The story was inside the paper and it wasn't very long. It said -- this was last November -- that a 15-year-old boy we shall call Mickey had been arrested and charged with murder in the death of 27-year-old A. Orlando Gonzales. What made the story especially startling was the information that Mickey was one of the boys who had previously been convicted in the murder of Gladys Werlich. Mickey's lawyer denies that Mickey committed a crime in the Gonzales case, which has not yet been tried. But even if one accepts his statement, one still is left with a huge question: who is this child, twice accused of murder, already convicted of one murder, at the age of 15? Is he just another of the young guys hanging out on city street corners, the juveniles who commit 40 percent of Washington's crimes? Or is he worse?
Let's look.At the time of the first killing, Mickey is 12. He is sitting with two friends in the McDonald's at 17th and Corcoran streets NW, eating french fries. That morning, according to a statement Mickey later gave police, he and the boys had robbed an old woman of her purse. They got a dollar and a pack of chewing gum. Now, through the window at McDonald's, they spot another old woman, Gladys Werlich, 87, slowly making her way from a supermarket to the red brick mansion that had been her home since childhood; she had her coming-out ball at the 16th Street house in 1912. It is now 1976. According to Mickey's written statement and court testimony, the boys run behind her and grab at her purse; the old woman holds tight. A soda bottle smashes into her head. She is pushed and falls headfirst. The blows to her head put her in a coma; she dies six days later.
A few months later, at age 13, "lil Mick-Mick" -- he is still called by a childish-sounding pet name at home -- was convicted as a juvenile of felony murder, murder one. Almost two years later, after a stay at Cedar Knoll, the District's jail for juveniles, the boy was sent back home to live with his grandmother.
"After the first murder I told him he got away with something one time, he'd better be careful," says his mother, looking at her bare feet as she pulls on a cigarette. "He'd drop his head and look like he took heed . . . sometimes I think his trouble is my fault. You know I figure when I tell him something, he's got to say to himself, 'How can she tell me to straighten out my life when she ain't straight herself?'"
His mother is a heroin addict. His father comes by the house "sometimes," according to his mother. Mick-Mick is one of seven children his mother had with three different men. "The children drove me to use drugs," she says. Her children and her two sisters' children -- in all about 20, including Mickey -- live with their grandmother on Willard Street. a
As you walk in the door of the house, the odor of marijuana hangs in the air. Some of the kids, who look well-fed and well-dressed, are smoking tobacco and marijuana, and watching TV.The grandmother, a large and kind woman sitting on an old stuffed couch in an otherwise empty living room, apologizes for the smell of the smoke. She says she is getting a loan to begin rehabilitating the tattered old house. She lives off of her Social Security check (she is retired from working as a maid in Bethesda). She also gets about $1,000 a month in welfare payments for the children. "Go look in the ice box," she says. "These children don't go hungry."
Grandma came to Washington from Arkansas in the 1950s. As she talks about her grandson Mickey, she says she wishes she had never left the farm she still owns in Arkansas. "A lot of black people were coming up this way back then," she says, "but nothing good happened. Me and my husband broke up, all these children came. Lord knows I been through it here with these children and their children . . . this is a fast city full of things you'd never seen in Arkansas."
Grandmother says she couldn't always keep track of Mickey. "He'd be gone for days," she said. "He liked to go downtown and be around the hustlers and the pimps. I'd tell the other kids to go find him and that's where they say he'd always be . . . he wouldn't get in no trouble. He just liked to watch and see what they [hustlers, prostitutes and pimps] were up to. He was interested in them."
Just before he was charged for the second time as a juvenile with felony murder, Mickey was living on 14th Street with a friend, his grandmother says. But she said Mickey didn't do drugs or get into trouble. "He was arrested a few times for disorderly conduct, that's all," she says. Grandmother doesn't believe Mickey had anything to do with the killing of the Hispanic man. She gives a visitor a letter from one of Mickey's friends that says Mickey was at a bus stop when the shooting occured. She says she hopes the letter is true.
Mickey's mother, who has been quietly listening, suddenly says: "Lil' Mick-Mick ain't bad. He just liked to be where the action is. He liked to go along for the ride."
Downtown, near the Sperior Court, Mickey's lawyer, Dennis O'Keefe agrees: "His problem is that he finds himself involved with older kids. He is easily led by his peers. . . . He has no inner drive of his own. He goes along with the crowd. . . . This kid was without any acceptable role model of what he should become. With all the kids in the house, his grandmother couldn't control them. He was cut adrift to mingle among kids, roam the street. His male model was older kids. For them, street robberies or anything else is acceptable."
O'Keefe says the boy, who often says he is older than he really is to impress people, resents authority. "I don't want to say he hates adults," said O'Keefe, "but he exhibits hostility toward authority, to parents, or teachers. But if you approach him like a friend, then he is your friend."
O'Keefe and the boy's mother say the child does have a conscience. O'Keefe says that, according to a social worker's report, Mick-Mick cried one day while talking about the Werlich murder. But both the lawyer and Mick-Mick's mother say the 15-year-old has no sense of what will or can happen if he goes along on a robbery or is involved in a killing. The boy does not live in a world where actions have consequences. He does not see himself as a member of a society or an adult world.
After his conviction as a juvenile for the Werlich murder, Mickey was given a two-year sentence, with the courts having the right to retain custody of until his 21st birthday, then seven years away. He spent a year and a half at Cedar Knoll, where he progressed from maximum security to open wards (and won an award for making pottery). Then he was sent to a "community" group home for juveniles for six months. From the group home Mickey went back to his grandmother's house. He was back home two years after the Werlich murder. Did the justice system fail by putting Mickey back on the streets so soon?
According to Nan Huhn, assistant chief of the juvenile division of the corporation counsel, judges regularly review cases where juveniles have been jailed with an eye to getting the youths back into a normal home setting as soon as possible. Huhn, who has reviewed Mickey's case, says the justice system did not fail Mickey or the public. "He was making progress and he needed to go back home. You don't want to leave the child in some institution to rot. . . . What the public has to understand is that no matter what we do, if we leave that child without any help whatsoever, he is still going to get out when he is 21. That is the law."
Under District law, a person sentenced as a juvenile cannot be sent to an adult jail even when he becomes 21, because the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over a person once the person becomes 21 years old, according to the corporation counsel's office. Mickey is now awaiting trial as a juvenile on the charge of felony murder, or taking part in a crime that resulted in murder. Felony muder is considered first-degree murder under District law. This time, 15-year-old Mick-Mick is being held at the maximum security jail for juveniles, Oak Hill. Oak Hill, which shares a tract of land with Cedar Knoll in Laurel, is usually reserved for older juveniles, between 18 and 21. And this time Mickey is being psychologically tested.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, are seeking to have Mickey tried as an adult. If they are successful and he is convicted as an adult, it will mean that the 15-year-old could receive a sentence that extends beyond his 21st birthday and he would serve his time in an adult jail instead of being sent back to a juvenile jail until he is 21.
What will happen to Mick-Mick, already convicted of one murder? His lawyer says the boy wants to join the Army and then get an apartment and a job. The lawyer says he has not told Mickey that, with his criminal record, the Army won't accept him. The boy's school record is poor; he doesn't read well, although he has completed the seventh grade in D.C. public schools. According to his grandmother, Mick-Mick doesn't like school and cuts regularly.
She says he had a city job at a recreation center last summer but would not always go to work. Mickey has no marketable skills. But his lawyer is quick to point out that even police do not allege that Mickey held the gun or gave the push that led to the killing in either of the two cases he is involved with. But to most people, that point seems irrelevant to the history of a 15-year-old who is already a convicted murderer.
"I can't say he won't be no criminal when he gets older," says his mother, "but I hope not."