By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The jury sentenced Debrow to 27 years.
Castro-Guerra admits now that jury members didn't understand the full import of a relatively new law that allowed for "determinate" sentences of up to 40 years for juveniles convicted of murder. That meant that a boy such as Debrow could be sent to the Texas Youth Commission until he was 18, and, after a court hearing to assess his progress in rehabilitation, he could either be released on parole, retained at TYC till he was 21 or sent up to continue his sentence in adult prison. At the time, Debrow was the youngest person ever to be charged with murder in Bexar County.
Clinging to their own gentler notions of childhood, some of the jurors, such as 24-year-old Scott Moore, a grocery clerk, assumed Debrow didn't know right from wrong and simply needed a little enlightenment. Moore couldn't muster any "empathy for how he committed the crime like he did, cold-blooded." But he hoped Debrow would spend some time in TYC and learn his lesson.
Castro-Guerra had the same illusions. She didn't think for a minute that Debrow committed the crime by himself; jurors knew some facts about the role of Hardeman, who was later convicted of aggravated robbery in connection with Edwards' death and received a 30-year sentence. But she rationalized that Debrow would turn himself around in the youth commission's state schools and go home to a better life at 18.
Andy Logan knew there was fat chance of that. "My experience with TYC is that there would be no effort to rehabilitate him," he says today. "He desperately needed a hands-on, structured environment where there was some nurturing going on and some training."
Debrow's father puts it more bluntly: "How can you take a 12-year-old and throw him in with a pack of wolves and expect him to come out a sheep five years down the line?"
One could never say Edwin hadn't known love. A woman, in fact, was the center of his existence. "My mother is my life, she is my world, and my pride and my joy," Debrow recently wrote in a letter. "I really love her and I will never accept her departure from this world." They are moving words, attached to a woman so much maligned, so heavily burdened.
It was Seletha Debrow who recently urged a San Antonio legislator to transfer her son to somewhere within the same hemisphere, and Edwin was moved from a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison in Amarillo to Beeville, south of his hometown, just a few weeks ago.
Debrow's love for his mother makes it impossible to write him off as an unfeeling "madman," a term he applies to himself at one point in his manuscript.
She writes him, occasionally sends money; whatever her role in his delinquency, he clearly values her affection over his father's firm discipline. "My mother was my caregiver," he writes. "The truth is that I have never really been able to understand my father."
Rejected by the world, Edwin and Seletha cling to each other.
It was the only noble thing Debrow knew most of the time he was in TYC, and later in prison.
He went to TYC's West Texas State School in March 1992 with an attitude. At 4-foot-8, 79 pounds, he had no other choice. "I sure in the hell had my mind made up about one thing," he wrote, "and that was that I was gonna stay down for mine and don't let nobody punk me."
We attended group everyday except for on the weekends. Everybody had to go around and say this little speech that had to be memorized. I memorized it real quick and then I began to say it. We had to say as follows: My name is Edwin Debrow and I had a good day today, used my skills for the last 24 hours, group, any problems? If somebody had a problem with you they would speak up if not then the group would all say no at the same time.
In state school it was like a day care center. If you did something wrong then another inmate could call your group and tell on you. The staff called it being responsible but I called it snitching. They viewed it one way and I perceived it another.
I started having fights and assaulting staff. I even started tearing up state property and breaking windows with rocks. I was 12 years old and was as mean as hell. Everybody called me Lil Boo. The name that I was given during my childhood.