The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Friday, February 13, 2004


The San Jose Mercury News, the "newspaper of Silicon Valley," pays Joe Rodriguez a salary and publishes his work twice a week.


Is redemption possible?

YES, JAMES ORTEGA IS A BAD KID, BUT THE SYSTEM MADE A QUICK DECISION -- TRIAL AS AN ADULT -- INSTEAD OF LOOKING DEEPLY INTO HIS CHARACTER

By Joe Rodriguez

Mercury News

How bad does a kid have to be for society to flush him ``down the toilet?''

Let's consider the case of James Ortega, a gang member sent to juvenile hall for fighting, carrying a knife at school and threatening other students. Bad kid? Sure, but not completely hopeless. Which helps explain why he was let out on a weekend pass.


The San Jose Mercury News, the "newspaper of Silicon Valley," pays Joe Rodriguez a salary and publishes his work twice a week.


That's when, just 12 days after his 14th birthday, he and a couple of his homeboys got into a fight with rival gangbangers at a Jack In The Box restaurant in San Jose. (Kid gangsters can't afford romanticized, Godfather-like joints with cloth napkins).

When the fight escalated, Ortega allegedly pulled a pistol and started firing. In the end, two 17-year-olds were dead.

Vicious? You bet. Gang related? Absolutely.


The San Jose Mercury News, the "newspaper of Silicon Valley," pays Joe Rodriguez a salary and publishes his work twice a week.


But does Ortega deserve to be put on trial as an adult and, if convicted, rot in The Hole for life? At 14, is he beyond the juvenile justice system's ability to save him? Prosecutors think so. But I don't.


The San Jose Mercury News, the "newspaper of Silicon Valley," pays Joe Rodriguez a salary and publishes his work twice a week.


A former principal at Ortega's elementary school called him a disciplinary ``project'' but added that ``he wasn't belligerent, an in-your-face guy. When we talked, he'd listen.''

The boy attended a special Catholic school for disadvantaged and troubled boys with college potential. But this reportedly didn't sit well with Ortega's gang.

This certainly doesn't excuse double-homicide. But it does argue for a deeper look into the boy's character and background than we've had up to now.


The San Jose Mercury News, the "newspaper of Silicon Valley," pays Joe Rodriguez a salary and publishes his work twice a week.


The murders occurred on Jan. 3. A mere five days later, Santa Clara County prosecutors had added up his criminal history, maturity, criminal sophistication and chances of rehabilitation to a big ``negative.'' And they decided the community would be safer if they charged him as an adult.

Was that speedy, or what?

...


The San Jose Mercury News, the "newspaper of Silicon Valley," pays Joe Rodriguez a salary and publishes his work twice a week.


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