A 12-year-old boy accused of pushing a shopping cart onto a woman from four stories up had racked up a half-dozen school suspensions, some for fighting and stealing, during a childhood in which he was sometimes kept home from school to help with housework, a judge said Wednesday.
And the boy defied his family's rules to go to a shopping center on the day he and a now 13-year-old friend ended up pushing the cart over a walkway railing, Manhattan Family Court Judge Susan Larabee said as she began a sentencing hearing for him.
The boys have both pleaded guilty to assault in the Oct. 30 episode, which left the woman seriously hurt and spurred reflection here and elsewhere about society's handling of children. Both boys were 12 at the time. Charged as juveniles, they could face a punishment of up to 18 months in a juvenile facility; the time could be extended annually up to their 18th birthdays.
The 12-year-old has had a rocky family life, with authorities called three times to explore allegations of neglect, the judge said. They included a claim that his father had been violent toward someone in the household and allegations that his mother had kept him out of school to help out at home and with an older sister who has developmental delays, the judge said.
The boy told officials evaluating him for his sentencing "he had to help clean the house and do the mopping and sweeping" when he was as young as 6, Larabee said.
His lawyer, William Nicholas, said he believed authorities had never found the allegations serious enough to warrant removing the boy from his home. While he has moved repeatedly with his mother in recent years, the boy now lives with her in a building where his father also lives, in a separate apartment, and both are actively involved in his life, his lawyer said.
Meanwhile, the boy's school records show six suspensions, for "taking property, physical altercations, slurs, coercion, threats, horseplay, shoving and pushing," the judge said. She said she needed more information about the incidents, but the records _ which aren't public _ mentioned throwing a chair and pushing a principal.
Nicholas argued the suspensions were irrelevant, noting that the last of them came about 2 1/2 years ago.
"He's 12. We're talking (about something) that happened approximately 25 percent of his life ago," the lawyer said. The boy had a more than 90 percent attendance record last year, he added.
Although his parents had told him to stay closer to home on Oct. 30, the boy went to the East Harlem mall, where he'd been before because he'd learned that a store there sometimes offered free refreshments, Larabee said, referring to information in court reports that aren't public.
He and the 13-year-old were determined to pull off the dangerous shopping cart stunt, grabbing another cart after a 14-year-old intervened and got hold of the first cart they had, city lawyer Leah S. Schmelzer said at a court date for the teen Tuesday.
It plunged to the ground and onto Marion Salmon Hedges, a real estate broker and active charity volunteer who was out buying Halloween candy. She was in a medically induced coma for a time after the cart fell on her, and her family has said she'll need months of rehabilitation.
The 13-year-old had a history of troubling behavior _ from trying to run down schoolmates on his bicycle to hitting his mother's cat _ and he joked around at a police precinct after his arrest and expressed more concern about his sneakers than about the woman, Schmelzer said.
The teen's lawyer, Shahabuddeen Ally, said the teen wanted help for his behavioral problems and regretted his role in the shopping cart incident.
Both are being held in juvenile facilities; Larabee turned down a request from Nicholas on Wednesday to release the 12-year-old or even let him go home for a day. The boys' sentencings will continue later this month.
The Associated Press generally doesn't report the names of minors charged with crimes.
The case has drawn commentary well outside the city, including a column in The Washington Times that portrayed it as a reflection of "a society that is loath to label children good or bad."
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