Tampa teenager acquitted

Published Oct. 11, 1996|Updated Sept. 16, 2005

There were the conflicts in the evidence, the questions about whether a 13-year-old boy really understood his rights as he sat across from a detective in a police interview room.

With those issues lingering Thursday, a Tampa jury decided that Walter "J.J." Revear, the small boy who has come to symbolize the big issue of juvenile crime, was not guilty of going out on a late-night car theft and burglary spree last April.

The baby-faced defendant, who was looking at prison time if convicted, smiled slightly as the verdicts were read after two hours and 45 minutes of jury deliberation. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Dee Ann Athan, took off her glasses to brush away tears.

"He was telling the truth all the time," said his grandmother Helen Revear. "We tried to tell (police) that, but they wouldn't believe us."

Tampa police Detective Henry Duran, who spent hours under intense cross-examination about his methods of dealing with young suspects in the case, stayed in the courtroom only long enough to hear the words "not guilty."

"We felt we needed to do what was right," said jury foreman William Cook. "The defense I think really did an excellent job of building a case."

One question jurors pondered: Was the teenager capable of willingly and knowingly waiving his rights when he told his story to a detective _ with no parent present and no tape recorder rolling?

In the end, the jury didn't feel he was, Cook said.

"That's a big decision for a young child to make," said Cook, a father of two.

Tampa police Maj. Steve Hogue said the department believes in the jury system, but added, "I have a feeling that J.J. Revear probably has more experience with the criminal justice system than those jurors realize _ but that's their opinion, and they're the ones who make that decision."

As the trial began Monday, a handful of potential jurors said they had already heard of Revear, at 12 the county jail's youngest inmate, at 13 convicted of armed robbery and car theft in adult court.

Investigators said that while out on house arrest _ a sentence Duran said he thought inappropriate _ Revear joined a group of teens burglarizing and stealing cars. Duran said Revear ultimately confessed to breaking into a red Dodge Neon, crashing it and running away.

"He knows how to get a confession out of a kid," said Athan, who noted Duran has been questioning suspects since before Revear was born.

Athan spoke of hidden agendas for those involved in the high-profile case and picked apart Duran's investigation _ interviews with teenage suspects without parents present, the fact that teens who admitted they were there that night were given immunity when Revear was not.

During his investigation, Duran took state witness Edrick Porter, 15, from his school for questioning at the Police Department. Duran said he called Porter's mother, though Porter said his mother didn't know he had been picked up until the school called her.

Athan had witnesses prepared, including a teenager expected to testify that he, not Revear, stole the car that night. But after the state rested its case, she took a calculated risk. She presented no witnesses, telling the jury in her closing argument that the state simply had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jurors, who asked for Scotch tape, push-pins and sharpened pencils almost as soon as they retired to deliberate, were concerned about conflicts in the evidence, Cook said.

Two teens said Revear was there but disagreed on other details. Duran said Revear said he used a yellow screwdriver, but the one found in the car was gray and didn't have his fingerprints on it.

"The young man walked into the courtroom innocent," Cook said. "And the state did not prove he was guilty."

Assistant State Attorney Betsy Wood Chambers said her office would respect the verdict. "We ask jurors to perform a difficult task, and we will never second guess their decision," she said.

Community activist Michelle Patty said she was "elated" and hoped the case would prompt police Chief Bennie Holder to investigate Duran.

"It clearly points out he does have some officers who are out of control," she said.

Though acquitted of criminal charges, Revear has admitted to violating court-imposed curfew by staying out late to play basketball. Judge Diana Allen will have a hearing on that issue today.