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It's time to stop babying criminals

The Baltimore Sun

This was supposed to be the week that Zach and Anna Sowers planned what they would do for their first wedding anniversary on Saturday.

Instead, Anna Sowers will spend that day where she's spent most of the past four months: sitting at her husband's hospital bed, hoping, praying that he'll come out of the coma he's been in. She'll be thinking about whether her husband will pull through. She'll be thinking about how to pay for her husband's mounting medical bills when the insurance runs out in a few months.

Early on the morning of June 2, Zach Sowers was walking to his Patterson Park home from a bar in Canton. Two men attacked him, with at least one stomping Zach Sowers as he lay in the street. Those two then ran to a car with two other men and sped away.

Perhaps "men" is not an accurate word in that last paragraph. Four males face attempted murder, robbery and other charges in the near-fatal beating of Zach Sowers. [Police and prosecutors say a computer trail of purchases made with Zach Sowers' stolen credit cards led them to the suspects.] Trayvon Ramos was 16 when he was charged; Wilburt Martin was 18; Eric L. Price was 16.

And Arthur Jeter was just 15 days away from his 18th birthday.

On Monday, Jeter was in a Baltimore Circuit Court. His attorney, public defender Jennifer Davis, tried to persuade Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown to kick Jeter's case back down to juvenile court, also known in Baltimore as the Land of Wrist-Slap Justice.

Davis, to her credit, did her job. She presented a compelling case for Jeter, giving Brown details about why he should be tried as a juvenile, not an adult. (Those of you who claim public defenders aren't "real lawyers" can learn a lesson from people like Davis.)

"He's functioning more as a teenager than an adult," Davis said. "Mentally, it would be better if he were returned to the juvenile system." Davis added that Jeter was a special-education student in school and is unable to read, which led him to drop out.

Jeter's brother, Davis continued, was killed four years ago for being a cooperating witness to a crime. Davis said Jeter has cooperated with police and given details about the attack on Zach Sowers. Davis said Jeter has been attacked while in jail for his cooperation and that his mother has received death threats. Davis mentioned several times that Jeter has expressed remorse about what happened to Zach Sowers.

Apparently, Brown didn't buy it; he refused to allow Jeter's case to be tried in juvenile court. And Anna Sowers darn well didn't buy it.

"I was thinking 'cry me a river' when [Davis] was stating that Jeter was remorseful," Anna Sowers told me in an e-mail. "I think the only thing he is remorseful about is that he was caught. ... Why didn't he call the cops later that night, if he was remorseful? Why did he willingly continue to hang out with Ramos that night, if he was remorseful? Why did he tag along and use Zach's credit cards, if he was remorseful?"

Anna Sowers is equally skeptical about whether a Baltimore jury will convict the four suspects. She reads the papers; she knows what Circuit Judge John M. Glynn told Sun reporter Gus Sentementes in July.

"Many of these jurors simply won't vote to find these kids guilty of violent crimes," Glynn said in Sentementes' July 17 story. "If the citizens want to know what the problem is, I suggest they look at themselves. ... They don't testify against criminals. And they don't vote to convict the guilty."

During an interview last week, Anna Sowers expressed her utter amazement at why Baltimoreans would act this way. But I think I know part of the reason.

About two weeks ago I saw a film about the Black Panther Party at the Maryland Institute College of Art. During a question-and-answer session afterward, one black man lamented the very existence of the new juvenile facility on Gay Street.

"They're locking up our babies," the man moaned about black youth in the juvenile system. (All of the suspects in Zach Sowers' beating are black.)

Ramos' court records from a carjacking incident in Elkton indicate he's over 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. I got a look at Jeter on Monday. He appeared to be well over 6 feet tall and it's clear he's no welterweight, either.

These guys are not babies.

They're young adults, as are most juvenile offenders in the system. And some of them are vicious, cold-blooded killers. But Anna Sowers has a waning faith that 12 Baltimore jurors will see the youths who stomped her husband nearly to death - and those who are accessories - that way.

Some potential jurors may indeed see the three suspects who were juveniles when Zach Sowers was attacked as "babies" who need to be tried in juvenile court. Anna Sowers has a view more in line with the real world.

"If Jeter was sent down to the juvenile system it would be cheating the system," Anna Sowers said outside of the courtroom Monday. "And he's already cheated Zach out of four months of his life."

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