NEW YORK - A 13-year-old boy accused of aiding in the killing of a Barnard College freshman told police he picked up a dropped knife and handed it to another youth just before the student was fatally stabbed in a park near the school's New York City campus, a detective testified Tuesday.
The Dec. 11 confrontation, which ended with 18-year-old Tessa Majors staggering up a flight of stairs to street level from Manhattan's Morningside Park and collapsing in a crosswalk, was partially captured on security video, Detective Wilfredo Acevedo said.
The video, though pixelated and dark, shows a scuffle involving several youths and one of them motioning toward the victim, Acevedo said at a hearing in family court.
The boy is not accused of stabbing Majors, but a judge ruled that there is probable cause to proceed with felony murder and robbery charges against him. Judge Carol Goldstein ordered him detained at least through the end of the year. Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 2.
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"The court finds there is a serious risk for reoffending," Goldstein said, rebuffing arguments from the boy's lawyer that he has a strong support system with his aunt and uncle at home, good school attendance and no behavioral problems.
Police have said three youths were involved in Majors' death, which has troubled city and college leaders for its proximity to campus and its apparent randomness.
But so far only the 13-year-old has been arrested. He is charged as a juvenile. Police say the youths were robbing Majors when she was killed. If convicted he could be sent to a detention facility until he is 21.
The defense blasted police for questioning the boy without a lawyer present. The organization representing the boy, the Legal Aid Society, cautioned "against any rush to judgment that would only cause additional harm to the Harlem and Barnard communities."
"Our client is a 13-year-old child who is presumed innocent with no juvenile record," the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. "History is full of examples of high profile cases tried in the media, rushing law enforcement to a wrongful arrest and conviction."
Legal Aid lawyer Hannah Kaplan said the boy told Acevedo he did not know the other youths were robbing Majors and was too far away to hear what they were saying. She said security video of the incident doesn't show him with the knife, nor does it show him touching her or taking anything from her.
Majors, from Charlottesville, Virginia, played in a rock band in New York, sported green hair and had told an editor from a newspaper internship in high school that she planned to take journalism classes in college.
She was stabbed while walking in the park just before 7 p.m., two days before the start of final exams at Barnard, an all-women's school that is part of the Ivy League's Columbia University. The city's medical examiner said Monday she died from wounds to the torso.
Acevedo said the 13-year-old told police in a videotaped interview last Thursday that he and the two other youths went to the park looking to rob someone, first setting their sights on a man before turning their attention to Majors.
At that time of night, the detective said, the park was "extremely dark," with none of the lamp posts lit up.
Acevedo testified that the boy said he then picked up a red-handled knife that another one of the youths had dropped and that he handed it to one of them. They then approached Majors and announced they were robbing her, but she refused to hand over any property, the boy said, according to Acevedo.
The boy said he witnessed what happened next from perhaps 10 feet away, Acevedo testified: One of the youths grabbing Majors from behind as the other stabbed her, causing feathers to billow from her jacket.
A police officer responding to a radio call for a robbery in progress said she found Majors lying face down in the street. Officer Ena Lewis testified that Majors was wheezing for breath and had lacerations on her face and stab wounds to her body.
Then Majors stopped breathing, Lewis said. The officer said she started CPR and kept at it until they got to a hospital, where Majors was pronounced dead.