlessly?

That's the question Little Criminals examines--and the answers, like the question, provide little or no comfort.

Producer-directors John Zaritsky and Virginia Storring probe this FRONTLINE story without tipping the scales in either direction."

From Seattle Times
By John Voorhees

FRONTLINE promises a bit more than it delivers in Little Criminals , ...[it]suggests that it is going to examine the growing phenomenon of violent crimes being committed by ever-younger children. But it mostly sticks with the case of a 6-year-old who almost killed a month-old baby in California last year."

"...What the film really is is a kind of tug of war between factions--those who insist that the boy committed a terrible crime and should be punished in some way, even though he is only 6, and those who feel he couldn't possibly have known that he was endangering the life of the baby.

The child has not stood trial and is in therapy. Hence, the program boils down to a debate over whether he is innately evil and whether he can be rehabilitated. The jury is still out.

From The New York Times
By Walter Goodman

"In the spring of 1996 in a rough neighborhood in Richmond, Calif., a 6-year-old boy pulled Ignacio Bermudez, Jr. from his crib and battered him so badly that he may never walk or talk. Reactions covered the usual range, from outrage and demands for severe punishment to compassion for the assailant as well as for the assailed."

"...A forensic psychiatrist calls the boy 'a psychopath in the making' .... and says he is competent to stand trial.

Two other mental health experts called by the court disagree, and the child is sent to a group home for disturbed children. After nine months, tonight's program reports he has yet to respond to therapy.

If FRONTLINE which plays fair with all opinions, runs true to form, expect a return visit to see how the attacker and Ignacio are each getting along."

From Atlanta Constitution
By Drew Jubera

"It was a case that 'shattered the very idea of childhood,' as it's described in Little Criminals, the thoroughly troubling documentary from PBS' FRONTLINE."

"...Should a child this young be treated as a severely disturbed child in need of massive amounts of therapy? Or as a would-be murderer who needs to be punished for his crime?

Those questions intersect alarmingly in the case detailed by Little Criminals --and there aren't any clear-cut answers. The seeming absurdity of trying a 6-year-old in court is placed in the context of a society that has witnessed a 'downshift' in the age of murderers: 100 homicides were committed last year by children under 10."

"...Grade A."

From New York Post
By Michele Greppi

"It is a case that did and will continue to raise many questions in a society where violence at younger ages is increasing.

We can't help but wish the producers of Little Criminals could have put this hour in a broader context."

"...But we do marvel at the most clinical balance with which the producers construct the major points of a case that takes some of the difficult questions and conflicting emotions to their extreme."

From Denver Rocky Mountain News
By Dusty Saunders

"There's an important FRONTLINE hour...the program is, as the clich says, 'ripped from today's headlines.'

Little Criminals, the FRONTLINE presentation, deals with this subject, which is heating up as a national debate. How old should a youngster be before society locks him (or her) up and throws away the key? Age 15? 13? How about 6?

FRONTLINE's report concentrates on a 6-year-old California boy who committed a crime last year that shocked the nation."

"...And the debate continues throughout this important, if extremely depressing, hour."

From USA Today
By Matt Roush

".........producers John Zaritsky and Virginia Storring explore the 'risk factors' in the boy's home life in the rough 'Iron Triangle' neighborhood near San Francisco. His mother is described in court records as a 'well-intentioned but inadequate parent.' His father, a drug dealer, was murdered when the boy was 4. "

However one regards this case, it's a tragedy. Yet the battered baby's father says he forgives the 6-year-old, urging therapy instead of punishment so no one will suffer further. FRONTLINE rightly wonders if society, which these days takes a punitive view of criminals of any age, can be as yielding."

From San Francisco Chronicle
By John Carmen

"There is little new information, but plenty of morsels for thought, as FRONTLINE ...visits the case of the 6-year-old Richmond boy accused of beating an infant almost to death last year.

"...FRONTLINE raises all the tough questions in rehashing the Richmond case. Can a 6-year-old be held culpable for a serious crime? What may have predisposed the boy to violence? Can a child so young be categorized as a budding psychopath who should be removed from society?"

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