At 13, he's too young to drive, drink or vote. But he's on trial for murder

THE DEFENDANT often looks puzzled, if not dazed. You can see he is trying to follow what is going on in the court around him, but that most of the time he cannot. Often, he is trying to fend off sleep, like a child losing concentration in a maths lesson. Then, Nathaniel Abraham is a child. He is 13.

For two weeks, the scene has been nearly the same. Shortly after 9am, prison officers escort this boy less than 5ft tall into the austere courtroom in Pontiac, Michigan, to stand trial for murder. His progress to the defence table is slow - he is wearing handcuffs and leg irons.

The murder was almost ordinary. Prosecutors say Abraham fired the shot from a .22 calibre rifle that struck the head of Ronnie Greene outside a corner shop on 29 October 1997 and killed him.

But the case is not ordinary. Abraham was 11 years old. He is now being tried as an adult on first-degree homicide. If he is convicted, he faces life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

As the case proceeds - it is expected to go to the jury at the end of the week - the controversy surrounding it grows.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, are accusing Michigan of attempting to throw away a young boy's life as if it were "human garbage". The trial is broadcast, from gavel to gavel, on Court TV and was examined on the CBS current affairs show, 60 Minutes, on Sunday.

Prosecutors appear unmoved by the furore. They say that Abraham, who had 22 previous run-ins with police, was hiding in a clump of trees across the road from his prey when he fired the shot. They say he had bragged with friends before that he was planning to kill someone.

"This is not your normal 11-year-old boy," said David Gorcyca, an Oakland County Prosecutor. The prosecution, in fact, is doing no more than has been asked of it by politicians.

A state law passed in Michigan in 1997 that aims to clamp down on juvenile crime makes it possible for children of any age who commit murder to be tried as adults. A defendant, in theory, could be five or even younger.

Abraham's lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, already renowned for defending the mercy-killing doctor Jack Kervorkian, also known as Dr Death, says the boy was shooting at trees and that a bullet ricocheted from a branch and hit Ronnie Greene in the head.

He also loudly decries the "absurdity" of trying his client as an adult, especially since psychological testing assessed him as having the mental capacity of a child aged six or seven. Mr Fieger says Abraham is the youngest person to be tried as an adult in US history.

"Nathaniel Abraham is being tried as an adult and he can't drive a car, he can't drink, he can't vote, he can't join the military service," Mr Fieger said on 60 Minutes.

He also highlighted the right of Abraham that is enshrined in the US Constitution, to be tried by a jury of his "peers". There are, of course, no pre-teens on the jury in this case.

Abraham, who was also interviewed by CBS, appeared to have a limited understanding of his plight. He said he thought that the definition of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt meant the prosecution had to "prove me guilty with a big explanation".

But the sister of the victim shows no forgiveness for Abraham and angrily dismisses the contention that he was shooting at trees or telephone poles, as Mr Fieger suggests.

"My brother's head don't look like no light pole or his head don't look like a tree limb," said Nicole Greene.

There is scant sign of a change of heart among the politicians who passed the law allowing minors to be tried as adults and, potentially, be put away for life.

State Senator William Van Regenmorter was one of the sponsors of the relevant law. More important than the children and their fate, he argued, is the threat they pose to society.

"I don't think they are beyond redemption, but whether they are rehabilitable or not is secondary in those rare cases to the incredible danger they pose for all the rest," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor