It seems that 17-year-old Pat Lazear has been rather naughty:
[Police] arrested Lazear for armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery — charges that each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The charges stemmed from an incident March 30 when, police said, Lazear met three friends — Justin Schweiger, Tommy Ashley and Robert Warren — with plans to rob the Smoothie King in downtown Bethesda where classmate Alex Krouskas worked.
According to charging documents, Lazear provided a gun — his attorney claims it was a replica not capable of firing — and dropped Warren off at the smoothie shop. Warren allegedly showed the gun and left the store with $463. According to testimony and police statements, the Whitman classmates then switched into a different car, divided the money and met Krouskas at a pizzeria later that night. Lazear refuses to talk specifically about the charges until his trial.
Note that even his lawyer isn’t denying his participation in the robbery; the only question (which may not be legally relevant) is whether the gun he provided for his accomplices was real. Since Lazear had a previous conviction for using a stolen credit card to buy a $130 pair of running shoes, he’s being tried as an adult.
Now all of this is as familiar as it is depressing, except for one detail: Lazear is a star high-school football player. He was forced to switch schools, but his new teammates just elected him team captain. He will play wearing an electronic position monitoring device as an ankle bracelet.
What’s more, 20 Division I colleges, including Ohio State and Alabama are still recruiting him. (Notre Dame and NC State, to their credit, have backed off. Maybe they’re looking to strengthen their criminal justice programs.
I have grave doubts about the wisdom of trying juveniles as adults for anything but egregious violence. And I’m always delighted to see educational institutions prepared to give a break to ex-offenders who are trying to turn their lives around.
But treating Lazear as a football player first and a criminal second seems a tad … disproportionate, doesn’t it? Especially since he doesn’t seem to have any particular remorse about participating in an armed robbery?
As a Robert Heinlein character says, “juvenile delinquent” is a contradiction in terms. To be delinquent is to fail to carry out a duty, and a juvenile is someone too young to know what a duty is. But for every juvenile miscreant, there are several adults who have been delinquent in raising him. The football coach, athletic director, and principal of Wheaton High School, and the football coaches and AD’s of twenty colleges and universities, are working together to tell Pat Lazear that his talent on the field means that the rules don’t apply to him.
Now that’s delinquency.
Footnote I don’t know what Lazear’s lawyer and parents are thinking, but if I were the judge I’d be more inclined to send him to prison if the alternative is sending him to Ohio State on a football scholarship. Somebody has to tell this kid there’s some stuff he can’t get away with, or he’ll wind up a career criminal, of either the Willy Horton variety or the Duke Cunningham variety.