When police arrived at the yellow-brick house in Garland, Tex., on the afternoon of Aug. 17, 2010, they found Alan Nevil lying near death in a neighbor’s yard. He had been shot five times. One bullet was lodged in his throat. His wife, Darlene, was found dead inside the house, shot in the back and head.
Despite the blood in his mouth, Alan managed to gargle the name of their attacker.
It was his stepdaughter’s 13-year-old boyfriend, he said.
Minutes later, police pulled up outside the boyfriend’s house, just a few blocks away. There, they found Darlene’s 12-year-old daughter and her boyfriend — having celebratory sex.
When Alan Nevil succumbed to his injuries 16 days later, the young couple was charged with capital murder. Adults convicted of the charge can be executed. Charged as juveniles, though, the youths faced a maximum of 40 years in prison. The boyfriend and girlfriend both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 28 years and 20 years, respectively. Neither has been publicly named because they were juveniles.
“I feel nothing but disgust for you,” Alan’s sister, Fran Nevil Cawley, said to the girl in court.
Less than six years later, the Nevil family’s disgust has suddenly deepened.
On Wednesday, a Dallas judge ordered the boy released when he turns 19 next month, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The ruling was an astonishing — and for the Nevil family, terrifying — twist on the 2010 double murder. Judge Andrea Martin could have transferred him to adult prison for 10 years. Instead, he will now face nothing more than parole and anger-management classes.
Juvenile justice experts and officials said the boy had turned over a new leaf behind bars, accepting responsibility for the crime, getting his GED and becoming a role model for other inmates at his juvenile-detention center.
But the ruling left the Nevils furious, and fearful.
“He gets to see his mom, and my dad is in a box,” Susan Nevil told Fox4, displaying Alan Nevil’s ashes. “This is how my kids get to visit their grandfather. And it’s just not right.”
She added that she has dreams in which her father’s murderer tracks her down and kills her, too.
The judge’s ruling raises questions about the age at which juveniles can be charged as adults — in Texas, it is 14 — as well as the severity of sentences they should face when convicted. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed before age 18. Some scientists say adolescents’ brains aren’t as capable of controlling impulses and understanding long-term consequences as adult brains. In the past decade, many states have moved away from life sentences for minors.
For the Nevils, no amount of expert testimony can justify the judge’s ruling.
“Five years?” shouted Alan Nevil’s son, Alan Jr., as he left the courtroom, according to the Morning News. “For capital murder?”
The saga began June 6, 2009, when the girl joined her mother, Darlene, and her stepfather, Alan, in Garland, a suburb of Dallas.
“We decorated the house in Garland, bought a cake and welcomed you with open arms,” Fran Nevil Cawley, Alan’s sister, would later tell the girl in court, according to the Morning News.
But problems quickly appeared. The girl claimed her father back in Ohio had thrown away her clothes and ice-skating medals, but her belongings later arrived.
It wouldn’t be the last time the girl lied.
In the spring of 2010, the girl began dating a boy who lived nearby. He had had a hard life, psychiatrists would later testify in court. One of his uncles had murdered a family member. Another uncle had been killed. And he watched his mother endure domestic violence. He began smoking marijuana at age 10 and became involved with a gang.
But the two seemed normal together. Neighbors saw them walking around the neighborhood, holding hands.
“I just thought they were two teenagers having a teenage relationship,” neighbor Michelle Campbell told the Associated Press.
Jasmine Sepulveda, a 14-year-old who lived across the street from the girl, detected something odd about the relationship.
“She was a really cool person but when she hung out with him, her boyfriend, that’s when she got weird,” Sepulveda told the AP. “She didn’t want to talk to me anymore.”
The Nevils didn’t approve of the relationship. In July, a month before the murders, the girl ran away from home. When she returned, she began to plot to kill her mother and stepfather, according to police.
“Her parents had grounded her to where she couldn’t see [the boy],” Garland police detective Bruce Marshall testified in court, according to the Morning News. “And she told me, ‘The final straw, Detective Marshall, is when they took away my coloring books. I knew they had to die.’ ”
The girl was smarter than the boy and easily manipulated him, she told Marshall. Over several weeks that summer, she tried to persuade her boyfriend to kill her parents. When she first showed him Alan’s gun, he wouldn’t touch it, Marshall testified. When the Nevils insisted that the two break up, the boy was furious, according to text messages later introduced as evidence.
Finally, the girl lied to her boyfriend.
“She told [the boy] she was pregnant and that Alan Nevil tried to sexually abuse her,” Marshall testified, according to the Morning News.
It wasn’t true, but it worked: The boy agreed to the plot.
On Aug. 17, he was waiting for Darlene when she came home from work. The boy shot her twice, killing her, then waited for her husband. When Alan arrived, the boy shot him five times. When the gun jammed, he used it to beat Alan over the head.
But Alan clung to life, crawling out a window and toward a neighbor’s house for help. When police arrived, he told them his stepdaughter’s boyfriend had shot him.
Police officers found the couple having sex and arrested them. Meanwhile, Alan underwent surgery. For a while it appeared as if he would live. Whenever he regained consciousness, he would ask for Darlene.
“We’d tell him Darlene was dead and he’d start fighting and they would put him under again,” Alan Jr. told the Morning News.
When Alan Sr. suddenly died after 16 days in the hospital, it seemed as if his stepdaughter and her boyfriend might spend most of their lives in prison.
“They deserve everything they’ve got coming,” neighbor Juan Garcia Jr. told the AP. “Kids nowadays, they don’t think twice.”
The boy admitted to shooting the Nevils because his girlfriend told him to, according to police.
“He was cooperative. He took responsibility almost immediately,” Marshall testified Wednesday, according to the Morning News.
But the boy’s first couple of years in juvenile detention did not go smoothly. He was involved in 64 incidents, 21 of which required him to be moved to a security unit, officials testified. Six were major offenses, including assault and possession of a controlled substance.
Those same officials said the boy had matured, avoiding trouble over the past two years, earning his GED, learning carpentry and working as a groundskeeper.
“Having a job has built his confidence,” testified Kathryn Hallmark, a psychiatrist who runs the therapy program at the boy’s center. “He can be at peace while being focused on his work.”
But the judge’s decision to release the boy next month, rather than send him to adult prison for up to 10 years, is unlikely to give the Nevil family any peace.
“I’m going to be graduating in 11 days and my grandpa isn’t going to see me walk the stage,” Destiyne Nevil, Alan’s granddaughter, who is the same age as the teen murderer, told Fox4. “We didn’t get the outcome that we wanted. The guy, he only served 6 years of a 28-year sentence and I don’t think that was just for my family.”
“They’re considering him a good candidate for parole, well my dad was a good candidate to live,” added her mother, Susan. “My kids are still suffering. I’m suffering. My brother is suffering. It’s just not right.”
Adding to the family’s agony is the fact that Alan’s stepdaughter — convicted five years ago of killing him — could also soon be released.
She faces her own hearing later this year.
Correction: The original version of this story said the accused boy would have been eligible for the death penalty had he been a year older. As the story points out, the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for those under 18 in 2005.