The youngest suspect in the Tess Majors investigation was sentenced to 18 months under the custody of the Administration of Children’s Services following a guilty plea to one count of first-degree robbery.
At 3 pm on June 15, the youngest suspect, or Suspect 1, in the Tess Majors investigation appeared before Family Court Judge Carol Goldstein, where he faced sentencing following his June 4 guilty plea to one count of first-degree robbery. He has been placed under the custody of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) for a period of 18 months, and “will serve a minimum of six months in a limited secure facility, after which ACS has the discretion to release the juvenile and monitor his progress in the community. His placement may be extended until his 18th birthday.” According to the Legal Aid Society, which represents Suspect 1, “with very few exceptions, juvenile delinquency youth face at most 18 months placement on felony charges, of which they spend between 6 and 12 months in placement, serving the remainder of their time on supervised community release.”
This sentencing comes after a lawsuit filed by Legal Aid against ACS, which called for the release of juveniles from detention centers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bwog found that the case of the main petitioner in this suit, John Doe 5, shares a significant number of similarities in charges, appearance dates, and other characteristics with Suspect 1, and it is highly possible that the two juveniles are the same person. Ultimately, the court ruled that while “John Doe 5 remains at serious risk of medical harm resulting from his continued exposure to the Coronavirus… [the] petitioners have been unable to meet their high burden of showing that [ACS] has been ‘deliberately indifferent’ to John Doe 5’s medical needs,” so the court denied his the for a writ of habeas corpus, which is used to determine if a “person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful.” Legal Aid refused to comment when Bwog asked for confirmation on the identity of John Doe 5, and if he is the same person as Suspect 1.
In January, Bwog covered concerns regarding allegations of improper procedures in the questioning of Suspect 1, including a possible coerced confession. Much of this stems from a history of abuse, misconduct, and evidence manipulation on behalf of lead Detective Wilfred Acevedo. If it were proven that Suspect 1’s confession was forced, this admission of guilt would have been omitted from the case and could not be used against him. However, Judge Goldstein “upheld the arrest and determined that the confession would be admissible at a trial because it was made voluntarily and in accordance with all laws and procedures governing the questioning of juveniles by law enforcement.”
In his June 4 plea deal, Suspect 1 pled guilty to one count of first-degree robbery in exchange for the charge of felony murder—a murder committed in the process of another felony, such as robbery—to be dropped. During this appearance, he stated that he witnessed Suspects 2 and 3 stabbing Tess. Suspects 2 and 3 are being tried as adults and both pleaded not guilty to their charges. The first of the two (Suspect 2) was arrested in Harlem on February 15 and is charged with two counts of second-degree robbery, three counts of first-degree robbery, and two counts of second-degree murder. Like Suspect 1, he is being represented by Legal Aid. The oldest suspect (Suspect 3), turned himself in on February 19 and is being charged with two counts of first-degree robbery, one count of second-degree robbery, and one count of second-degree murder, and has private representation. They are set to appear again before the New York State Supreme Court – Criminal Term on June 29.
The Legal Aid Society’s statement to Bwog (edited to reflect Tess’s preferred name and pronouns):
Tess Majors’s death was tragic. It caused incalculable pain to [their] loved ones and affected our entire city.
This plea to Robbery in the First Degree is consistent with our client’s limited role in this tragic event. He did not touch Majors or take any of [their] property. Furthermore, no DNA evidence exists linking him to the events.
He will face its repercussions for a long time, likely the rest of his life. This plea clears a path for him and his family to move forward with their lives. His acceptance of responsibility is an important first step; it provides an opportunity for this now 14-year-old to achieve a successful future.
The New York City Law Department’s statement to Bwog (edited to reflect Tess’s preferred name and pronouns):
New York City Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson today announced the conclusion of the Family Court case involving the 13-year-old involved in the robbery and tragic murder of 18-year-old Barnard freshman, Tess Majors, on December 11, 2019. Following the juvenile’s June 3rd plea to Robbery in the First degree, where he admitted his involvement in the robbery that resulted in the murder of Tess Majors, Judge Carol Goldstein today entered a disposition and placed him in the custody of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) for a period of 18 months. He will serve a minimum of six months in a limited secure facility, after which ACS has the discretion to release the juvenile and monitor his progress in the community. His placement may be extended until his 18th birthday.
Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson said, “Majors was a bright, promising, and talented young [person] who had just begun to explore life as a college student in New York City when [they were] tragically and senselessly murdered. While we have brought this portion of this horrific case to a close, we know that the pain of this loss will endure. As a legal matter, the resolution of the case against this juvenile is appropriate. Outside of the courtroom, we know that no resolution can diminish the loss and grief suffered by the Majors family. There are remaining defendants being prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which provided us with tremendous assistance with this case.”
The juvenile admitted to a designated felony, one of the most serious offenses handled in Family Court. His placement will provide him with the services he needs to enable him to fully accept responsibility for his actions, as well as provide protection to the community in which he lives.”
The day after Tess’s murder, police arrested the juvenile after he confessed to his involvement in the robbery and murder. Given his age, the case was prosecuted by the New York City Law Department within the New York City Family Court’s juvenile justice system. After several weeks of hearings regarding the admissibility of the confession, at which multiple witnesses testified, Judge Carol Goldstein upheld the arrest and determined that the confession would be admissible at a trial because it was made voluntarily and in accordance with all laws and procedures governing the questioning of juveniles by law enforcement.”
Links to Previous Bwog Coverage:
Image of Barnard from Bwog Archives