A 13-year-old was arraigned in New York County Family Court as a minor on Friday for an attempted robbery and homicide that led to the death of first-year Barnard student Tessa Majors, according to the New York City Law Department. The top arrest charge is felony murder. In response, community members and city officials have cited concern regarding due processes during criminal investigations, citing fears that the case will repeat the events of Central Park Five.
Majors, 18, died on Wednesday night after sustaining multiple stab wounds in Morningside Park. According to initial New York Police Department reports, police received a call at around 5:30 p.m. from a Columbia security guard who spotted Majors. She was then transported to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital.
Students mourned her passing at a vigil held on Thursday night, honoring her energy and love of music.
Mayor Bill de Blasio committed additional NYPD patrol officers to the area immediately after the incident.
As of Friday morning, a 13-year-old boy was brought to a pre-petition hearing led by Judge Karen Lupuloff in connection to the homicide, according to a statement from the New York City Law Department. He was accompanied by his aunt and uncle in court and represented by Hannah Kaplan, an attorney from the Legal Aid Society.
Police sources reportedly told multiple news outlets that they found the boy because he was trespassing in a building and he was wearing a green jacket, which matched the suspect description, 24 hours after the incident. None of this information has been confirmed in court.
Kaplan and the boy’s family were unable to be reached by the time of publication.
The boy will remain in secure detention by the Administration for Children’s Services, according to the Law Department.
NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison confirmed two people had been taken in for questioning at a press conference on Thursday morning.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she cautions investigators to learn from the Central Park Five case given that the Wednesday incident involved two minors as suspects, one of whom already went to court.
“Those of us who were around at the Central Park Five later found out how incorrect the arrests were,” Brewer said. “We’re always concerned that the same thing will happen again.”
In 1989, five boys aged 14 to 16 were taken into custody for the assault and rape of a 28-year-old jogger in Central Park—a crime detectives later determined they did not commit. They became known as the Central Park Five. The suspects were questioned by the police for at least seven hours without their parents. Four of them confessed on video to the crime, and later said they were coerced by the police to confess. Despite their DNA not matching what was found at the scene, all five were convicted and sentenced to six to 13 years in prison.
Brewer emphasized how she hoped an adult was present with the minors at all times to prevent coercion or violations of legal rights.
“I’m sure detectives are aware of [the past],” Brewer said. “We all want this murder solved but we want to make sure we have the right people.”
Katherine Franke, a Columbia professor of law, gender, and sexuality studies, posted on Facebook on Friday that she thought the incident raises concerns about the University’s failure to address urban violence without policing.
“It just feels like something is terribly broken here,” Franke wrote. “These are all kids, Tessa and the kids in the park. It's all just so heartbreaking. We have failed them all.”
Franke cited her concern that the 13-year-old did not have an attorney with him when he confessed, but the New York Times reports that he was interviewed with his uncle present. According to New York State Law “Raise the Age,” police are required to notify parents and legal guardians of minors who are arrested, and officers must notify guardians of rights before they begin questioning the minor.
So far, no official statements have been made regarding the arrest of the suspects, though news outlets have reported accounts from NYPD officers that the suspect was trespassing an apartment building and matched the suspect description.
Many community members have cited concerns regarding the media coverage of the suspect. According to a 2011 article by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school and research organization, several journalists who reported on the Central Park Five case cited police statements to headline coverage of the case. However, it later came to light that these police statements were untrue.
Members of Community Board 9 also expressed the desire for a fair trial for those involved in the crime. The advisory board, which represents Morningside Heights and surrounding areas, released a statement stating its desire to ensure a “fair and competent judicial proceeding where due process is respected and truth, not the desire for retribution, is paramount.”