12-year-old Killer

The story of Edwin Debrow Jr., one of the youngest Texans ever convicted of murder, in his own words


Debrow's journal of TYC days is a numbing litany of gang fights, attacks on staff, riots, busted windows and escape attempts as he is shifted around from school to school. But for each piss ball--wads of urine-soaked toilet paper--lobbed at a TYC staffer, someone was keeping count.

When Debrow was 17 1/2, he would be called to account for how he spent his TYC days. At that time, he would be interviewed by TYC's Special Services Committee, which was charged with examining his records, conducting a psychological evaluation, interviewing staff and forwarding a recommendation about Debrow's future to a Bexar County judge. If Debrow was a screw-up, he could expect the worst possible outcome: a recommendation that he be sent to adult prison to continue his sentence.

The decision was ultimately up to the judge, but TYC would send its representative to the court hearing to make a case. It was Debrow's job to explain himself, and there would be much to explain.

Edwin Debrow Jr. was, at 12, the youngest person ever charged with murder in Bexar County. A jury gave Debrow 27 years in the slaying of Curtis Edwards, a San Antonio cab driver, even though Debrow had a much older accomplice. Debrow is 22 today and housed in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison in Beeville.
Henry Bargas
Edwin Debrow Jr. was, at 12, the youngest person ever charged with murder in Bexar County. A jury gave Debrow 27 years in the slaying of Curtis Edwards, a San Antonio cab driver, even though Debrow had a much older accomplice. Debrow is 22 today and housed in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison in Beeville.
Debrow was a 4-foot-8, 79-pound kid when he was arrested in 1991. President George H. Bush singled out the young convicted killer in a speech, calling his case "truly horrifying."
San Antonio Express-News
Debrow was a 4-foot-8, 79-pound kid when he was arrested in 1991. President George H. Bush singled out the young convicted killer in a speech, calling his case "truly horrifying."

At TYC, all the kids attend school, participate in group and, as needed, take part in special programs such as "intensive resocialization." Teachers, shrinks and staffers are on hand to provide one-on-one care. "We've got to treat them," explains TYC court liaison Leonard Cucolo, who would testify at Debrow's court hearing. Cucolo wouldn't comment specifically on Debrow's case, but he explained the system's obligation to treat every kid, whether he's a sheep or a psychopath. "We're responsible for them until they're 17 1/2 under the old law. If a youth comes in at 12 and is a behavior problem, we can't go back to the court until that time."

Debrow, however, had a problem that the vast majority of his fellow charges didn't share--a determinate sentence that could extend into middle age if need be. He was surrounded by kids with sentences of just a few months, kids who could see a way out. He saw none. As his friend Carvae, who also had a determinate sentence, wrote in a letter, "At 12 years old, we were nothing but babies trying to be somebody. We've never had a car, house, wife, kids, nothing in our name but a murder case. To this day we deal with the fact that if we was to die in here we lived no life."

That feeling of hopelessness about the future, Debrow says, would eventually snuff out any impulse to work toward a positive change. At times, he would pick up jobs in TYC, work diligently for a few months, try to "get back on track and do something for myself," then things would go "downhill." It didn't help that he was in a succession of schools--West Texas, Brownwood State School and Giddings State School, where some of the hardest cases go--that were swimming with Crips and Bloods, a phenomenon of the times. "Back then, we had a lot of gang members come into TYC," Cucolo explains. "We don't select who comes in, so they're bringing in their problems."

The hopeful moments were so scarce, Debrow recalls them with touching exactitude. One of the highlights of his stay in Brownwood was a 1994 trip outside the compound to McDonald's, accompanied by a kindly administrator. He remembers precisely what he ate: two hamburgers, a large order of fries and a Coke.

Debrow summed up his attitude while recalling a failed escape from Brownwood. He had a lot of time to think while he spent the entire night hogtied in his room. "I had 27 years and I didn't give a damn," he writes. "I had nothing to lose."


I learned one thing about TYC and that was that they were a firm believer in rehabilitation. They strongly believed that they could change the meanest inmates. They taught you politeness skills and things like that. They wanted you to have remorse for your crime. My caseworker Mr. Hill once asked me did I have remorse for what I did. I explained to him, how could I have remorse for something I planned. Even though I was 12 years old I knew right from wrong. So how could I possibly say I had remorse. My caseworker didn't agree with the way I viewed it. He had a different philosophy. He believed that every inmate could change and have remorse. I agreed with that also. I believed anybody could change and have remorse also. I just didn't understand how someone could have remorse for something they intentionally done. If you didn't have remorse you could best believe that TYC was gonna recommend you be transferred to prison.

I was always in trouble. TYC staff labeled me as incorrigible. All the groups that I went to. All the skills that I was taught. None of that would help me. I could change if I wanted to but I wasn't ready to change. I wanted to enjoy my life the way I wanted to. And acting a damn fool was a part of it.

For some odd reason I thought I was losing my mind. I continued to misbehave and I was always thinking about violence. I constantly had negative things on my mind. I wanted to stay in trouble. Being in trouble helped me pass my time.

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