Life seemed to be looking up for Derrell Green as last year drew to a close. After months of problems at home and school, the 14-year-old was keeping his curfew, staying off marijuana and behaving in class.
Support from his close-knit family and a battery of counselors, educators and child advocates seemed to be making a real difference in this unruly teen's attitude and behavior.
Then, on a dreary February afternoon, Green threw it all away, grabbing a stolen revolver and firing two of the gun's five bullets into the back of 17-year-old schoolmate Larry Maybank on a North Charleston street, authorities said.
It is now in a judge's hands to decide whether Green is a wayward kid who should be treated like a child or be exposed to the rigors and penalties of the adult criminal justice system.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Green, now 15. If Family Court Judge Judy McMahon allows him to be tried as a juvenile, he could be back on the streets in three years or less. At worst he would be released from a juvenile facility at age 21.
But if McMahon grants prosecutors' request to try him as an adult in General Sessions court, he faces the possibility of 30 years to life behind bars.
A hearing to decide his status concluded Thursday after two days of testimony that offered a close look into Green's short, troubled life. McMahon told lawyers for the two sides that she would take the matter under advisement and make her ruling in the coming days.
Family Court Prosecutor Anne Seymour painted Green as a disruptive, defiant youth who committed an execution-style murder in a cold-blooded, premeditated fashion on Feb. 5.
She said Green brought the gun with him that morning, then went after Maybank in a crowded area when Daniel Jenkins Academy let out. "He showed absolute disregard for anyone else in this community," she said.
Seymour said Green had a loving, stable family and the benefit of a wide array of community services to help him succeed, "but despite that, he continued his pattern of living, of violence and disrespect."
She said the community cannot possibly be protected from the danger posed by Green with a juvenile sentence that would last no more than six years.
Megan Ehrlich, Green's public defender, argued that the state's case is plagued with inconsistent witness statements and other problems, and that her client's guilt has yet to be determined.
She said he is too young to be exposed to the horrors of an adult prison, where his mentors would be hardened criminals.
Ehrlich described Green as a child who still favors cartoons, is incapable of caring for himself and has never held a job outside of sweeping up clippings in a barbershop as a little boy.
She said a psychologist's evaluation showed that he has remorse for his actions and is capable of empathy. His maturity and self-control will only grow as his brain develops over time, she said.
"All we want is for Derrell to have a chance to start again," Ehrlich said.
McMahon will have to choose between two starkly different portraits of Green.
Is he the boy who calmly curled up on a couch to watch television after allegedly shooting Maybank? Or is he the remorseful teen who ended his written statement to police with this offering: "I want to tell the family I'm sorry and I'm sorry to my family for letting them down."
The case is the latest to draw attention to South Carolina's practice of trying juveniles as adults in certain serious crimes. Debate has raged on the issue since Christopher Pittman received a 30-year prison sentence in 2005 for the shotgun murders of his grandparents when he was 12.
Pittman, who was tried as an adult, recently was granted a new trial, a fact noted by Green's legal team in its quest to keep Green in Family Court.
Earlier in the day, Kendra Werden, a licensed clinical psychologist with the state Department of Juvenile Justice, offered a mixed assessment of Green's chances for successful rehabilitation.
Testing of Green determined that the boy is of average to below-average intelligence and has mild anxiety issues, as well as attention-deficit problems and a disorder that makes him defiant and distrustful of authority figures, Werden said.
She described him as a follower who would tend to conform with the bad behaviors of "negative peers," such as the drug-using friends his mother disliked.
On the plus side, Green seemed amenable to counseling, was able to comply with the requirements of Drug Court and other programs and showed improvement in his behavior, Werden said. On the negative side, he had difficulty admitting his problems, continued to hang with a bad crowd and was charged with a violent offense despite intensive support and services, she said.
Werden tested and evaluated Green over several days in July. She said he was polite and cooperative, though he got emotional when talking about his plight.
He acknowledged problems with anger, she said, but he also offered this insight: "The best thing about me is that I am a good person to know."
Reach Glenn Smith at email@example.com or 937-5556.