In a decision that shocked both sides – and left the prosecutor in tears – a Los Angeles County judge yesterday released four black teens to their parents to serve 60 days of house arrest for the severe beating of three young white women on Halloween night.
The attack on Laura Schneider, 21, Michelle Smith, 19, and Loren Hyman, 19, which occurred in in the Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach, was carried out by a large group of black teens – as many as 30, according to reports. The upscale neighborhood is known for lavish Halloween displays and has long attracted crowds.
Ten teens were charged in the attack. All maintained their innocence throughout the trial. Juvenile Court Judge Gibson Lee found nine of them guilty last month.
“Perhaps the only thing worse than suffering 13 facial fractures was seeing my friend Laura lying on the ground lifeless,” Hyman told the court earlier this week, as victim-impact statements were offered before sentencing.
Schneider suffered a concussion after being struck by a skateboard when someone yelled out a racial slur.
Hyman, who was scheduled to have 4 1/2-hour facial reconstruction surgery yesterday, sustained multiple fractures in her nose and around her eye.
“I hope they’re still in jail when our injuries are finally healed,” Schneider said.
Both asked for “the harshest punishment possible” for the nine minors, saying they had done nothing to provoke the beatings and have been scared to leave their homes ever since.
But the sentences for the first four of the defendants issued yesterday were far from harsh. Instead of the nine months in probation camp Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas had requested for three of the teens, Gibson sentenced them to probation until age 21, house arrest for 60 days and 250 hours of community service.
Bouas’ jaw dropped when Lee gave the first defendant, Anthony Ross, probation, the Los Angeles Times reported, and she choked up, wiping her eyes with tissue, as the hearing continued.
Saying Anthony had been “the biggest aggressor,” Bouas accused the teen, now 18, of lying about his involvement, his grades at school and having beaten Schneider “when she was already unconscious.”
“If he were to be released home on probation, there would be no accountability for that action,” she said. “The victims will feel like there is no justice if he walks out that door.”
Anthony was convicted of three counts of assault – two with hate-crime enhancements and two with enhancements for personally inflicting great bodily harm.
Anthony’s 16-year-old sister, unnamed because of her age, was the only defendant arrested with blood on her clothing. Bouas sought probation camp for the minor, but judge Lee gave her home probation as well.
Bouas, weeping in court, charged Anthony’s twin sister, Antoinette, of directly causing Hyman’s injury’s.
“That should have some weight with the court, I would guess, but I’m not sure anymore,” she said.
Despite agreeing that “it was an awful crime, terrible physical and emotional injuries,” Lee said he had to “pick the least restrictive disposition” – a decision that has support among juvenile law experts.
“The whole idea is not to simply throw people into the criminal justice system,” Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, told the Times. “The purpose of the juvenile justice system is not retribution; it’s not even punishment. It’s still rehabilitation.”
Penalties are to be increased only if initial discipline doesn’t work.
“A tenet of the juvenile system is to give a graduated response to the child acting out,” said Cyn Yamashiro, a professor at Loyola Law School and director of its Center for Juvenile Law and Policy.
“Juvenile Court is a joke,” said Barbara Schneider, mother of Laura, outside the Long Beach courthouse.
“We’re just disgusted. That judge is a joke. He’s going to be recalled. People are going to be screaming about this.”