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Kids help catch, and convict, a purse-snatcher


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Twelve-year-olds Shenell Pressley and Calvin Williams did something yesterday that strikes fear in the hearts of many adults: They testified in court against a man they saw knock down a 75-year-old woman and steal her purse.

Shenell and Calvin, along with Delvin Johnson, 13; Phillip "Dune" Gayles, 12; and Maurice Williams, 11, were in court as witnesses against 29-year-old Marcus E. Herbin.

The five were among a group of about 15 children who had chased Herbin after they saw him attack Edna Moss.

While some led police to where Herbin was hiding, others showed police where he had ditched Mrs. Moss' purse.

The children's efforts paid off.

Herbin was convicted of robbery and maiming for the purse-snatching attack. He will be sentenced July 27.

The children's heroic efforts were chronicled in the newspaper, on local television and on the national TV newsmagazine show, ABC's "PrimeTime Live."

Though Calvin is now used to being in the spotlight, he admitted to Newport News Circuit Judge Verbena Askew that he was "sort of nervous" about testifying. But in a clear voice, he told the court about what he had seen.

"We were playing hide and seek," Calvin said. "I saw a man snatch Mrs. Moss' purse and then she was on the ground, so we chased him."

Calvin said he did not know the man. But yesterday he pointed at Herbin, dressed in a bright orange jail jumpsuit, and identified him as the man he had chased for two blocks that day.

Shenell testified that she had given chase after she saw a man running from a group of children.

"I saw my cousin running and I started running with them," she said.

Shenell said she saw Herbin throw Mrs. Moss' purse over a fence and continue running down the street.

The girl said she stayed with the purse until the police could retrieve it.

Mrs. Moss, who suffered a broken hip when she fell on the ground during the attack, also testified. She recounted how she was dragged alongside her daughter's car before falling. When she fell, Mrs. Moss said, she felt her purse, whose straps were wrapped around her arm, get torn from her.

Mrs. Moss, who now walks with a four-pronged metal cane, said she regrets what Herbin did to her because she is not as independent as she was four months ago.

"I used to work day and night," she said. "But I haven't been able to do what I used to do."

Although he did not testify, Delvin said after the trial that if something like this happened again, he would act the same way. He also said he would come back to court to testify.

"I wanted to see that man behind bars," Delvin said.

"He had no business taking that lady's pocketbook and making her break her hip."

Newport News Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney John Middlebrook said he was proud of Shenell, Calvin and the other )) children.

"I was really happy to see such young people take an interest in this," Mr. Middlebrook said. "That's one of the things about this case that struck me -- that these young kids would chase after this guy and point out Mrs. Moss' purse so she could get it back."

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