Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa courtrooms a backdrop to kid's descent into crime

Thirteen years ago, I was a Tampa reporter wandering courtrooms in search of news when I happened upon something shocking — even in a place where ordinary citizens view gruesome crime scene photos and adults are routinely seen weeping in public.

On a busy docket day, inmates in jail blues were seated in the jury box waiting to be called before the judge. All were men — burly, tattooed, bored men — and he was in their midst, a sweet-faced 12-year-old who had to sit up tall to see over the jury box.

He looked innocent. His crimes were not. He was accused in a string of car thefts and a couple of robberies, one in which he was the getaway driver. The victim at the ATM who found himself looking at a gun remembered someone in the car giggling.

His name was Walter Revear, though he was called JJ for the guy in Good Times, and he made great TV as his story played out. JJ was the baby face of a flawed juvenile justice system and the dilemma over little kids who commit big crimes.

Despite a guarantee of some ugly political fallout, Diana Allen, one of the toughest judges you'd ever want to meet, refused to put a child in adult prison. So we news types chronicled JJ, his acquittal on new charges of a car theft spree, his tripup smoking pot, his boot camp sentence. Two years after people rallied before Judge Allen and the cameras to vow community support, the courtroom crowd had thinned. JJ's voice got deeper. He got taller and less remarkable next to other inmates.

A nice family connected to Without Walls church took him into its nice home in the suburbs and really tried to make a go of it. When I visited them for a story, JJ looked as if he had suddenly found himself on the moon. He was doing well in school, as he had in boot camp — structure seemed to suit him — but the streets were always there.

When you hand out blame, it's fair to note JJ started out bouncing from home to home, in foster care after allegations of abuse, to grandparents in public housing. Sometimes his mother was not around. His father was in prison. These details are not an excuse as much as an explanation of where and what he came from.

After a 17-year-old JJ pocketed a gun that belonged to a friend of the family that was taking care of him, supporters were back in court to rally for him. Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr., who called it one of his hardest decisions as a judge, put JJ in prison.

And can you really fault either judge — Judge Allen, who refused to throw away a child, or Judge Espinosa, who ruled on the side of public safety once a gun came into play?

So JJ is dubious news, again. He is 26 now, with five years in prison on a cocaine charge under his belt and facing new accusations of burglarizing a home. It's a sad latest chapter, maybe one that doesn't surprise you.

Who failed JJ? His parents, the system, a community that vowed to see him through? Was he already lost by the time he sat next to seasoned criminals in adult court?

And at what point do the decisions of a child-turning-into-a-man become his own responsibility?

All I know is a kid sat in the jury box that day, born of bad breaks, on a bad path and teetering on the edge. In the end, no one could catch him, maybe not even himself.

Tampa courtrooms a backdrop to kid's descent into crime 01/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida State out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2011

    Blogs

    Florida State's first 0-2 start since 1989 has led to another low.

  2. From care center to purgatory to 'hellhole': How 11 frail elders died after Irma

    Hurricanes

    As she got ready to say goodbye to her mother at the Hollywood Hills nursing home, Rose Wyda's heart was sick. Hurricane Irma had been gone for nearly 48 hours, but the trail of shattered trees and broken, hissing power lines the storm left behind was still dangerously apparent. And the nursing home was part of the …

  3. Bucs' Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson kneel during national anthem

    Bucs

    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings, two days after President Donald Trump made critical remarks about NFL …

    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. Authorities ID man killed in Clearwater Beach boating crash; Girl, 4, still in critical condition

    Briefs

    An Altamonte Springs man died and a 4-year-old girl remains in critical condition Sunday morning after their personal watercraft collided with a boat in the Intracoastal Waterway near Clearwater Beach just before 5 p.m.

  5. 'If anyone can hear us … help.' Puerto Rico's mayors describe 'horror in the streets'

    World

    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - In the northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, the floodwaters reached more than 10 feet. Stranded residents screamed "save me, save me," using the lights in their cellphones to help rescue teams find them in the darkness, the town's mayor said.