CEDAR RAPIDS — A teenager who fatally shot a 15-year-old in 2015 was given the chance Wednesday to have a clean criminal record if he completes five years of probation without any future offenses.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns said punishment isn’t the goal of the justice system when it involves a juvenile convicted as a youthful offender. The hope is to rehabilitate the person, he said.
Seventeen-year-old Robert Humbles Jr., formerly of Cedar Rapids and now living in Dolton, Ill., was 14 when he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and other charges then sent to the Iowa State Training School for Boys, where he recently graduated. During Humbles’ sentencing hearing Wednesday, Bruns said he believed the teen is on the road to rehabilitation. Humbles is not a “hopeless” case, and prison wouldn’t make him a “better person,” Bruns said
During the hearing, Humbles said he wasn’t the same person and wanted to be better.
Bruns sentenced Humbles to a deferred judgment with five years probation. If he doesn’t commit a future offense during the probation period, the conviction can be expunged from his record. Bruns also warned Humbles that if he has another offense or too many violations while on probation, he will face 25 years in prison.
Humbles was convicted as a youthful offender, meaning after completing his time at the boy’s school he would return to District Court and a judge would resentence to him to probation, prison time or discharge him as time served.
Humbles, originally charged with first-degree murder when he was 14, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, reckless use of a firearm resulting in serious injury and going armed with intent. He fatally shot Aaron Richardson, 15, of Cedar Rapids, on Sept. 6, 2015.
Humbles, who fired multiple times, struck Richardson once in the abdomen. During his plea hearing, Humbles said the shooting occurred because he was provoked when he, Richardson and their rival gangs met that day in the 300 block of 16th Avenue SE after exchanging threats on social media and through text messages.
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Richardson ran to a nearby house for help. He died a few days later after undergoing surgery, according to court documents.
Through tears, Richardson’s mother, Louise White, told the judge Wednesday that sentencing Humbles to probation wasn’t “fair” for taking her son’s life. She said her family had lost so much because of his death.
Nicole Robertson, Humbles’ mother, said her son has changed since he graduated in October from the Iowa Boys Training School in Eldora, where he was placed in the school’s Honor Corps. She said she was proud of that honor, which is only given to the most deserving students on campus.
Robertson said her son was on the right track and will stay out of trouble. He was even planning to go to a community college in Illinois, she said.
White walked out of the courtroom after Bruns announced his decision.
Earlier in the hearing, Shawn Moss, a 6th Judicial District Juvenile Court officer, testified Humbles had a rough start at the school and had trouble with other students. In a report submitted to the court, he said Humbles had “assaultive behaviors toward his peers” and let “his anger get the best of him.”
But Moss said he noticed a change in January 2017 and Humbles didn’t have any more issues. As a member of the Honor Corps, he had a leadership-type role that earned him special privileges that others don’t receive, Moss said.
Moss also said he was in contact with Humbles’ juvenile court officer in Illinois — where he now lives with his mother — and he hadn’t been in any trouble.
Moss said he recommended that Humbles be placed on probation.
Peter Persaud, Humbles’ lawyer, asked the court for a deferred judgment and probation, citing his record at the school and Moss’ recommendation.
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Assistant Linn County attorneys Rena Schulte and Monica Slaughter asked the judge to sentence Humbles to prison time because “absence of the provocation, this was murder.”
Slaughter asked the judge to impose a sentence that “makes the victim’s family whole again” and one that punishes Humbles for his poor choices. No matter what progress Humbles has made, “a child still is dead,” Slaughter said.
Schulte said the 2015 shooting sparked the worst gun violence the city had experienced in recent years. Much of the gang activity and shooting incidents that followed were connected or stemmed from this shooting, she said.
Bruns said he wouldn’t consider that information because it wasn’t in testimony, and he accused the prosecution of citing those details because press was at the hearing.
In 2015, there were 100 instances of gun violence in Cedar Rapids. Law enforcement officials didn’t attribute all of those to this shooting, but many of the shootings were in retaliation by the two rival gangs the teens were involved with. Five people were killed that year by guns, including Richardson.
Judge Bruns also ordered Humbles to pay restitution of $150,000 to Richardson’s heirs, which is a civil penalty in homicide cases.
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