12-year-old Killer

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

Gangs taught you different things. To be in a gang was like to put all other things aside and focus on your gang life. Gangs was like your second family and you were taught to put your hood first. Your set was to be out first before your own family. I learned that rule real quick. I loved my set to the fullest and I learned to set all other things to the side. That seemed cruel and disrespectful to my family. But to believe in something required your full undivided attention. It took time to understand the gang life. I didn't agree with everything but I was positive that it was something I wanted to do.

After a while my set got real big. ABC was the biggest Crip set in San Antonio. Now it was time to go to war. We often got into it with the Blood Stone Villains. It was either Do or Die and I was gonna represent to the fullest. It was all about putting in work and doing good deeds.

I recall one sunny afternoon when I was hanging on the cut at Jolly Time. All of a sudden I see this white van coming from across the street. At the time I didn't think nothing of it. The next thing I knew I seen the back doors come open and two Bloods jumped out with guns shooting. I ran for cover and laid in the grass. Two of my homies got shot in the back of the arm. Nobody was hurt seriously but their dues were due. It was time to get revenge and make them pay. I was a little kid but I did a grown mans job. I know now that I was playing with death. It didn't yet register in my mind that I could soon be dead. In fact I didn't even give a damn about life itself. To me it was all or nothing.

Judge Andy Mireles recalls a "big discussion" among the jury about whether Debrow should be jailed or shown leniency because he "was just a product of his environment."
Alicia Walker Calzada
Judge Andy Mireles recalls a "big discussion" among the jury about whether Debrow should be jailed or shown leniency because he "was just a product of his environment."

I rented this dope fiend's car for a $20 rock. Little did he know, I had no intentions of returning it. In fact I was gonna use it to commit a crime. I knew them slobs who shot my homeboys and I knew where they lived. Everybody knew that slob nigga name Li'l Joker. He would have to pay for his actions and if not him, then his family.

Late one night about 11 p.m. or so we drove to Polaris Street. Things were kind of quiet around this time. His house still had a few lights on in it. I had a Tec 22 and a 38 special handgun. My other homie had a Tec 9mm. We turned off the lights and started driving up the street. As we got in front of the white house I stopped the car and opened fire. Me and my homie lit they shit up. After that we drove off real fast and went to the East Terrace where we usually kicked it at.

I never heard if anybody got shot and I truly didn't care. It was like I had no conscience. I didn't value the human life. At the time I thought it was best for some people to be dead.

I never thought about the consequences of my actions. I knew that one day I would pay for my sinful ways. I just wanted to enjoy life while I had the chance. I was once told by another man "don't pity the fool." I couldn't understand what he was trying to say and I didn't care to ask. A man who wanted to seek knowledge might have questioned that. I wasn't trying to learn nothing. I really thought it was better for that old coon to stay in his league and let the minors handle their own business.


Dwayne Debrow steers his car toward the place they call Jolly Time. Really, it's nothing more than a ghetto street corner, with a gas station on one side and a skanky club on the other and winos and a few wizened crackheads shifting places around a dumpster. Jolly Time, Debrow explains, got its name because it's where you go to get happy. To buy drugs.

He points to a patch of gravel beneath a street sign tagged in black with "ETG"--East Terrace Gangstas--the spot where a scrawny, 4-foot-8 kid named Edwin Carl Debrow Jr. sold crack.

Jolly Time is in the heart of the East Side, a collection of decaying streets and small frame homes with roofs, walls and porches so warped and leaning that they look as though they're shuddering in a hurricane wind. Here and there, mostly on the grounds of old brick schools and public buildings, a grandiose palm tree rises from a patch of desiccated turf.

Dwayne insists he didn't know Edwin sold dope, at least not at the time. By then, their paths had diverged; Dwayne went to school while Edwin ran the streets. One trail led to high school, then college, where, against the doctor's orders, Dwayne played football. Today, the 22-year-old plays semi-pro ball and runs a recording studio. Edwin had no target, no goals, just the here and now. And by the sixth grade, the here and now no longer included school.

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