Robin Shellow '78 is a Milwaukee-based attorney with a critical goal: to help jurors and judges listen more carefully to her clients — most of whom are too young to vote.
"The notion is that the children are small adults, but they're not," says Shellow, who most recently was a member of the defense team of Nathaniel Brazill, the Florida teenager convicted of murder in the shooting death of his teacher. Shellow adds that children tried in adult court are at a terrible disadvantage because they are unable to participate in the critical decisions (which jurors to exclude or whether to have a jury or court trial, for example) that can have dramatic impact on the outcome of their sentencing.
The following are excerpts from Robin Shellow's journals documenting her work with young murderers and their families.
A Gift From Arturo's Grandmother
Tonight, I have become Arturo's lawyer. I will represent this boy, who has just turned himself into the police moments ago in my office, and help his family as they sort through such questions as, "Will I ever hold him again? What are his chances? Why didn't he tell me? How can I live without him?" As Arturo's grandmother was leaving, she tucked my hair behind my ear in a gesture much like my own mother has done for nearly 40 years, and said: "One of the reasons we hired you is because we know having Arturo's life in your hand scares you to death. Please do not pretend that you are not afraid for us. For that we could have hired anyone."
Entries After Michael Died
"My turtle, whose name is Albert, my Walkman, my sister's baby blanket and my .22." Those were the answers to the question, why does a 14-year-old need a will? He said, "I need to know who is going to get these when I die." I asked him why he was going to die. As if he had suddenly aged from a young boy with boundless questions to an old man with bitter disappointments, he looked at me and said, "I hate you. Brett said you wouldn't ask me any stupid questions."
Pen in hand I prepare to write the will. Michael tells me the semi-automatic should go to Cuckoo, his 6-year-old cousin, one of Milwaukee's first identified crack babies. I saw Cuckoo in the park this weekend. He told me that his mom said he couldn't carry Michael's gun until he turned seven. Thank God for rules and parental discipline.
Mara, Michael's baby's mama, was bestowed the Walkman. Ariel, their child, was born today. She weighed just over three pounds. Michael's death has reinforced the lesson taught to others in law school: it is never too early to start estate planning.
Five days after this conversation Michael died.
The baby blanket was buried with Michael.
Cuckoo turns seven tomorrow.
One of my clients said to me, "In my world, there is no order. In your world, old people die first. In my world, things don't work that way. It gets pretty confusing."
A Late Night After Littleton:
Q. Do you remember the day you were arrested?
A. All I remember is that it was raining.
Q. Why do you remember it was raining?
A. 'Cause I always remember when it rains. It means that God was crying that day.
Q. Why was God crying that day?
A. God was crying to wash away all the blood.