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Retarded Teen Gets 3 Years in Boy's Drowning

November 09, 2002|From Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A mildly retarded teenager was sentenced to three years in prison Friday for the drowning of an autistic 5-year-old boy who prosecutors say was shoved into a canal and left to die.

Gorman Roberts, 18, was convicted of manslaughter for the Feb. 10 killing. Prosecutors said he laughed as the boy, Jordan Payne, died in the weed-filled waterway not far from his father's home in Pompano Beach.

The defense said Jordan, who was unable to talk or swim, slipped during a tussle. They also said Roberts was mentally incapable of recklessly or flagrantly disregarding the boy's safety, a component that is required for a manslaughter conviction.

Roberts was 17 when the drowning occurred, but he was charged as an adult and faced up to 15 years in prison.

The jury wasn't told the special education student had an IQ in the mid-60s, though his attorney hinted the teen was retarded.

Judge Victor Tobin ordered Roberts treated as a youthful offender and housed with convicts 22 and under.

"It's a horrible thing that's happened here," the judge said. "I don't believe that he set out to do this. By the same token, there has to be some degree of punishment. It just cries out for it."

The victim's mother, Zola Hayes, stormed out of the courtroom sobbing after hearing the sentence.

Her cousin Lureather Williams said: "It's not fair. You get more time to break in someone's house than to kill someone."

Roberts read from the Bible while waiting for his case to be called, and he gave his relatives a thumbs-up sign as he waited to be booked into jail.

His aunt and guardian, Carrie Mae Lovett, said she was relieved by the sentence. "I sat back and waited on God," she said. "I feel very good about it."

Prosecutor Maria Schneider made no sentencing recommendation but said that she was disturbed by his lack of remorse and his family's attitude.

"The people around him keep telling him what he did wasn't his fault," she said. "Isn't that another tragedy waiting to happen?"

Defense attorney Ellis Rubin filed a notice of appeal, and the judge set $5,000 bond for the teenager, who has been free most of the time since he was charged.

Rubin expected a donor to post bond in a day or two.

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