Friday, April 20, 2007

Boy, 10, to get new start

A judge clears the way for the suspect in the attack on a Daytona man to live with family out of state.

Tanya Caldwell
Sentinel Staff Writer
April 20, 2007

DAYTONA BEACH -- With his bandaged victim looking on, a tiny 10-year-old accused of attacking a homeless man was told Thursday that he could leave juvenile detention and go live with a relative out of state.

Dressed in a baggy white jumpsuit, his wrists and ankles bound with shackles, Drew said little as he stood before Circuit Judge John Watson in a courtroom where everyone towered above the sandy-haired boy.

The fourth-grader pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge, a less serious offense than the felony aggravated battery charge he faced when he was arrested March 27 after a homeless man was stoned and beaten on a sidewalk in one of Daytona Beach's bleakest neighborhoods.

Drew's mother, Jennie, had asked the judge to release the boy to his aunt, not to her, so he could escape the city's streets and get help in a new place."We don't want him in that neighborhood," Jennie told the judge.

From his tall bench, Watson asked the boy below him, "Do you understand that you could be punished for battery by being locked up for up to a year or placed on probation for up to a year?"

The high-pitched reply: "Yes."Drew will remain under house arrest until Watson sentences him May 15.

The victim in the attack, John D'Amico, sat through Thursday morning's hearing in front of Drew's parents and aunt, wearing a blue pair of Skechers shoes that a church donated to him after the beating.

A white bandage still covered his left eye, which bore the brunt of a concrete chunk that was dropped on his face during the attack. D'Amico doesn't know whether he will ever recover his sight in that eye.

But D'Amico said he is healing "physically, emotionally and spiritually.""I've had a lot of time to heal," D'Amico said outside the courtroom."I don't really feel angry anymore."Besides, he said, it was the other boys who really did the damage, not Drew, the tiniest of the trio.

"I think he just had a bad moment and was following a bad crowd around," said D'Amico, who still avoids that part of the neighborhood.Drew will go stay with his aunt Melanie in Newaygo, Mich.

She stood by his side Thursday and told the judge she's already working to get her nephew back on track. S

he has chosen a new school for him and also has a doctor in mind to get Drew psychological counseling and mental-health treatment.

His parents will be moving to Michigan, too, she said, promising he would return to Florida for any court-ordered appearances.

Jordan, the other 10-year-old accused of beating and stoning the 58-year-old D'Amico, won't have his day in court until May 9.

His lawyers have tried to tell Watson this month that he was acting out of self-defense, but the judge refused to let Jordan go home to his mother.

He remained at the juvenile-detention center Thursday.

The Orlando Sentinel is not using the 10-year-olds' last names or their relatives' full names because of the boys' ages.

A third person charged in the attack, 17-year-old Jeremy Woods, has been at the Volusia County Branch Jail since the trio appeared before Watson April 3.

He will be tried as an adult.

Drew's neighbors said they're glad he's leaving the area.Despite his age and size, they said they lived in fear of what he might do next. Neighbors told stories of the boy hurling a skateboard through a mobile-home window, cursing and threatening people and even swiping toilet paper and shampoo from the bathroom of a neighbor who tried to befriend the boy.

"He should be in jail," Patrick O'Connor said Thursday afternoon after he found out about Drew's release.

"That boy's going to end up in prison for the rest of his life."

In an unexplained twist, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office said a witness was supposed to give a sworn statement to Watson about the plea Thursday afternoon.

Drew and his attorney, Jonathon Glugover, showed up for that appointment, but it was canceled after Glugover saw the assembled media.

After several private conversations with Assistant State Attorney Dustin Havens and the judge, Watson called off the proceedings. "It's been reported to me that he [Drew] must go back to receive his insulin," Watson said.

Watson told the press that the statement would be made at the State Attorney's Office on an undisclosed "later date" and that it would be up to that office whether the statement would be made available to the public.

VOLUSIA HOMELESS-BEATING CASETanya Caldwell can be reached at 386-851-7910.

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