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I was living in 1993 for seventeen years
November 20, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

In 1993, 18-year-old Trevell Coleman shot a man in East Harlem and fled the scene. In the following years, he became part of the New York City rap community and eventually signed with Bad Boy Records, though he never stopped wondering what had happened to the man he'd shot. At the end of 2010, Coleman decided to find out.

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  • posted by catlet (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

     
    From the article: When a New York Post reporter tracked down [the victim's] stepbrother Robert Henkel upstate to get his reaction to Coleman’s confession, Henkel said: “I think he’s an idiot … He has three kids and a wife. It was years and years and years ago. Finally, we’re not always thinking about it … and now it has to be dug up all again … After all this time, yes, he just should have shut up.” When asked to comment about Coleman for this story, Henkel said, “He can go fuck himself. Okay? Good-bye.”
    posted by infinitywaltz at 12:17 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


    I found it really interesting how the only way he was able to medicate for years was through pcp, and when he eventually learned the truth, the guy he'd shot had that in his system.
    posted by mannequito at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Absolutely tragic. I like how the article shatters the image of criminals as being unrepentant. I can't imagine the internal agony he carried. Naturally my greater sympathy is with the shooting victim but the article did a very good job of presenting the human side of criminals who so often are described as inhuman.
    posted by dgran at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    It bothers me that they aren't even sure that the crime he was convicted of is the crime he actually confessed to. You would think it would at least be the right month, eh?
    posted by wierdo at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Gotta hand it to him. There's stuff I've done that isn't even a crime and I've never admitted to it to anyone.

    As much as I think about his wife and kids being left on their own, I can't help think that maybe this is the best example he can set for them.
    posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The evidence presented in the article is surprisingly thin.
    posted by dfriedman at 12:46 PM on November 20, 2012


    Absolutely tragic. I like how the article shatters the image of criminals as being unrepentant. I can't imagine the internal agony he carried. Naturally my greater sympathy is with the shooting victim but the article did a very good job of presenting the human side of criminals who so often are described as inhuman.

    I think genuine repentence can be determined by whether somebody owns up to their actions and claims remorse before getting caught, or after being caught - because it can be logically inferred that somebody who only expresses sorrow while they are being punished is really just sorry about the fact of their own punishment. Trevell Coleman is one of those rare criminals who seems genuinely repentant for his crime (to the extent that he turned himself in repeatedly!), and I feel deeply saddened that he will be removed from society when it's clear that he's already a changed person who poses no threat to society. I really hope his sentence is lightened during the appeals process, or at least that he makes parole at the first opportunity.

    However, please let's not extrapolate too far and project Trevell's remorse onto the rest of the criminal community. I don't exactly see a glut of murderers turning themselves in, which implies that Trevell is a very unique individual and the compassion we feel for his case isn't necessarily transferable to anybody else. (Not that you're doing that necessarily, I'm just cautioning against the ease of succumbing to such fuzzy thinking in general.) Plus, that might turn this thread about a unique and rare individual into a discussion about the prison system as a whole, and I'm sure nobody wants to open that can of worms.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:57 PM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Fuck the judge for not taking into account his obvious repentence when sentencing him.... fuck him.
    posted by sfts2 at 1:02 PM on November 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


    I have complicated thoughts about this. But foremost, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a victims' services staff member my first month of being a lawyer, assigned to a criminal court room. She pointed out that one of the more difficult parts of her job was explaining to victims that they and their emotional needs would not be satisfied by the court process, generally, and by conviction, particularly. She said that people often did not believe her, but that very rarely were victims served by the criminal process.

    That, of course, is not the point of the criminal process and that is--on balance, I believe--how it should be. But Mr Henckel's comment above tracks with that experience very closely.

    So what is the purpose of the criminal process? Like Coleman says "I can't measure how [my being incarcerated] makes anything better but it's something I have to do." How do we create judgments, and sentences, that serve society in a measurable way? That benefit the people involved in the process and that create a benefit to the community where the people involved in the process live? Conviction--in and of itself--does not create the sort of reflection upon one's actions that Coleman appears to have done. Incarceration--in and of itself--does not either.

    Incarceration is expensive and, in some ways, dangerous. At the end of it, you have victims who have not been made whole and perpetrators who have not been made accountable for the actions nor enabled not motivated to learn different patterns of behavior. But if we don't remove people whose actions are contrary to society from society (even temporarily) how do we protect and improve society? But once we've removed people from society (by imprisoning them) people are more than loathe to provide them with the benefits of society--such as schooling, or counseling, or instruction in skills, or even good medical care or a small wage. But these things--the exposure to the means to better yourself, the idea that you can have and be more--are the things which allow reflection, remorse, and reformation.

    Why be sorry for the dumb, desperate, or flatly antisocial harm you have caused when your entire existence will never rise above the dumb, desperate or antisocial?

    I don't know. It's complicated and it's wrong. And I hope Coleman's family and particularly his sons weather this blow.

    Also, 15 to life is probably the statutorily mandated minimum for this sort of homicide. I'm sure the judge took into account everything she could--in my experience, as rotten as judges are to defendants, they tend to take seriously obvious signs of remorse or rehabilitation, but sentencing statutes don't often leave judges much choice in the matter. This was a second-degree murder plea, which I thought was a 20 to life minimum in New York, but I am obviously wrong. Since I don't practice in New York, I'm not surprised to be wrong.
    posted by crush-onastick at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


    It is possibly interesting to note that the guy he killed (if it was that guy, it's hard to say) had a weapon, very little money, and was high on PCP. It's entirely possible that the guy he killed while trying to mug might have actually been another mugger.
    posted by Mitrovarr at 1:18 PM on November 20, 2012


    Fuck the judge for not taking into account his obvious repentence when sentencing him.... fuck him.

    Why should he deserve leniency? He didn't turn himself for over a decade, and he killed a man while trying to rob him. In the end he did the right thing, but the punishment fits the crime.
    posted by cellphone at 1:23 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Fuck the judge for not taking into account his obvious repentence when sentencing him.... fuck him.
    posted by sfts2 at 10:02 AM on November 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


    He killed a man.
    posted by Sebmojo at 1:28 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    " I like how the article shatters the image of criminals as being unrepentant."

    Many are... especially for serious crimes.
    posted by markkraft at 1:54 PM on November 20, 2012


    I think genuine repentence can be determined by whether somebody owns up to their actions and claims remorse before getting caught, or after being caught - because it can be logically inferred that somebody who only expresses sorrow while they are being punished is really just sorry about the fact of their own punishment.

    It's not possible for somebody to simultaneously feel remorse and be terrified at the thought of being punished for their actions? Remorse and responsibility don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.
    posted by Rory Marinich at 2:01 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    It's not possible for somebody to simultaneously feel remorse and be terrified at the thought of being punished for their actions?

    That's a good point, but I suppose a better question is whether or not they feel enough remorse to actually take responsibility. It's easy to feel bad and do nothing about it.
    posted by Edgewise at 2:05 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Fuck the judge for not taking into account his obvious repentence when sentencing him.... fuck him.

    Tragically, one might say, it was probably the judge also taking into account his decade-and-a-half as a junkie.

    Man, that must be a terrible neighborhood

    East Harlem, back in '93? Understatement.
    posted by dhartung at 2:15 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    That's a good point, but I suppose a better question is whether or not they feel enough remorse to actually take responsibility. It's easy to feel bad and do nothing about it.

    I have done non-jailworthy things that I felt terrible about and was simultaneously terrified of confessing to - terrified of what people would think of me, terrified of causing pain. Of course it's possible to feel genuine remorse and yet not confess - it can be a hell of its own, though of course that doesn't make it up to the people who have been wronged.

    I don't know that it's useful to link "remorse" and "taking responsibility." People are complicated.
    posted by rtha at 2:27 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    This guy, for instance, takes full responsibility for the murders he committed, but doesn't seem to be remorseful in the least.
    posted by rtha at 2:30 PM on November 20, 2012


    I feel bad for his three children. Now, like their father did, they will grow up without a father being around.
    I wish I knew how to break these kinds of cycles.
    posted by NoraCharles at 3:00 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    He could have found out what happened to the man he shot by going to a library and looking at the newspaper archives.
    posted by srboisvert at 3:06 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    the punishment fits the crime.

    What does that mean?
    posted by kengraham at 3:13 PM on November 20, 2012


    srboisvert: He could have found out what happened to the man he shot by going to a library and looking at the newspaper archives.

    It would be pretty interesting if someone with the means to do this now were to go and look; you'd probably have to be local, but it might be online if you were lucky. It sounds like there is a bit of doubt as to whether the man he was convicted of shooting was the right one, and it'd be interesting to see if there is anything about a gunshot victim around the time he claimed he shot the man (the victim he was actually convicted of shooting was shot at a different time of the year).
    posted by Mitrovarr at 3:21 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I don't know that it's useful to link "remorse" and "taking responsibility."

    Well that's the issue, isn't it? My point is that I couldn't care less about people who are remorseful for wrongdoing, but not enough to act upon it. If remorse is to be a consideration upon sentencing, then what use is it if the guilty party felt bad but didn't alter his or her behavior? Why should anyone care? Hell, for decades, Coleman's remorse didn't stop him from committing petty crimes, it caused him to commit petty crimes (since he was trying to escape from his sense of guilt through hard street drugs, and the petty crimes that often accompany them). But he eventually broke that cycle, and I think that's extremely commendable. Who cares if a perpetrator feels guilty, if that doesn't cause him to improve his behavior one iota, or give us reason to believe that it won't happen again?
    posted by Edgewise at 3:22 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yes, as crush-onastick surmised, the judge gave him the minimum possible sentence in New York for the crime of which Coleman was convicted
    posted by Dolukhanova at 3:28 PM on November 20, 2012


    I dunno,

    I guess I'm kinda pissed at the dude for blowing the opportunities his mother must have worked very hard to provide him.

    'Hey son! how's Iona College treating ya? I'm sure that legal internship is helping your studies'
    'Oh that? I quit. Not my thing. I'm going to move back to grandma's and deal drugs.'
    'FUUUUUUUUUUUU'

    Yes yes, he used to be a part of Puff Daddy's entourage. Just like Rowdy Roddy Piper used to be a WWF headliner. This guy chose that lifestyle, and shot a man.

    Yes, he's repentant, he's also culpable in the very sense of the word.
    posted by The Power Nap at 3:39 PM on November 20, 2012


    Yeah, I expect 18 year olds to make the best decisions EVAR. After all, you're the smartest you'll ever be at that age and have plenty of experience to guide you by that point.

    </hamburger>
    posted by wierdo at 3:56 PM on November 20, 2012


    Fuck the judge for not taking into account his obvious repentence when sentencing him.... fuck him.
    posted by sfts2 at 10:02 AM on November 20 [1 favorite +] [!]

    He killed a man.


    Worse. He's black.
    posted by klanawa at 4:32 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    he's also culpable in the very sense of the word

    He made bad choices as an 18-year old, but he also lived in an environment that made those choices easy to make. I can't even begin to imagine growing up there. Though he chose to live with his grandmother, and deal drugs, and buy a gun, and try to mug someone, the incident itself feels more like a tragic accident. I have sympathy for everyone involved, and it sounds like he's been living in a kind of hell. I respect his courage to come forward and do what he felt was the right thing, and I'm glad it seems like it brought him some small measure of peace.
    posted by three_red_balloons at 5:26 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    There you have it klanawa...
    posted by sfts2 at 5:28 PM on November 20, 2012


    I can't find Park and 114th st as mentioned in the article in Google Maps. I see 112th St, then there's a big block of what looks like public housing, then 115th St. Does that intersection no longer exist?
    posted by pravit at 7:17 PM on November 20, 2012


    Nevermind, found it when I went into Street View. Just isn't labeled in the normal map view.
    posted by pravit at 7:27 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Mm. I feel like there are probably more people than we think who've walked around in this world for nearly 20 years, living in 1993.
    posted by limeonaire at 7:54 PM on November 20, 2012


    Fuck the judge for not taking into account his obvious repentence when sentencing him.... fuck him.
    posted by sfts2 at 10:02 AM on November 20 [1 favorite +] [!]

    the punishment fits the crime.

    He killed a man.


    While I doubt the judge had any real choice (there being mandatory minimum sentences and all), I tend to agree that 15 years is way to harsh a sentence for this particular person. Yes, a jury convicted him of killing someone, and yes, he lived free for years after that. . . but, if the function of a prison is to remove people who are harmful to society from that society (and I believe that is the unique practical function of prison), than an opportunity to give what seems to be repentant individual who posed no further threat to society some serious community service was wasted (and tax money) by putting him in prison.
    posted by TheTingTangTong at 8:00 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    "Funny thing, killin' a man. You take away everything he's got and everything he's gonna have."
    -- Will Munny (Clint Eastwood) in Unforgiven
    posted by kirkaracha at 9:02 PM on November 20, 2012


    So.. 20 years ago this guy kills someone and almost throws his life and future away and now he goes back to make sure that he finishes the job?

    He deprives his wife of a husband and his children of a father because he couldn't carry his guilt?

    What a fuckup.
    posted by yonega at 1:48 AM on November 21, 2012


    Who willingly admits guilt without being pressured and then submits themselves to the consequences?

    Almost no one.

    Who jeers?

    Too many.

    It's a "I have mine; tough tits for you" kind of world.
    posted by tsaraczar at 9:38 AM on November 22, 2012


    There is literally no part of this story that isn't depressing. I feel like we're trained by films and literature and other journalistic features to look for the upside, the person we can root for. But there's nothing about this story that doesn't suck.
    posted by jacquilynne at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Actions like this are admirable because they carry a cost. It wouldn't have taken nearly as much courage if he had known, going in, that he wouldn't receive any punishment. The penalty for his crime was 25-to-life; he did actually have a significant discount because of his behaviour. Was this sufficient recognition? I do think it might have been more, but there's also a societal interest in encouraging early confessions. Would someone who has escaped detection for five years refrain from coming forward if he knew that by waiting he would get a lower sentence? Very likely. How about someone who has escaped detection for a year? I can see that automatic discounts for confessing might have precisely the wrong effect.

    I am frankly amazed at the strength of Mr Coleman's character, and I wish him all the best in prison and a merciful parole board. Despite that, I feel that justice was served by his conviction and sentencing.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 12:03 AM on November 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


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