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?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before