A 13-year-old suspect involved in the death of first-year Barnard student Tessa Majors was found to have likely participated in the crime, a judge ruled on Tuesday afternoon. The suspect will go on to appear in court for a charge of felony murder.
The defendant was charged based on his detailed account of the event, his appearance in security tapes, and his statements of intent to commit robbery in Morningside Park. Video evidence recovered from the incident showed that the 13-year-old boy did not take part in the robbery or stabbing, but was involved in the crime.
Last Wednesday, police responded to a call from a security guard at 116th Street and Morningside Drive who had found Majors near the Public Safety booth following the incident. She was taken to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital, where she was pronounced deceased. Police believe there were between one to three perpetrators involved in the incident.
Since then, Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for an increase in New York Police Department officers in Morningside Heights both immediately following the homicide and in the long-term. Students, faculty, and politicians attended several vigils held in Majors’ honor, with some representatives discussing plans to increase long-term police presence in the park.
Within two days of Majors’ death, police arrested the 13-year-old, according to a statement from the New York City Law Department. Community members and city officials have voiced concerns regarding the due processes of the suspect’s case, some recalling the injustices of the Central Park Five case, wherein five minors were coerced by police to admit to a crime they did not commit and were later convicted.
Multiple media outlets have also reported at least two other arrests made in relation to the crime—one involving a 14-year-old, according to CBS News.
At the hearing, Detective Wilfredo Acevedo, who interrogated the suspect, testified that part of the crime was shown in surveillance footage. According to Acevedo, the footage did not capture the boy in possession of a knife or any property from Majors, but it did capture a different individual making a stabbing motion. He said the 13-year-old did not touch or stand near Majors at the time of the robbery.
Acevedo said the boy admitted while in questioning that he and two other individuals went to Morningside Park with the intention to rob someone.
At this time, there is no confirmation that the boy’s legal guardians were present during questioning. Hannah Kaplan, an attorney from the Legal Aid Society and the suspect’s representative, said she was not present at the time of the interrogation.
Before the encounter, one of the individuals dropped a red-handled knife used in the stabbing, and the boy picked it up and handed it back, Acevedo said. According to the suspect’s account, the group was walking along the steps of Morningside Park when they encountered Majors.
One of the three grabbed Majors from the back and restrained her as another waved the knife and grabbed a plastic bag from her pocket as she refused to give them her property, according to the boy’s testimony from the interrogation.
Acevedo said the boy saw feathers fly out of Majors’ purple jacket and heard her cry for help as they fled the scene.
The detective did not recall how far the defendant was from the crime at the time of the stabbing. The boy’s distance to the incident was unclear and the surveillance footage was not shown at the hearing.
Kaplan stated that no evidence exists that shows the suspect actually took part in the crime besides allegedly passing the knife to one of the other individuals.
“The issue is not just if my client was around to witness a horrible tragedy or if a crime occured, but the court has to find that my client participated in the crime that occurred,” Kaplan said.
Police officer Ena Lewis, who responded to the call and brought Majors to the hospital, was also brought to testify.
Lewis said she found Majors facedown at the crosswalk on 116th Street and Morningside Avenue when she arrived. When Lewis turned Majors over, she saw blood on her face and noticed she had stopped breathing. Lewis subsequently performed CPR and called an ambulance, and accompanied Majors to the trauma room where the doctors pronounced her dead due to stab wounds in the torso.
Judge Carol Goldstein found reasonable evidence to continue prosecuting the boy on the grounds of felony murder. The court ruled that the suspect’s ability to recall details about Majors and the robbery—given Acevedo’s testimony that no lamps were on and the park was dark when the crime occurred—gave reason for probable cause that the boy was close enough to the crime when the stabbing occurred.
Kaplan requested to place the boy on parole with his uncle, citing the boy’s character, 94% school attendance, involvement in extracurriculars, and his likelihood to show up to court. However, Goldstein ruled to keep the suspect remanded on the grounds of the severity of the crime.
At the hearing, the boy was accompanied by his aunt and uncle, who are his legal guardians. They did not respond to requests for comment. The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 23 at 12 p.m. at the New York County Family Court.