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Nathaniel Abraham Trial: 1999

Murderer Or Troubled Youth?, Controversial Sentence, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Nathaniel Abraham
Crimes Charged: Murder, assault with intent to murder, and felony use of a firearm
Chief Defense Lawyer: Geoffrey Fieger
Chief Prosecutor: Lisa Halushka
Judge: Eugene A. Moore
Place: Pontiac, Michigan
Dates of Trial: October 29-November 16, 1999
Verdict: Guilty of second-degree murder
Sentence: Placement in a juvenile detention center until the age of 21

SIGNIFICANCE: Only 11 years old at the time of his arrest, Nathaniel Abraham became the youngest American convicted of murder as an adult. His trial spotlighted the controversial issue of trying juvenile offenders in adult court.

During the 1980s, the number of violent crimes committed by juveniles in the United States began to rise. In response, a growing number of states passed laws stipulating that children under 17 could be tried as adults for certain crimes. The slogan "adult crime, adult time" captured the sentiments of supporters of these juvenile justice statutes. By 1992, more than 40 states had passed laws for trying children as adults.

Some civil libertarians and juvenile justice experts argued against the tough measures, saying the juvenile justice system had a better chance of rehabilitating young criminals than the adult system did. Those arguments held little sway in Michigan, which passed its version of the juvenile justice law in 1996. The law was one of the strictest in the nation, allowing a child of any age to be tried as an adult. Three years later, the state was the setting for the country's most controversial juvenile murder trial.

Two years before, police in Pontiac, Michigan, had arrested 11-year-old Nathaniel Abraham for the October 29, 1997 murder of an 18-year-old man who was shot while standing outside a party store. He died a day later from a single. 22 caliber bullet wound to the head. Nathaniel admitted that he had been firing a. 22 caliber rifle in the direction of the store on the day of the shooting. The boy insisted though that he had not meant to shoot anyone; he had merely been firing randomly at some trees. But Oakland County prosecutors argued that Nathaniel had deliberately set out to kill someone that day and had later bragged about the shooting.

Prosecutors received permission to charge Nathaniel with first-degree murder and several other felonies and try him as an adult.

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