New York Public Radio– The Docket: The Tessa Majors Case and the State of New York’s Juvenile Justice System

January 30, 2020 · by Danny Lewis

The stabbing death of Barnard freshman Tessa Majors on December 11, 2019 was jarring for many New Yorkers, especially because murder rates in the city have been declining. The story took another turn Now, a grand jury has reportedly been impaneled to decide whether two 14-year-old boys should be charged as well.

When a 13-year-old boy was arrested and charged with helping rob her — followed by the arrest of two 14-year-olds, who are awaiting the results of a grand jury — the media and law enforcement officials drew comparisons to the 1989 Central Park Jogger case, in which five young black and Latino teenagers were wrongfully convicted, due in large part to sensationalist media coverage.

That history has influenced how some reporters have approached the current case, including Eileen Grench, who covers juvenile justice for the news site The City.

“The language they used and the pressures they were under led journalists to throw wood on the fire of racial tensions,” Grench told WNYC’s Jami Floyd. She said that a a reporter who covered the Central Park Five at the time told her that “it was one of the greatest regrets of their life.”

The case is also a test for New York’s recently-enacted Raise The Age law, which barred the state from automatically prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Jeffrey Butts, who leads John Jay College’s Research and Evaluation Center, told Floyd that this is the exact kind of case that the law’s critics could use as leverage to reverse it.

“The Raise the Age law actually was enacted at a time when crime had been coming down,” Butts said. “My concern is what happens if those numbers start to climb again.”

Full conversation:

The Docket is our series in which WNYC’s All Things Considered host Jami Floyd takes a deep dive into the American legal system.