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Tessa Majors

Teen pleads guilty in 2019 fatal stabbing of Barnard College student Tessa Majors


Story by Antonio Planas

Story   Source

Published on September 23, 2021 2:51 AM
 
Lewis said in court Tuesday that the teens planned to rob someone but that he didn’t think any of them were planning to use a knife, Vance’s office said in a statement. When they saw Majors, the teens planned to steal her phone, Lewis said in court. Lewis said he saw one of the defendants struggling with Majors. He also said that when they saw a witness, they ran away.
 
One of the three teenagers charged in the attempted robbery and fatal stabbing of a Barnard College student at a New York City park in 2019 pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder, authorities said.

The teen, Luchiano Lewis, 16, also pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said. Lewis was charged as an adult.

Tessa Majors, 18, was fatally stabbed at Morningside Park in Upper Manhattan on the night of Dec. 11, 2019.

Lewis' attorney, Alex Padilla, declined to comment Tuesday. Vance's office said Lewis will be sentenced Oct. 14.

During the robbery attempt, officials said, one of the three teens put Majors in a chokehold as the others rifled through her pockets. Authorities said Majors fought back and bit one of the robbers' fingers.

In the struggle, she was stabbed repeatedly in the torso, police said. She was able to stagger out of the park but died at a nearby hospital.

Majors, of Virginia, was a freshman at Barnard, a woman's college affiliated with Columbia University.

A 14-year-old boy pleaded guilty last year, NBC New York reported. NBC News is not naming him because he is a minor who was charged as a juvenile.

Tessa Majors

The killing of Tessa Majors occurred near Morningside Park in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, New York, on December 11, 2019. Majors, an eighteen-year-old student at Barnard College, was attacked by three teenagers as part of a robbery. An assailant then stabbed Majors multiple times, killing Majors. One of the suspects, a thirteen-year-old, was arrested the following day and charged with felony murder. Two months later, two fourteen-year-old suspects, Luchiano Lewis and Rashaun Weaver, were also charged with murder. On June 3, 2020, the 13-year-old pleaded guilty in family court to robbery in the first degree. Trial dates, in adult court, have not yet been set for the suspects who were 14 years old at the time of the incident.. The 13-year-old has been sentenced to 18 months of detention. Background

Morningside Park experienced seventeen robberies in the spring of 2019 compared to seven robberies the year before. The suspects in these robberies were mostly younger juveniles between the ages of twelve and fourteen. The robberies usually involved "the same kids over and over." According to a report, Barnard College was absent from the local crime briefings in the months leading up to Majors's killing though Barnard did receive regular briefings from the NYPD and a safety briefing was part of freshman orientation.

Attack
On December 11, 2019, Majors was walking in Morningside Park, several blocks from Barnard College. Shortly before 7:00 p.m., 'between one to three people' attacked Majors on a staircase near 116th Street and Morningside Drive. Police speculated that the attack was a 'robbery gone wrong'.

According to the thirteen-year-old suspect's confession, around dinnertime, the three suspects went to the park to rob people. They considered several potential victims but finally settled on attacking Majors. The suspect told police that his two accomplices had grabbed Majors, and used a choke-hold as a restraint while searching for items to take. Majors struggled and refused to hand over a mobile phone. The suspect also told police that one of the robbers stabbed Majors with a knife. According to a witness, a male yelled at Majors to "Gimme your phone." Majors then screamed for help, yelling, "Help me! I'm being robbed!"

According to the thirteen-year-old suspect, Majors bit one of the attacker's fingers hard, causing it to bleed. The suspect admitted in his confession that the alleged attacker stabbed Majors after being bit. The attacker stabbed Majors several times in the chest, with one stab wound piercing the heart.

After the altercation, the attackers went through Majors' pockets and fled. Majors then attempted to climb up the steep stairs found at the park's entrance nearest to the university. Majors staggered up the stairs and collapsed at the corner of Morningside Drive and 116th Street, before being found by a security guard at the top of the staircase. While still conscious, Majors told a witness of the events at the park. Police responded to the attack after a 911 call, finding Majors with multiple stab wounds. Majors was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital.

Investigation and suspects
The day after the incident, the police arrested a thirteen-year-old male and charged him with felony murder and felony robbery. The suspect was arrested after being caught trespassing while wearing clothes and sneakers that matched the description given of the suspects.

Judge Carol Goldstein set the suspect's trial date for March 16. She also denied requests by his lawyers for him to be released into his aunt and uncle's custody, due to the seriousness of the charges against him. In order to avoid the missteps that occurred during the Central Park Five case 30 years prior, police called in prosecutors early on in the case. Additionally, all questioning of the thirteen-year-old was video recorded.

A second suspect, who is fourteen, was arrested and released on December 12.

Police were unable to locate the third suspect, a fourteen-year-old, for two weeks, but apprehended him on December 26 after publicly releasing his photograph. According to The New York Times, detectives believe that some members of the fourteen-year-old's family were hiding him until the bite mark on his hand had time to heal. After being questioned, the boy was released into the custody of his attorneys pending further investigation.

In January 2020, it was announced that the case against the two fourteen-year-old suspects would go before a grand Jury. On February 14, 2020, one of the fourteen-year-olds who had been arrested on December 26, was indicted by a grand jury. The New York City Police Department re-arrested him and charged him as an adult with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree robbery and three counts of second-degree robbery. According to a criminal complaint, DNA belonging to this suspect was found under Majors' fingernails. The suspect allegedly confessed to his incarcerated father during a recorded phone conversation. According to court papers, "the defendant stated in substance that he was in the park and tried to take the girl's phone and "she was hanging onto her phone' and that he hit her with a knife."

In February, another suspect, aged fourteen, was arrested. He was charged as an adult with a count of second degree murder, two counts of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree robbery.

Both fourteen-year-old suspects were arraigned on February 19 and pleaded not guilty.

On June 3, 2020, the 13-year-old male arrested the day after the incident, and who had since turned 14, pleaded guilty in family court to robbery in the first degree. Police investigation of surveillance footage had shown that this juvenile, the youngest of the three in the group, had not touched Majors during the crime, which the prosecutor said had contributed, along with his young age and clean record, to their decision to drop the murder charge if the boy pleaded guilty to the robbery. On June 15 he was sentenced to eighteen months in detention. Though Majors's parents were not present at the sentencing, they submitted a victim impact statement which was read in court. In the statement, they criticized the deal that led to the offender's guilty plea and argued that he "has shown a complete lack of remorse or contrition for his role in the killing of Tess Majors." They also said: "By his own admission, the respondent picked up a knife that had fallen to the ground and handed it to an individual who then used it to stab Tess Majors to death...The family can't help but wonder what would have happened if that knife had been left on the ground."

Victim
Tessa Rane Majors , also known as Tess, was from Charlottesville, Virginia. Majors graduated from St. Anne's-Belfield School in May 2019, and was a first-semester freshman at Barnard College, a private all-women's school in Manhattan. Majors sang and played bass in a band, Patient 0, which had recently released an album. The band had played its first gig in New York City that fall and was scheduled to play two more shows in Charlottesville during winter break. Majors also led the creative writing club in high school, ran cross-country, and volunteered on political campaigns. An intern at the Augusta Free Press during the spring of 2019, Majors had an interest in journalism and planned to study journalism in college. Majors' father is an English professor at James Madison University, and the author of six books.

Aftermath
The attack prompted new security measures at Morningside Park, including 24-hour guard booths outside the park. The operation hours of the evening safety shuttle bus have also been extended. Additional funding was promised for security measures at Morningside Park, as well as fixing the outdoor lighting. NYPD committed additional officers for patrolling the park, and Columbia University pledged more security guards. New York City Council member Mark D. Levine announced he was 'committed to finding the money to put in the cameras we need for sensitive areas that aren't covered', speaking of adding security cameras that could be monitored in real time by police officers.

Reaction
The incident garnered considerable news coverage and was referred to as a political football, in part because violent crime had fallen significantly in New York City in recent years.

The case was particularly notable due to the young ages of the suspects; juveniles under the age of fifteen account for only a small fraction of those arrested for murder each year. In addition, the suspects are black and the killing is reported to have 'resurfaced the longstanding racial and class tensions between Columbia University and the fast-gentrifying neighborhood of Harlem'.

The New York Times has compared the case to the 1989 Central Park jogger case, which occurred nearby in the North Woods of Central Park; both cases involved 'a young white woman attacked in a park and even younger teenage suspects'. This comparison to the jogger case was echoed by Time and the Star Tribune. Gale Brewer, the borough president of Manhattan, urged detectives to proceed with caution to avoid an outcome similar to the jogger case. In an effort to avoid the mistakes made by police 30 years prior, all questioning of the suspects in the Tessa Majors case has been video recorded. New York magazine called it a defining, once-in-a-generation crime for New Yorkers.

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