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Friday, March 24, 2017

The Steven Pratt Murder Cases

     In 1984, 15-year-old Steven L. Pratt lived in an Atlantic City, New Jersey apartment complex with his mother, Gwendolyn Pratt. One night that year, Steven and his friends were hanging out in the hallway outside his apartment when the next-door neighbor, Michael Anderson, complained of the noise. Following an argument between Pratt and his neighbor, Pratt's friends dispersed.

     For Pratt, the dispute remained unresolved. He went into his apartment and came out armed with a lead pipe. When he confronted his neighbor with the weapon, Michael Anderson grabbed the pipe from him and used the weapon to bloody the teen's face.

     The humiliated Pratt borrowed a handgun from an acquaintance and returned to the apartment complex where he shot Michael Anderson twice, killing him on the spot.

     After the crime scene investigators completed their work, Steven Pratt's mother, knowing what her son had done, marched him down to the police station. Under police questioning, the teen confessed.

     An Atlantic County prosecutor charged Pratt with first-degree murder and tried him as an adult. The young defendant took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when he pulled the trigger the gun just clicked and didn't go off. He kept squeezing the trigger until the bullets came out.

      The jury, presented with evidence of a cold-blooded killing, found the boy guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to thirty years in prison.

     Pratt's attorney appealed the conviction on the ground his client should have been tried as a juvenile. According to the appeal, Pratt had "emotional impairments" that reduced his intellectual age to less than seven years. The appellate judge affirmed the conviction. (Throw a stick in any maximum security prison and it will hit nine people just as stupid as Pratt.)

     On Friday October 10, 2014, after serving most of his thirty-year sentence at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, Pratt became a free man. Having no place to stay, he moved in with his 64-year-old mother who lived in a house on the west side of Atlantic City.

     At two o'clock in the morning of October 12, 2014, one of Gwendolyn Pratt's neighbors heard a loud argument coming from her house. The neighbor, having been accused of being too quick to call the police on her neighbors, resisted the urge to call 911. Steven Pratt had been out of prison less than two days.

     At six-thirty that morning, someone, perhaps this neighbor, did call 911 to report a disturbance at the Pratt residence. At the scene, police officers found Gwendolyn Pratt dead from massive blunt force trauma to her head. The officers also found Steven Pratt and took him into custody.

     Later in the day of Gwendolyn Pratt's murder, police officers booked her son into the Atlantic County Justice Facility on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge set Steven Pratt's bail at $1 million.

     In February 2017, Steven Pratt pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing his mother. A month later, the judge in Atlantic City sentenced Pratt to 25 years in prison. According to the judge, the 48-year-old Pratt would not be eligible for parole until he served 85 percent of his sentence.

     The Stephen Pratt case lends credence to the view that certain criminals are beyond the reach of rehabilitation. While these people should never be given their freedom, there is no way to identify them as hopeless cases before they reoffend. Nothing is less reliable than predicting human behavior. 

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