The two older suspects in the Tess Majors case appeared again in court last week. Suspect 2, who is facing the most severe charges in the investigation, is now represented by the high profile criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman.
On Tuesday, September 8, the older two suspects involved in the Tess Majors investigation appeared together before a judge in the New York State Supreme Court – Criminal Term. While they had originally been set to appear on June 29, the date was pushed back to September 8 for unknown reasons. Since our last update post, several things have changed in the case of Suspect 2, the 15-year-old who is being charged with the most severe crimes of the three boys. On the New York State Courts criminal case tracker, it now states that the “top charge” he is being prosecuted under is second degree murder committed during the process of another felony (in this case, the robbery). Suspect 2 is still being charged with intentional second degree murder; however, it would appear that the court believes the death of Tess Majors was not premeditated since the court specified that the suspect’s top charge is second degree murder committed during the process of another felony. This change occurred sometime at the end of June.
More notably, Suspect 2 changed his legal representation sometime prior to August from Legal Aid — the NYC based legal nonprofit, who also represented Suspect 1 and possibly filed a lawsuit on his behalf against the Administration of Child Services — to Jason Robert Goldman, a criminal defense attorney who works at the office of Jeffrey Lichtman. However, it appears that Lichtman will be the one actually representing Suspect 2 in court.
Lichtman is a high profile lawyer known for representing the famed drug lord “El Chapo,” mobster and boss of the Gambino crime family John A. Gotti, and Grammy Award-nominated rapper The Game, among others. The firm’s website describes the client base as “those charged with white collar and non-white collar offenses, such as RICO violations, narcotics offenses, money laundering, securities fraud, health care fraud, tax evasion, and murder and murder conspiracy.” It seems out of character for Lichtman to be involved in this case, especially as he is doing it pro bono, but in a series of tweets he described how “as a parent, I’m horrified at the prospect of a young boy facing life in prison for any crime. I’m also sickened for the parents of Tess[ ] Majors who lost by all accounts the most spectacular child any parent could ever hope to have.” Lichtman also revealed that he is being aided by his twin 16-year-old sons, though it is unclear what work they are doing for their father for this case. He connected their young ages to that of Suspect 2, stating that “some cases are about more than getting paid.”
Lichtman discussed the case the morning of Suspect 2’s most recent court appearance during one of his regular appearances on the weekday radio show “Len Berman & Michael Riedel in the Morning” on 710WOR, a conservative-leaning network that is also home to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. A transcription of his comments appears below; they have been edited for clarity and coherency and to protect the privacy of Suspect 2.
Lichtman: But yes, it’s my first appearance for [Suspect 2], he is a 14-year-old boy accused of killing the Columbia University freshmen… I’m taking the case pro bono, it’s actually a tragically horrible case for both sides- of the family of Tess Majors and the parents of [Suspect 2] who’s now 15 years old and has been sitting in jail. He’s literally a boy, his voice hasn’t even changed yet. He’s very confused, but you know, look – this is the way our society is. We’re very heavy on criminal actions, including the fact that we have the death penalty in America, much like China and Iran, very few countries have it. And the fact that we’re incarcerating children in my mind is just insane.
Host: You’re sounding like a liberal this morning Jeffrey, so let me ask you- what is the kind of defense are you formulating for this kid because if you just read the reports in the newspaper, he looks pretty guilty to me.
Lichtman: Well, you know, let’s just say that he’s guilty. He was 14 years old at the time, his brain was obviously not even fully developed. And the idea that he’s facing life in prison right now for something that he did at age 14, you know, is really atrocious. I would hope that both sides, you know, people that are hardcore on enforcing the law of criminal defense on punishment, and people that are more liberal about it and appreciate the fact that this is not the kind of society we want to be, to put 14-year-olds in jail for the rest of their lives and what does that really gain? And let’s say we put them in jail for 30 years and he gets out when he’s 44. What do you think’s going to happen to a 14-year-old that’s been in prison for 30 years when he gets out? That’s not something society wants. Instead, what we need to do is try to rehabilitate, figure out why a 14-year-old would be in a situation where he’s killing another person, I mean it’s just madness – it doesn’t happen by accident. So I’ve got two boys that just turned 16, twins. They’re pretty much the same age as [Suspect 2] now, 15. The idea that they could be in a set of circumstances where they’re holding a knife and killing another person is just – it’s impossible for me to imagine, and it’s really just because of the accident of birth, how [Suspect 2] was born, how my kids were born. I don’t mean to – I hate to sound like Len (one of the hosts of the show) – but there are a lot of privileges that my kids have, they don’t have to worry about anything like that.
The next day, he also appeared on Frank Morano’s Hampton area radio show on 107.1. He claims that he took the case on after being contacted by Suspect 2’s parents who were in search of a retained lawyer. He again mentioned having children the same age as Suspect 2, and the “accident of birth” and privileged upbringing as what separates his kids from Suspect 2, stating that “the system failed [Suspect 2].” It was also revealed during his radio appearance that September 8, the day of the trial, was the first time he met Suspect 2 in person due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this radio appearance, Lichtman made repeated jokes about how out of character it was for him to be taking this case pro bono, like when he said “that there are more important things than money, believe it or not even for defense lawyers…I’m probably going to get kicked out of the criminal defense lawyer club by even suggesting such a thing.” His main reasoning for taking on this case appears to be his belief that “a 14-year-old boy should not be sitting in a jail cell facing a life sentence, which is what he is facing right now,” and would benefit from rehabilitation to become “a productive member of society.” When asked by Morano if the defense’s argument would be about Suspect 2’s role in the crime or if it’s “going to be about how he’s being charged, treated and penalized potentially as an adult and that there are mitigating factors that mean he shouldn’t be charged and treated that way”––asking if Lichtman is planning on fighting against the allegations or looking to take a deal of some sort––Lichtman stated that he wasn’t sure yet about the path they would take and didn’t want to “commit himself too early.” Both Suspects 2 and 3 had pleaded not guilty, so it is worth noting that Lichtman here did not explicitly deny his client’s role in the death of Tess Majors, or give any indication that they plan on sticking to that non-guilty plea. As in the previous interview, Lichtman drew a comparison to human rights violations in China and Iran when describing meeting Suspect 2, who was wearing handcuffs despite his young age and small size, for the first time the day before. Lichtman told Morano that “I’m not a bleeding heart liberal on crime, you know that…You know that I’m conservative on criminal issues, I’m conservative on many issues. The fact is a 14-year-old boy has to be treated differently; otherwise how can we criticize Iran for arresting, trying, and executing people in one day when we’re putting 14-year-olds in jail for life.” He closed by saying “if you can’t fight for [suspect 2], [then] what the hell are we doing here?” With this in mind, Lichtman taking on Suspect 2’s case and the very nature of the arguments he has been making to defend his client seem strongly out of the norm for him, which he himself has admitted.
Suspects 2 and 3 are set to appear in court again on November 12, just over 11 months to the day since the death of Tess Majors.
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