11-year-old killer walks free at 20

Published January 19, 2007

PONTIAC (AP) - Nathaniel Abraham lost his freedom as a child and gained it as a man. But those surrounding him in court yesterday said he should take his first unsupervised steps in nearly a decade with great care and caring people.

A judge released Abraham from all state supervision, more than nine years after the then-11-year-old used a rifle to shoot and kill a man outside a Pontiac convenience store.

The 20-year-old man who stood before Oakland County Probate Judge Eugene Moore for his final status hearing yesterday bore little resemblance to the scared boy whose feet couldn't touch the ground while he sat at the defense table during his 1999 murder trial.

Abraham, a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than he was at the time of his arrest, has been living in a halfway house in Bay City, 70 miles north of his family in Pontiac. It was in Pontiac that he was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1997 death of 18-year-old Ronnie Lee Greene. Though convicted as an adult, Abraham was sentenced as a juvenile by Moore.

Abraham was the first young person charged with murder to be prosecuted under a 1997 Michigan law that allowed adult prosecutions of children of any age in a serious felony case.

Moore gave a lengthy speech in court yesterday, chronicling Abraham's progress. Highlights included obtaining a high-school diploma in 2005 after being three to four grade levels behind and a growing sense of responsibility for himself and empathy for others.

Moore cited a few missteps, like fighting and stealing cleaning supplies for his girlfriend, but said "none were very serious" and Nate now had the "guts" to succeed.

"Show us all that you have become a caring, productive member of society," said Moore, who has been stern yet supportive of Abraham over the years.

"I know you can do it. Do it."

Abraham turns 21 today and was expected to be released at that time, but Moore signed the release order yesterday. With that, Abraham was a free man, walking out the door in a pinstripe suit and a fedora. It was a stark contrast from when police arrested the then-sixth-grader at his school, his face painted for Halloween.

Before walking out of the courtroom, he thanked all those involved in his case and said he owed a debt to them. He singled out Moore for taking a chance.

"You saw something in me before a lot of people did," Abraham said. "Sure enough, I'm not going back into society to cause any other families any hurt or harm."

Abraham's arrest in 1997 sparked debate on the treatment of juveniles accused of violent crimes.

Prosecutors at the time said Abraham had hidden the rifle, told people he intended to kill and voiced worry about gangs coming after him. The defense argued the shooting was accidental and that he was aiming at trees and not at Greene.

Abraham's release follows years in a maximum-security facility and a short stay at a medium-security camp. Opinions diverge on how much he's changed in that time.

For Oakland County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Deborah Carley and Greene's family, the remorse has been lacking and they don't believe he has been fully rehabilitated.

The offenses might be viewed as minor to others, but Carley said it's only been during the past few months that he stole the supplies from the halfway house and on another occasion left without telling anyone.

"There are so many problems," she said. "This is not success."

Robin Adams, Greene's mother, said she doesn't think Abraham is ready for release, and would prefer that he have an electronic tether on his leg for law enforcement to keep track of him. Still, she hopes he has great deal of private supervision and support.

"I think he should have people right with him," she said. "The main thing is that he get on with his life, and give himself over to the Lord."

Bagdade and Abraham's mother, Gloria Abraham-Holland, see a man who has earned a second chance, though they, too, know it will require the help of others.

During his years of lockup, social workers and prosecutors expressed concerns about Abraham's temper. He has been punished for mouthing off and threatening one of his counselors after being fouled during a basketball game, and has taken anger-management training.

But on Thursday, those who worked with Abraham during his time in state custody said he had worked hard at controlling his anger and expressed hope that he would make a success of his future.

"I know he can do it with the help of the Lord and the support of his family," said Abraham-Holland, who added that the family was to gather Friday to celebrate her son's birthday.

"He's come a long way and we're proud of him. We're standing by him."

Bagdade, who has represented Abraham since his arrest, said his client has an apartment in Bay City, where he plans to work in maintenance for a manufacturing company and attend classes at Delta College. He would also like to parlay eight years' worth of lyrics and poetry into a music career.

Even with the help of others, Bagdade said there is no reason that Abraham can't responsibly exercise his independence.

"He's going back to his own apartment _ his own apartment," said Bagdade, with a look of relief after a decade of defending Abraham. "He's going to sleep in his own bed and watch what he wants to watch ... without anyone telling him what to do."