Avion Lawson, 14, and Nathan Walker, 16, have been arrested in West Palm Beach, Florida for their alleged participation in one of the most heinous home invasion sex crimes to hit Palm Beach County in recent times.
According to news reports, Lawson and Walker were part of a group of ten teenage attackers who tricked their way into a Dunbar Village home by sending a young man to the victim’s door claiming that his car had a flat tire. Once the the victim opened the door, three masked teens entered the house and pushed the victim and her 12 year old son back inside the home.
Once inside, the mom and son were separated in different rooms. The ten teenagers then brutally beat the mom and gang raped her. They also poured household chemicals into the son’s eyes and then forced him to participate in his mother’s gang rape.
After more than 20 minutes of this hell, the attackers fled the home and the victims traveled over a mile on foot to a local hospital.
Lawson was arrested last Tuesday after police matched his DNA to a condom found in the victim’s home. Walker was arrested Thursday when a palm print found in the home matched his palm.
Both teens have been charged as adults.
There is absolutely no doubt that Lawson and Walker need to hire the most effective defense attorney their parents can find. This crime is so heinous and severe that all involved are facing major prison sentences. In fact, I would not be surprised if a judge sentenced then entire group to thirty years in prison each.
Unless of course there are facts about this case that make its reality substantially different than its appearance.
Regardless, the way to defend a person accused of such a terrible and awful crime is to figure out who among the ten attackers was a primary actor and who was a secondary actor. For example, did all ten boys participate in the actual rape and beating or did most of them only act as bystanders/observers? When crimes are committed by groups, there is usually a ring leader, a secondary leader, and a bunch of witless followers.
Before I delve into what this means here, let me clear one thing up… I am not at all stating that any one attacker is less guilty than the others because he merely acted as a bystander or an observer. When offenders commit a crime in concert, the law treats guilt as an “all for one, one for all” type of deal (just like a getaway car driver in a bank robbery).
However, when it comes to sentencing, a judge has the discretion to punish the primary actors with harsher sentences than secondary actors. I know many reading this may think anyone who participates in such a crime should get the maximum sentence regardless of their level of participation. On the contrary, these are exactly the types of cases where a trial judge must act with the utmost of scrutiny and discretion.
Wielding the prison sentence pen with broad strokes is not what our judicial system is about.
On the contrary, the law gives a sentencing judge great discretion to distinguish between those who lead and those who follow. This discretion exists so that greater punishment may be levied on leaders and primary actors. In cases like these, differentiated sentences aren’t about being easy on secondary actors, rather, they are about being hard on primary actors and gang leaders.
There must be distinction for the sentences to have meaning.
For example, those who committed the actual rape act may get 25-30 years in prison, whereas those who did not rape, but merely watched, may only get to 15-20 years in prison.
Therefore, a defense lawyer dealing with this type of case must be very aggressive in how he or she investigates the facts so that evidence can be uncovered to distinguish between the primary actors and the secondary participants.
Of course, such distinction will only help a client who was a secondary actor.
Since a traditional defense based on the facts seems unrealistic, unless there are identification issues, defense lawyers will have to make a case based on mitigation. Such a strategy will require mental health assessments and other psychometric examinations. If the idea is to plead guilty and go for mitigation, at no time should there by any attack on the victims’ credibility or their injuries. Such attacks would show a lack of genuine remorse and would undermine the notion of mitigation.
There is no doubt that the perpetrators of this crime, especially the leaders and primary actors, suffer from some sort of mental health problem. This problem will not keep them out of prison or even mitigate their sentence in any substantial way, but it may reduce a 25-30 year sentence to a 20-25 year sentence followed by extensive probation and sex offender treatment.
Assuming there are no hidden facts and that a traditional defense does not exist, this case will be more about minimizing prison sentences as opposed to avoiding them altogether.
In all likelihood, these teenagers have already told authorities the names and identities of the other attackers involved. This will lead to other evidence, such as photo-line ups, DNA sampling, and fingerprint analysis.
While it is hard for a panicked and tortured victim to identify ten attackers well after the attack, the fact of the matter is that “lots of attackers” tend to leave “lots of evidence” behind. If a semen soaked condom was left behind by one attacker, it is safe to presume that the home is a plethora of other evidence as well.
Therefore, a realistic assessment of this case from the start will be essential. Pleading guilty up front and early will help augment mitigation, especially if bolstered by mental health examinations that reveal real disorders that require treatment.
Otherwise, the offenders risk lengthy prison sentences if they go to trial and loser. Determining whether a case is a winner or a loser up-front is essential when so much prison time weighs on the balance.
If these teenagers took their cases to trial and were found guilty, odds are they would all be sentenced to the maximum allowed by law.
Hopefully the victims in this case were not permanently injured. There is no doubt that the emotional scars left behind will traumatize this woman and her son for years to come, especially since the son was forced to participate in the rape of his own mother. I hope for their sake that they are able to recover in due time.