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Child Killer Nathaniel Brazill Gets 28 Years

Aired July 27, 2001 - 11:29   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We need to take our viewers to West Palm Beach. The judge has entered the courtroom in the Nathaniel Brazill murder case, and we're going to listen to his sentencing.


JUDGE RICHARD WENNET, PALM BEACH COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: ... the way you prosecuted and defended this case. It really bespeaks just a tremendous amount of professionalism, and I want to thank and commend each of you.

If I also might take another moment and just ask everyone in the courtroom -- I know everyone is here because they have very great feelings about this case -- but I would ask everyone to conduct themselves as ladies and gentlemen, and no matter what the outcome may be, if you agree with it, or if you disagree with it, if you would kindly remain silent. And if for whatever reason you are unable to do that, if you would kindly leave the courtroom, as a mark of respect for everyone else who is here. And lastly, I would also ask that if everyone wouldn't kindly remain seated through the course of the proceedings, I would appreciate that.

This before the court for sentencing. Is there -- can I take a look at the information for the indictment?

Thank you.

Is there legal reason why sentence should not now be imposed? We ask the state?


WENNET: We ask the defense?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None, your honor.

WENNET: If I can impose upon the defense and the defendant and defense counsel please to stand.

It's the judgment of the court Nathaniel R. Brazill be found and adjudicated guilty of the crime of second degree murder with a firearm, for the murder of Barry L. Grunow, and further be found and adjudicated guilty of the crime of aggravated assault with a firearm, for the assault upon John James. That as to the murder of Mr. Grunow, he be sentenced to a term of 28 years in the Department of Corrections, and thereafter, would credit for 428 days time served.

This is a mandatory minimum sentence, pursuant to the 778.087. It will be served day for day, and the only reduction to that will be the 428 days that he's previously served, from May 26, the date of the murder, until today.

That thereafter -- and the court has given this some varied consideration -- that, in order to be sure that Nathaniel Brazill successfully acclimates into the community, that he serve a further term of two years in community control level II, which is a monitored house arrest, and that, thereafter, he serve a further five-year term of probation.

As special conditions of the community control and the probation, that Mr. Brazill not have any contact with any member of Mr. Grunow's or Mr. James' family, or relatives, children, siblings, and that he, further, obtain a Graduate Equivalency Diploma if he has not already done so during the course of his incarceration.

The court further imposes the obligatory $361 in statutory court costs as a money judgment.

And lastly, the court will require that Mr. Brazill successful enroll in and successfully complete an anger management course upon completion of his lengthy prison term.

And lastly, pursuant to Florida statute 944-1905, that was recently enacted, the court further directs the Department of Corrections to house Mr. Brazill in a youthful offender facility until such time as the statute allows him to be placed into an adult facility.

The court recommends to the Department of Corrections that -- I shouldn't say recommends -- the court adopts the Department of Corrections' presentence investigation report, where it recommends that he be housed or sentenced to the Hillsborough Correction Institute, in Riverview, where he will have, perhaps, access to a variety of programs, including aggression management, life skills, education, and the like. And of course, but that will only continue until his majority, as chapter 944 dictates.

The court having sentenced the defendant will impose upon you, Mr. Udell, to be sure that the notice of appeal is filed. And Mr. Udell, will you be handling the appeal?

ROBERT UDELL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I'm not sure of that yet, sir. I will, pursuant to the rules and the statute, ensure that the necessary pleadings are to perfect the same. I have asked, and I see you are looking at the motion -- we're just asking, if you'd turn to the order now -- declaring him indigent. I assume my client will instruct me to file the notice within the 30-day period; other than that, I'll ensure that all the pleadings necessary to perfect the appeal are done, and you will get a timely notice of appearance by me or some other counsel, I assure you, within 30 days.

WENNET: Very well. Regardless of whether Mr. Brazill instructs you or not, please be sure that the obligatory notice is filed within the statutory time period.

Have I failed to address anything on behalf of the state, Ms. Burns, Mr. Shiner?

MARC SHINER, STATE'S ATTORNEY: Judge, I apologize to the court. I may not have understood the exact the question. Did the court address count two also, the aggravated assault, which requires...

WENNET: No, I didn't. No, I didn't, Mr. Shiner, and I thank you for that.

Very well, the court, as I said, finds and adjudicates the defendant guilty of the crime of aggravated assault with a firearm, for the assault upon John James and remands him to the Department of Corrections to serve a term of five years, with a mandatory minimum term of three years to run concurrent with the current sentence, with the time served of 428 days.

Thank you, Mr. Shiner.

Thank you, Mr. Krischer.

Mr. Udell, have I failed to address any issue on behalf of the defense?

UDELL: Nothing, your honor.

WENNET: Very well. Then I will execute the order of indigency. Gentlemen, please be feel to be seated.

Mr. Udell, Mr. Shiner, do we still have one more felony case pending against the defendant?

And it is set for today for a status check. Is anyone prepared to go forward? I know that you've had other things on your mind.

KAGAN: As they discuss that, we'll talk about the sentence that's just been hand down from Circuit Judge Richard Wennet in the case of Nathaniel Brazill, who was convicted of shooting the man he called his favorite teacher, Barry Grunow, and also of assaulting another teacher at the school.

Let's listen in for a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the sentence that you just imposed on Mr. Brazill, if you could reset this for another status check in perhaps a week or two, we will have a decision on whether or not we're going to go forward. It looks like we may not at this time.

WENNET: Very well. Is this coming Thursday convenient to you?

KAGAN: As they do those calendar items, we'll talk about the sentence that Nathaniel Brazill now faces. By Florida law, he had to get a sentence between 25 years to life. The judge came up with a sentence of 28 years in prison, which means that when Nathaniel Brazill gets out of prison, he will be 42 years old. After prison, he faces two years of house arrest and five years of probation and must also complete an anger management course.

There's another sentence, a 3-5 years sentence for the assault on the other teacher. That will be served concurrently with the sentence for killing Barry Grunow.

Let's bring in our Mark Potter, who has been following this case.

Mark, 28 years -- just over the minimum of what the judge had to impose on Nathaniel Brazill?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Daryn. That's what is striking about this sentence. It's a lot closer to what defense attorneys were advocating than what the prosecutors and the Grunow family wanted. As we all know now, several members of the Grunow family had been asking the judge to impose a life sentence. The prosecutor joined in that recommendation, saying that if the judge didn't go with life, at the very least, he should go with 40 years. But the judge, I think, surprised a lot of people in this courthouse today by coming up with a lesser sentence.

It's still a very stiff sentence, and it must be served day for day. He will have to serve 28 years, less the time -- some 400 days - in which he has already been incarcerated here, at the Palm Beach County Jail.

KAGAN: So like 27 more years.

What's this other thing he is talking about, Mark, this one more felony count? What else is out there?

There is a charge that Nathaniel wrote some letters from the courthouse, trying to get some people involved in the case, the allegation being to change their story. It's basically a tampering with a witness charge. I am not sure that that's the exact charge, but that's the essence of it. As we heard the prosecutor Marc Shiner say, they may not now pursue that, given the sentence that has now been imposed in this, the second-degree murder case.

KAGAN: Let's bring in one of our legal analysts, Greta Van Susteren, who has been listening to this sentence with us.

Greta, this case is getting so much attention, of course, because it's a 14-year-old who faced second degree, possibly first-degree, murder charges, but was convicted on second-degree murder charges of killing a teacher. And of course, because he's been tried as an adult, this is getting so much attention in the state of Florida and across the country.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Indeed, it is, Daryn. In fact, he is 14 now; I think he was 13 at the time, in May, 2000, when this shooting actually occurred.

What I thought was interesting is that Mark thought that it was a surprisingly light sentence. Look, this is a kid. The judge is sitting there in the courtroom. There is no magic formula, but the judge is aware of the fact that traditionally we have treated young offenders in a very different way than adult offenders, so giving him a sentence of 28 years, to me, in some ways, is not a huge surprise. What's interesting is that he went above the minimum of 25 and gave him an extra three years.

But this is not an easy decision for a judge, and there's no right decision. It just happens to be the job of the judge. This young boy committed a horrible crime, but it's also a terrible problem for any judge to decide what to do.

KAGAN: As we mentioned, he could have been convicted of first- degree murder, but the jury came back with second degree. How does that change the sentencing, Greta?

VAN SUSTEREN: Under Florida law, it would have been a mandatory life. It would have tied the judge's hands. The judge would have said, I don't have any choice, I've got to give you life in prison. What this enables the judge to do is at least fashion a remedy so that at age 42, which I am sure to a 14-year-old seems like a life away, he will have an opportunity at least to be released.

Once released, he has to comply to certain conditions. But the judge, you can see, attempted to create some conditions to have some sort of control over him after the age of 42, to try to sort of ease him back into society. I think that judge is probably well aware that when you stick a kid in prison, when the kid comes out of prison, after a number of years, most of us cynics expect that you're going to get a bigger criminal. That doesn't mean you should let someone go, but I think the judge is mindful that prison is not necessarily an environment of rehabilitation.

So the judge fashioned this other remedy, the two years house arrest followed by probation, in an effort to ease him back in so that, perhaps, at age 42, he can be a good citizen again.

KAGAN: Anger management as well as ordering Nathaniel Brazill to get his GED, to get some education while he is prison.

Let's bring our Mark Potter back in.

Mark, where does Nathaniel Brazill go from here? You heard the judge talk about how he is to go to a center that serves youth at this point.

POTTER: That's right. First, however, he will leave the Palm Beach County jail and go to a processing center. It's called the South Florida Reception Center. It's near Miami; it's a prison processing center. He will be evaluated there, and then they will decide where he go goes. It's very likely that he will go to the place that the judge was talking about, because that's the recommendation that has come from the court officials.

While he is at the processing center, he will be kept away from adult prisoners. He will be in a single cell, we are told, and always monitored whenever he walks through the facility; he will be escorted.

I want to make a point related to something that Greta said about the 28-year sentence. She said that she was not surprised by that. I can understand that. But I will say this, that I feel very confident in saying that the defense Nathaniel Brazill's own lawyers probably are very surprised by this sentence. I believe that they felt that he would get somewhere in the 35- to 40-year range. They argued for the minimum of 25, but I do not think that they had an expectation that that would occur. I think it's fairly safe to say that it's a surprisingly low sentence for them, at least in terms of their expectations.

KAGAN: Greta, do you want to jump in here?

VAN SUSTEREN: I think defense attorneys always have a worst case scenario in mind. Look, sentencing is not some sort of mathematical formula. We lawyers sit by the sidelines and try to guess what is in a judge's mind.

A judge's job is very different than the guesswork that goes on amongst us lawyers, whether it be a prosecutor or a defense attorney. A judge is a different judge. A judge has to look at a horrible situation that gets thrown in his or her lap. Here you have a kid who committed the worst crime, and you've got a statute that gives you very broad guidelines. The judge has to try to fashion what he thinks is best. He's got to take into consideration a number of factors: for instance punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence to others, protection of the community.

These are all factors for the judge to consider, but there's no mathematical formula. There's no perfect remedy. So we walk into the courtroom all the time sort of guessing what we think the judge is going to do, but for the most part, this is total guesswork, and frankly, 28 years -- which will do nothing to bring Barry Grunow back, and the family will have this tragedy remaining with them for the rest of their lives, this loss...


KAGAN: Greta, let me just jump in here for a second. Let me explain the pictures that we are seeing: the woman in the orange dress is Nathaniel Brazill's mother, and she had gone on the witnessing stand during the sentencing hearing and asked for leniency from the judge for her son.

I'll put a question to both of you. Nathaniel Brazill is the second 14-year-old in south Florida to be charged on first-degree murder charges, Lionel Tate being the first. Is this bringing up a bigger question here, of how we treat juveniles who create violent crimes?

VAN SUSTEREN: Daryn, I think it absolutely is. When I first started practicing law, about some 20-some years ago, 18 was generally considered the cutoff, except there were exceptions of 16. It seems that as we have gotten "harder on crime" -- it's become politically attractive to be hard or crime, and people have run on campaigns, legislators, to be hard on crime -- that level has been pushed down from 18 to 16 to 14 when we try people as adults. The pressure has been because, as we have seen in the past two or three decades, younger people are committing crimes that are considered "adult crimes," and we were seeing lots of murder by young people. So it's politically attractive to move that number down.

Certainly, it is a big trend, and it's one where people elect legislators, and they do so on the basis of platforms that include being "tough on crime."

KAGAN: Mark, any moves in south Florida to talk about how society treats these young offenders?

POTTER: Yes, all of this has resurrected the debate that Greta has been talking about. A lot of people are discussing it, in many different venues, and it has made its way to the legislature, where a new law was just enacted at least to make sure that the young inmates are kept away from the adult inmates -- and the judge referred to that in the sentencing.

Another point I want to make is that these are just the latest cases in Florida involving young people in this age range. There have been others. These are just the latest and the ones getting the most publicity.

KAGAN: Mark Potter, Greta Van Susteren, thank you helping us with our coverage.

Once again, to wrap up, Nathaniel Brazill will serve a 28-year prison sentence for the murder of Barry Grunow last year, a man he described as his favorite teacher. After that, two years of community control, a house arrest; five years probation; and after that, he must complete an anger management course.



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