12-year-old Killer

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

Days seemed to be going by real slow. When you know you're leaving time seems to slow down for some reason. I tried to get myself under control because I knew it was coming. It was time to go to court in San Antonio, Texas. Something I longed for to come. I longed to go back to Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center to reunite with old friends. I was damn near 100 percent sure that I was going to be sent to prison no matter what. There was no hope for me at all. My records were bad and most of all I had been a murderer since the age of 12 years old. Society was tired of juvenile crime and the laws got real tough during my incarceration. Youngsters were committing crimes at a very young age and society didn't want to tolerate it so they were locking them up and basically throwing away the key for a while.

January 15th [1997] had finally arrived. I went to see the exit committee. It was a committee made up of about 12 TYC staff. They would ask you questions and you had to answer them honestly. After that they would decide what recommendation you would get. They would either vote for you to be transferred to the Texas Department of Corrections or to be recommitted back to the Texas Youth Commission. I knew I had a vote of 12-0 all in favor of my transfer to the Texas Department of Corrections. The thought of going to prison didn't bother me at all. I knew that wherever I went I would be the same Edwin Debrow Jr. I wouldn't change my ways for no one and I sure the hell was gonna stay down for mine. I would go into prison a man and come out man.


The husky young man with the broad shoulders and dimpled face keeps talking, while the guards shift uncomfortably beside him. By now, his knee is bouncing rapidly.
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."

The drugs help a little, he says, but only so much. He's on trazodone, an anti-depressant sometimes used to curb aggressiveness, one of "numerous" psychiatric medications he's been prescribed over the years.

Debrow knows he is mentally ill. "I realized long ago that something was terribly wrong with my behavior," he wrote in a letter. "It has to do with the mood swings. A big part of the responsibility lies with me. I've been learning to control and channel my anger."

He's in a high-security prison unit today because he fashioned a shank from a piece of chain-link fence, hid it in his pants, then used it to stab a rival gang member some years ago. Debrow says the other guy tried to stab him first, that he did it in self-defense. Truth is, Debrow wrote in his manuscript, "I had so much hate built up inside me that I could take it out on the world."

At 17 1/2, when Debrow journeyed to San Antonio for his day of reckoning with the Texas Youth Commission, the judge heard all about the hate. Leonard Cucolo, the TYC court liaison, testified that Debrow had been dispatched to lock-up 178 times, including a time when he threw a glass flower vase in the face of a teacher, fracturing her cheek and knocking her to the floor. He and his friend Carvae claim the teacher habitually made racial comments. "I had a few problems that I still couldn't get over," Debrow would write. "I constantly felt like fighting. I don't know why but it was that feeling I had."

There were zillions of other transgressions. Debrow became a serial destroyer of state property. When he "felt like being destructive," he'd kick his steel toilet until the screws loosened. Then he clobbered it till it became disconnected from the wall. When the staff moved him to another room, he did the same thing.

In a rare note of humor, Debrow writes that Cucolo "went on and on trying his best to make me look like a menace to society. He did a good job but I think I did even better when it was my turn..."

Debrow talked about how he was constantly mistreated by TYC staff, how a 12-year-old quickly learned to do whatever was necessary to survive. Debrow's father came to the hearing, pleading with the court to release his son into his custody. "No one wanted to hear it," his father says. Edwin Debrow Sr. still sounds angry. He finally realizes he is shouting into his cell phone. "My son was a victim, too," he says. "My son's heart was not that calculating, like he was pumping cold water instead of blood."

Even today, with his son's baggage of emotional disorders, the elder Debrow says he'd take him back "in a heartbeat."

He didn't get his chance at the January 1997 hearing. At TYC's recommendation, Debrow Jr. was punted to adult prison to continue his sentence. Andy Logan, who represented him at the hearing, wasn't shocked by the decision. Much more jarring, he said, was the boy's metamorphosis since he'd last seen him. "When he went in, he was a kid--a kid with problems who needed help. When I saw him at 18, he was transformed. He was so hardened it was unbelievable."

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