By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Knowing that I would be soon tried for this crime had me kind of nervous. I didn't know what to think. I knew one thing for sure and that was that a jury of 12 people would determine my fate. I refused to let the Judge who presided over the 73rd District Court determine my fate. He was known for having no pity...
This is a time that I will never forget. This was a moment in my life that would tell if I could ever be a productive citizen in society.
The prosecutor tried very hard to prove their case. I learned that they didn't have no pity for a criminal and they truly believed that if you was in the courtroom that you was automatically guilty. They called me all kinds of names and I disagreed with that. I should of just jumped up and said I'm guilty because I knew that I would be found guilty. They made me look like a 12 year old monster or something. I couldn't understand how the government would allow 12 citizens of the United States to determine my fate. They would decide the outcome of my life and I didn't like the sound of that.
My mother was seated right across from me and after they said I was sentenced to 27 years my mother broke down uncontrollably. She began to cry and the sight of that saddened me deeply. I never wanted to see my mother go through so much pain.
I wasn't scared to go to jail. I knew that I could stay down and that I could handle my own if it came down to it. What bothered me was that I would miss my family and my friends. The feeling of that was painful and inconvenient. Another thought troubled me also. Knowing that I would never get a chance to spend one day of my teenage life in the free world. That was the saddest part of it all.
Every night of the trial, Sandra Castro-Guerra came home sick. Her fellow jury members found out she was a registered nurse--a poised, educated woman of 34--and decided she was the perfect candidate for jury foreman. No one else wanted the job, not this time.
What caused the bouts of retching was the sight of that "tiny, tiny" boy in the courtroom, betraying not a trace of emotion. "Why is he not acting like a 12-year-old boy?" Castro-Guerra would ask herself. "He didn't show anything--just a blank stare. Like show me a sign of something; show me you're sorry."
Another image is fixed in the mind of the assistant prosecutor 10 years after the trial. Leticia Cortez, who'd just come off maternity leave, remembers Edwin Debrow Jr. casually swinging his legs as he sat at a table in the courtroom, flanked by his defense attorney and his mother. The jury would be looking at horrific autopsy photos, hearing the testimony of Curtis Edwards' father as he went to identify his son in the bloody taxi, and still, those skinny legs would swing, swing, swing.
Castro-Guerra would look in the young defendant's eyes, and she'd see the face of a 12-year-old boy. In her mind, there was a terrible disconnect. How could a little boy have done this? she thought. What kind of home did he come from? "He was such a child, such a baby in my eyes," Castro-Guerra remembers. "Can someone please help us have an understanding of how this happened--how such a young person can get caught in this situation?"
The nurse found it maddening that none of those questions was answered in the guilt or innocence phase of the trial, but during sentencing, after the damage had already been done. The thought of sending a child to prison for years weighed so heavily on her and the other jurors, she says, that their deliberations were marked by many tears.
The trial testimony itself, spanning four days in February 1992, showed how unlikely it is that Debrow would have been caught at all had he not bragged about committing some sort of crime to employees at the hospital where he was treated after sustaining serious head injuries in the wreck of Edwards' taxi. Debrow's boasting apparently led someone to tip off San Antonio police, who made the connection with Edwards' murder. Police searched Debrow's house and seized evidence: a dirty sweatshirt--later found to be stained with Edwards' blood--and a single Troop Club sneaker, size 8 1/2, the precise match of the one found in the back of the wrecked taxicab. Police arrested Debrow at his home a day after he got out of the hospital; his mother and grandmother became hysterical, Debrow wrote, as he was handcuffed and hauled away. When he stepped out of the squad car at the police station, he found himself surrounded by cameramen and reporters. Like a child, he hid his face.
Debrow says today that he never said any of those things in the hospital, that people are lying, but witness after witness stepped forth with similar recollections. One was Robert Duncan, a security officer at Southeast Baptist Hospital. He'd been called up one night to corral a kid who was running wild up and down the hospital corridors. When he got there, Debrow, who by then was sitting quietly in his room, told the officer he was bored. Duncan told him to get some rest.