“Profile of a Juvenile Lifer”
My name is Duval Newsome, and I have been confined within the Michigan penal system for over 43years.
On February 4, 1977, I joined a brother and sister team (Leonard & Henreitta Armstrong) to rob a weed dealer that lived within her aparement complex. At that time, I was 3months pass my 19th birthday.
It would be helpful here to give a little history on the relationship I shared with Leonard. I met Leonard when I was 13years old; he was the best friend of my eldest brother, Jerome. With my mother as the only parent in the household, the two of them became my role models and I looked up to them both.
When I turned 16, Leonard disappeared, Jerome joined the Army and I signed up for Job Corps (following Jerome’s earlier example). Three years later (December, 1976), Leonard showed back up, and confessed he had been in prison. I was overjoyed to see him, and as I recall, impressed with his prison “war stories”. I was now taller & bigger than Leonard but I still looked up to him. When he suggested that I help him and his sister rob the weed dealer in her appartment building (wanting to show him that “Little Sput-Nick” had “grown up”), I agreed.
The plan was: She would gain entry into the dealer’s basement level apartment, buy some weed, and on the way out, stand in the doorway talking if he were alone. She did … Leonard and I rushed in! Leonard (the only one armed) put the gun in the dealer’s face and ordered him to the floor. I used the phone cord to tie his hands behind his back, while Henreitta stood in the hallway as lookout.
Leonard and I gathered all the weed, money, jewelry, etc. and placed the items in a sack (except the money, Leonard put that in his pocket). I was then told to take the loot upstairs to Henreitta’s third floor apartment and send her back in. On the way out, I told her Leonard wanted her inside; she asked: “Is Johnny Dead”?; and I told her no. Her roommate let me in and we waited for them to come back up. They arrived about ten minutes later. We all drank beer & wine mixed and smoked some more weed.
Leonard had taken the dealer’s car keys and I drove the three of us to my mothers home across town, where we split the loot and I learned that Leonard had killed Mr. Williams to protect his sister from any possible retaliation. A few days later, after taking two of her girl friends back into Mr. Williams’ apartment and showing off one of the stolen rings, Henreitta was arrested and told on her brother and myself. We were subsequently arrested at my mother’s home a couple days later. They both took plea bargins to second degree murder and placed the blame for Mr. Williams’ death on me. I turned down the plea offer, and made a full statement admitting my role in the robbery. I subsequently went to trial, where I was convicted of First Degree Felony Murder, and sentenced to Life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Due to a recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, much attention has been focused on “Juvenile Justice and the Adolescent Brain” as well as the “Science” behind it. It has been through this case and several published articles, that I have gained valuable insight and a deeper understanding of “why” I made the decision to engage in the criminal act that removed me from society 43years ago. For example, Scientist now know that at age nineteen, the “Adolescent Brain” is still developing and is highly subjected to reward-and-peer-influence. Prior to ths insight, I’ve always reflected on those events and concluded that “I should have known better” than to go with Leonard; but I never understood “why” I went, until now. As a juvenile, I was literally incapable of making decisions based on sound logic & reason, although (at that time) you couldn’t have convienced me otherwise.
I have always taken responsibility for my role in the robbery of Mr. Williams, but I didn’t kill him, nor was I present when he was killed. Prior to the commission of this crime, I had never met Henreitta or Mr. Williams. I have exhausted all my Appeals and have been denied several times when seeking a Commutation from different Michigan Governors. My story is not unique regarding men being convicted, as Juveniles, under the old Felony Murder Rule, which allowed for malice and the intent to kill, to be inferred from the robbery alone. This practice was abolished in November, 1980, by the Michigan Supreme Court, (without retroactive application) stating that: “All First Degree Murders must show individual culpability with malice no longer being inferred from the underlying felony.” I am one of 20-25 men that remain alive in the system, who will die in prison because of this unjust ruling, and Michigan Governors failure to use their power of Commutation.
It is my continued hope and prayer that Michigan will follow the current trend being set Nation wide regarding Juvenile Lifers and the non-principled killers in murder cases prior to November, 1980, and give men like myself, a second chance in society and the reunification with humanity.
Mr. Duval Newsome El #149982
July 12, 2020