At 13, Michael Clarkson stood 5 feet 2 and weighed 98 pounds. But the pistol he carried compelled the customers of a St. Petersburg restaurant to hand over their money.
Meanwhile 19-year-old Michael Horne, 6 feet and 180 pounds, rifled the restaurant's cash drawer, shot a dishwasher twice and took a waitress hostage. He and Clarkson released the frightened woman some 5 to 7 miles down the road.
On Tuesday, the pair pleaded guilty to a number of felonies related to last year's stickup, including attempted murder, kidnapping and armed robbery. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Douglas Baird scheduled sentencing for next month.
If Baird follows state sentencing guidelines, Clarkson, now 14, could wind up behind bars longer than Horne, now 20.
Assistant State Attorney Joe Walker said Clarkson, because of his lengthy juvenile record, faces 35 to 55 years in prison. Horne, whose record is not as long, could get 28 to 48 years in prison.
Should the judge find some reason to exceed the guidelines, he could give them up to a life sentence.
But Clarkson's mother, Lorraine Jackson, contends her son is a victim, too. She said he was so terrified of Horne that he followed the older teen's orders during the Dec. 17, 1996, holdup at the International House of Pancakes on 34th Street N.
"I know he was there, but Mike ain't robbed nobody or tried to shoot nobody," she said, her eyes brimming with tears. "Michael is a child. It's like his life is being taken away."
Last week Clarkson's attorney, Jay Hebert, tried to persuade Baird to treat Clarkson as a child. Despite his 14 juvenile felony arrests, Hebert said, Clarkson's punishment had never been more onerous than house arrest. He urged the judge to send Clarkson back to the juvenile system, to be committed to a facility where he could be rehabilitated.
Hebert also contended the boy was coerced into robbing the IHOP. But Walker argued Clarkson was no mere bystander. He said the boy waved a gun around, took cash from three customers and, during the getaway, suggested robbing a gas station too.
The judge turned down Hebert's motion.
Mrs. Jackson said her son's problems began before he was born. While she was pregnant, she said, she abused cocaine and alcohol. As a result, she said, "he (is) just strange."
When he was 9, she said, she took him to a psychologist because he was hearing voices, and he attended Hamilton Disston Exceptional School because he was emotionally disturbed.
Two days before the IHOP robbery, she said, a neighbor beat up her son. She identified the attacker as Horne, whose family says he has mental problems, too. Horne's attorney, Michael Schwartzberg, said jail officials are now giving him psychotropic drugs.
After his arrest, Clarkson told St. Petersburg police he had been sleeping in Horne's car when they pulled up at the IHOP and Horne suggested they get something to eat. Walker said Clarkson did not mention being forced to rob the restaurant.
During the robbery, Walker said Clarkson talked tough, even expressing admiration for the way Horne shot the dishwasher in the arm and the buttocks: "Boy, you capped him good!"
But in court, facing the penalty for what he had done, he clutched his mother's hand like a child.
"When you're at that age," Walker said, "you don't think about the consequences of your actions. You think you're immortal _ and that's not the case."