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Nathaniel BRAZILL





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (13)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 26, 2000
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: September 22, 1986
Victim profile: Barry Grunow, 35 (his school teacher)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: West Palm Beach, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to 28 years in prison without the possibility of parole on July 27, 2001

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Nathaniel Brazill (born September 22, 1986) is an American who was charged with the murder of his school teacher at age 13.

On the last day of school, May 26, 2000, Nathaniel Brazill, a student at Lake Worth Middle School in Florida, shot his teacher Barry Gunrow. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison without the possibility of parole.


Florida: Court Upholds Boy's Sentence

The New York Times

May 15, 2003

A state appeals court upheld the second-degree murder conviction of a 16-year-old boy who fatally shot his English teacher on the last day of school three years ago. The Fourth District Court of Appeal also upheld the 28-year sentence given to the teenager, Nathaniel Brazill. Nathaniel was 13 when he shot the teacher, Barry Grunow, 35, at Lake Worth Middle School on May 26, 2000, after Mr. Grunow refused to let him to talk to two friends. The youth's lawyer, David McPherrin, said he should not have been convicted of second-degree murder or sentenced as an adult.


Another Florida teenager receives harsh adult prison sentence

By Kate Randall -

August 3, 2001

Nathaniel Brazill, 14, was sentenced July 27 in a Florida court to 28 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Brazill was convicted as an adult on May 16 of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a 30-year-old seventh grade teacher at a middle school in Lake Worth, Florida on the last day of classes in May 2000. He was only 13 years old at the time.

The trial and sentencing of this teenager is the latest widely reported case of what has increasingly become standard practice in the American judicial system: prosecuting children as adults. Last month in Broward County Florida, 14-year-old Lionel Tate was convicted of first-degree murder. He was 12 years old when his six-year-old playmate died of injuries inflicted by Tate as he acted out moves he had seen on a TV wrestling show. Tate’s mother rejected a plea bargain in the case, contending the death was an accident, and the teenager was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole under Florida’s mandatory sentencing laws.

Nathaniel Brazil and his defense have not denied that he fired the shot that killed language arts teacher Barry Grunow on May 26, 2000, although they say it was an accident. Defense attorney Robert Udell said at trial that the teenager thought the gun’s safety was on when he pointed it at the teacher. Brazill had been suspended earlier that day for throwing water balloons in the school cafeteria. He returned later and asked Grunow if he could enter the teacher’s classroom to speak with two students. When Grunow said no, Nathaniel pointed the gun at him and it went off, killing the teacher with one bullet to the head.

Although the jury assembled to judge the case rejected the prosecution’s argument that the shooting was premeditated, they handed down a conviction of second-degree murder. Under the new Florida sentencing laws, the judge was required to impose a sentence of 25 years to life. Many news reports on the 28-year sentence—which will be followed by two years of house arrest and five years’ probation—commented that it was lenient under the circumstances. This so-called lenient sentence will keep Nathaniel behind bars until his early 40s, with little opportunity for rehabilitation or psychological treatment.

For the most part, the political establishment has come to accept the basic premise of the adult prosecution of juveniles: if a child allegedly commits an “adult crime” he or she must “pay” as an adult. According to this view, consideration of the child’s mental maturity, psychological health, and social or personal situation should take a back seat to what is seen as the overriding need of society to lock up these “bad seeds.” In Nathaniel Brazill’s case, the prosecution put aside the young man’s background and painted the defendant as a cold-blooded killer, incapable of being rehabilitated.

Prosecutor Marc Shiner commented following the judge’s sentencing: “This was a heinous crime committed by a young man with a difficult personality who should be behind bars. Let us not forget a man’s life has been taken away.” According to the law-and-order mentality so prevalent today in prosecutors’ offices across the country, a crime is a crime, and the criminal is responsible for it.

But there was a time not so long ago when juveniles were treated differently in the criminal justice system. The trials of Nathaniel Brazil, Lionel Tate and other children as adults have been made possible by changes in laws in virtually every state over the past decade. In 15 of these states, the decision whether or not to charge children as adults is left up to the prosecutors, many of them elected officials wanting to be seen as being tough on crime.

The entire judicial framework has shifted so dramatically that the distinction between prosecuting adults and juveniles is becoming more and more blurred. In Nathaniel Brazill’s case, he found himself in a situation where the Florida state legal setup was heavily weighted towards charging him as an adult and, following his conviction, the trial judge was mandated to impose a minimum sentence of more than twice Nathaniel’s age at the time of the school shooting.

What is rarely questioned in the media, however, is the legitimacy of prosecuting a child as an adult. No one cries out: these are children! Laws prohibit them from driving a car, purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, voting or serving in the military, but they are allowed to be prosecuted according to adult laws and sentenced to draconian prison terms, in some instances in adult facilities where they face physical and sexual assault. The century-long tradition of the juvenile justice system’s role in protecting and rehabilitating the youth in society has been turned on its head.

There is a certain unease among the population to changes which have taken place in the judicial system over the past quarter century—the resumption of executions, mandatory prison sentences, corruption and increased violence on the part of police, and now the prosecution of juveniles as adults. But lacking an alternative perspective the majority generally defers to the law-and-order atmosphere cultivated by the political establishment and broadcast daily in the news. In the absence of an approach that looks to the class and social relations in society as the ultimate roots of this violence, the policy of government authorities predominates: more police repression and judicial retribution.

The most cursory examination of any of these juvenile cases reveals lives plagued by personal problems, and Nathaniel Brazill’s story is no different. Although he was an honor student with a perfect attendance record, family relations at home were strained. Nathaniel’s mother, Polly Powell, an assistant food services director at a Lake Worth retirement home, was involved in several abusive relationships. Police reported that there were 17 domestic incident reports at her home in the six years prior to the shooting. One of Ms. Powell’s partners demanded that Nathaniel move out of the house.

Nathaniel was also reportedly fascinated with weapons and wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement or the military. He spent a good deal of his spare time playing simulated fighter pilot games and visiting military-related web sites. The bullet that killed Barry Grunow may very well have been discharged accidentally, as the defense contends. But the fact that the teenager responded to being suspended from school by riding his bicycle to retrieve a .25-caliber handgun is a telling indictment of a society that sees violence and individualism as the answer to every problem.

What transpired that day at Lake Worth Middle School tragically affected two lives. Barry Grunow, referred to by Nathaniel Brazill as his favorite teacher, died, leaving behind a wife and two small children. Nathaniel will be imprisoned for close to three decades. Class conscious working people should be outraged at a political establishment that advocates the incarceration of its youngest citizens as a legitimate response to disturbing social problems.


Boy Who Killed a Teacher Gets 28 Years and No Parole

By Dana Canedy - The New York Times

July 28, 2001

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A 14-year-old boy who shot his favorite teacher to death on the last day of class a year ago was sentenced today to 28 years in prison without parole, punishment that his family said was just but that the victim's relatives called disappointingly lenient.

Shackled and dressed in an orange prison uniform, the defendant, Nathaniel Brazill, stood silent and expressionless as Judge Richard Wennet of Palm Beach County Circuit Court pronounced sentence.

Afterward the boy's mother, Polly Powell, said she simply wanted to begin the process of healing and was grateful that the judge had shown leniency. ''I was hoping for less,'' she said of the prison term, ''but I know my son will be home someday.''

Friends and relatives of the teacher, Barry Grunow, left the courtroom quietly but later said they were shocked by the sentence, which was three years longer than the minimum required by law.

Judge Wennet had discretion to impose any sentence from 25 years to life (although no discretion to allow parole), and most of Mr. Grunow's friends and members of his family who testified at a sentencing hearing on Thursday asked for the maximum. An exception was Mr. Grunow's widow, Pam, who made no recommendation when she addressed the judge, saying she did not know what would be appropriate, and was not in the courtroom when the sentence was handed down today.

Judge Wennet, who did not explain how he had arrived at the sentence, also ordered that Nathaniel serve two years of house arrest after completing his prison term, spend five years on probation and, while in custody, earn a high school equivalency diploma and enroll in an anger management course. In addition, the judge imposed a three-year prison sentence, to be served concurrently, for aggravated assault with a firearm: Nathaniel's pointing at another teacher the .25-caliber handgun he had just used to shoot the 35-year-old Mr. Grunow.

Nathaniel will be kept in a juvenile corrections center until he is 18, and then be sent to an adult prison.

Nathaniel, convicted in May of second-degree murder, is the second 14-year-old in South Florida to be tried as an adult this year on charges of murder in the first degree. The other boy, Lionel Tate, was convicted of that crime in January and sentenced to life for beating to death a 6-year-old playmate. Both cases have prompted debate about the trying of young offenders as adults.

In this later case, the young defendant, who insisted that the fatal gunshot was fired by accident, maintained a stoic and blank demeanor during his trial. Much was made of that deportment, which was used to characterize him as a cold-blooded killer and, alternatively, as a scared boy whose actions had unwittingly pushed him into an adult world.

Today, though, prosecution and defense lawyers agreed on one thing: that no adults had paid attention to the trouble that was building in his life before he killed Mr. Grunow.

''There were warning signs,'' said Marc Shiner, the prosecutor. ''Hopefully this is a wake-up call for other parents and teachers.''

At the sentencing hearing on Thursday, defense lawyers disclosed for the first time events that they said helped to explain both the boy's state of mind at the time of the shooting and his lack of emotion during the trial.

Nathaniel's mother, Ms. Powell, had been in and out of abusive relationships since he was a young boy. At times, he was forced to jump in to break up fights between his mother and one stepfather.

Another stepfather refused to let him live with the family, so he would spend days with his mother but at night be sent to his grandmother's house to sleep. His mother is separated from a third stepfather.

The family never talked at length about the abuse or the effect that the multiple stepfathers had on Nathaniel, whose biological father was not a constant presence in his life. Instead, defense experts testified, he learned to keep his emotions bottled up.

Ms. Powell married her latest husband the same month she told her son she had breast cancer. Then his grades began to drop, and he made references to suicide in a letter to Mr. Grunow.

Soon afterward, he developed a crush an a schoolmate. It was this girl to whom he wanted to say goodbye on the last day of school last year, when, having been sent home earlier in the day by an assistant principal for throwing water balloons, he was barred from the classroom by Mr. Grunow. The confrontation proved fatal.


Florida Teenager Declares Sorrow for Killing Teacher

By Dana Canedy - The New York Times

July 28, 2001

A 14-year-old boy facing 25 years to life for murder told a judge and the victim's family today that he never intended to shoot his favorite teacher and was sorry for the killing.

''Words cannot really express how sorry I am, but they're all I have,'' the boy, Nathaniel Brazill, said, reading from a statement at a sentencing hearing in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. He called his victim, Barry Grunow, 35, a great man and teacher.

''As I look back on that day I wish it had not happened and that I could bring Mr. Grunow back,'' said Nathaniel, who was shackled and wearing an orange prison uniform. ''Regardless of what anyone thinks, I never intended to harm Mr. Grunow.''

In May a jury convicted Nathaniel of second-degree murder for shooting Mr. Grunow between the eyes after the teacher refused to let him into his classroom on the last day of school a year ago to say goodbye to two girls. By rejecting a verdict of first-degree murder, the jurors spared the boy from a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Most of Mr. Grunow's family and friends asked the judge today to sentence the boy to the harshest penalty, life in prison. But the teacher's widow, Pam Grunow, said she could not recommend a sentence.

''I don't know what price Nathaniel should pay for taking Barry's life,'' Mrs. Grunow told the judge. ''That's not my job; I don't have the wisdom.''

The prosecution and the defense painted contrasting pictures of the boy, one of a cold-blooded killer and the other of a troubled teenager whose family and school missed warning signs of problems.

''This defendant's demeanor sends chills up my spine,'' the prosecutor, Marc Shiner, said.

Mr. Shiner asked the judge to sentence Nathaniel to life in prison or, barring that, to 40 years followed by lifetime probation.

He said that Nathaniel's age alone did not warrant leniency and that the boy's demeanor during the trial was proof of his lack of remorse.

The defense argued that the judge should not read anything into Nathaniel's demeanor because the boy was accustomed to holding in his emotions, whether about the physical abuse he saw between his mother and two stepfathers or his mother's diagnosis of breast cancer the month Nathaniel turned 13.

''He's a child, and that's who committed this crime,'' Nathaniel's lawyer, Robert Udell, said before asking the judge to sentence the boy to 25 years in prison.

In the most emotional testimony, Nathaniel's mother, Polly Powell, said she could not explain her son's actions but prayed that, in time, he would be forgiven.

''I don't know what happened to my baby,'' Ms. Powell said, adding that if her personal problems contributed to his actions, ''I take full responsibility.''

She pleaded between sobs for the judge to be lenient, saying: ''I just ask you that you please have mercy on him. We know he's done something wrong. I've said that from the beginning, and we know he must be punished.''

The judge, Richard Wennet, said he would announce the sentence on Friday.

Nathaniel, who was 13 at the time of the shooting, is the second 14-year-old in South Florida to be tried as an adult this year on charges of first-degree murder. The first, Lionel Tate, was convicted of that crime in January and sentenced to life for beating a 6-year-old playmate, Tiffany Eunick, to death. Lionel was 12. His lawyer argued that Lionel killed the girl accidentally while imitating wrestling moves. Lionel is serving his sentence and awaiting the outcome of appeals. Gov. Jeb Bush denied his request for an early clemency hearing.

Both the Brazill and the Tate cases have prompted debate about trying of young offenders as adults. In May, State Senator Walter Campbell called for changing the way Florida handles young violent offenders. And the human rights organization Amnesty International, which monitored both cases, has urged an overhaul of Florida's policies.

At the hearing today, Palm Beach County sheriff's deputies testified that Nathaniel was not the silent and solemn young man he appeared to be in court. They testified that in his holding cell between court appearances, Nathaniel was unruly and joked about shooting jurors.

But a child psychologist who testified for the defense said Nathaniel's actions probably reflected a false bravado and his young age. The psychologist, James Gabarino of Cornell University, also testified that the shooting of Mr. Grunow was the act of a child dealing with overwhelming problems. Mr. Gabarino said that coupled with problems at home, Nathaniel's suspension and perceived rejection in Mr. Grunow's refusal to let him speak to a girl he had a crush on caused the boy such distress that the victim ''may not have mattered."


Nate Brazill, Sentenced to Grow Up in Prison

By Tim Roche -

Friday, Jul. 27, 2001

After 14-year-old Nathaniel Brazill was convicted of second-degree murder in May for the shooting death of his favorite teacher, he rode back to the Palm Beach County Jail in silence. Tried as an adult, he had faced the possibility of being found guilty of Murder One. As he strode into the 12th-floor cell he shared with other youths accused of violent crimes, the Florida teenager could hardly imagine the life in prison awaiting him when the judge eventually sentenced him. "What up, Nate?" the others greeted him. "Saw you on TV. Coulda done worse." He laid on his bunk, crying alone in his cell. Later that night, the others crowded around the TV to watch an episode of Law & Order. It was about a school shooting, captured on video, a case just like his. Nate could not stay and watch. He retreated to his cell.

On Friday morning, Nate gulped silently as Circuit Judge Richard Wennet finally determined his fate: Instead of life in prison, Nate will serve 28 years, followed by another seven years of house arrest and probation. His jail buddies were right again — he could've done a lot worse. Prosecutors and relatives of teacher Barry Grunow had asked the judge to imprison him for the rest of his life. Or, at least, for 40 years.

Talk to school teachers about the sentence, and you can understand why they feel Nate got off lucky. Murder is murder, they say. Had he killed a police officer, another public servant, there is little doubt that he would have received life. With 29 school employees killed violently on the job since 1992, the National Education Association is now offering homicide insurance to the 2.6-million members of the union. Talk to the family of the slain teacher, and you can understand why they do not want to be walking down the street some day and bump into the killer of their loved one.

Still, the question remains whether the seventh-grader deserved more or less. The judge may have ordered him to get his GED and take anger-management courses in prison, but can Nate be properly rehabilitated growing up inside? How much should he suffer for one fatal mistake? He had been an honor student. He had been mild mannered and likeable, the kind of kid whom teachers and principals relied upon to help settle schoolyard disputes. He loved school, and he loved Barry Grunow.

On the last day of school in May 2000, Nate was sent home early because he had been throwing water balloons. He was told to leave school, before he had a chance to say goodbyes to teenager Dinora Rosales, his first serious girlfriend who only six days earlier had given him his first kiss. Fuming, he went home, got a gun belonging to his grandfather and returned to the school, where he stood outside Grunow?s classroom and demanded to see his girlfriend. Grunow did not take him seriously enough, so he cocked the gun. Then he fired one bullet, which struck Grunow in the head. As his favorite teacher lay dying, Nate ran.

In an interview with TIME before the jury convicted him in May, Nate said he did not intend to pull the trigger. It just happened. Afterward, he said, "I just felt like jumping into the lake and drowning myself. I was disappointed. Disappointed in myself."

At his emotional sentencing hearing this week, Nate read a statement as defense lawyers tried to persuade the judge to spare him life in prison. "Words cannot really explain how sorry I am," Nate told the judge, "but they're all I have." His mother, Polly Powell, blamed herself for the tragic turn in her son's life. While he may have been an A-student at school, he was surrounded by domestic abuse and alcoholism at home. She never made good choices in men, she said. The cops had gone to the family's house five times on domestic violence calls. Just months before the shooting, Powell also was diagnosed with breast cancer. "I don't know what happened with my baby," Powell told the judge. "We need to search ourselves as human beings and see how can we just throw away kids like this."

The teacher's widow, Pam Grunow, came to the sentencing hearing, carrying a quilt made by her husband's students. She told the judge, "Maybe tomorrow, another woman's husband, another little boy's daddy and another great teacher won't be sacrificed in an angry, crazy moment."

As for other teenage gunmen who have been incarcerated after school rampages, they received varying degrees of punishment, serving everything from two years to multiple life sentences. The 28 years handed down in Nate's case falls in the middle. He will get credit for the 428 days he has served awaiting the outcome of his trial.

Already, the months of confinement in an adult county jail have hardened Nate. It has forced him to turn inward in a seemingly callused, sullen and uncaring way. Teachers who see him now cannot believe how much he has changed. He also has grown; the puberty that no doubt helped drive many of his actions that fateful day, from his decision to arrive at school with flowers for a sweetheart to his pointing the gun at Grunow, have made Nate larger, broader across the shoulder, his voice deeper. He no longer looks like a child.

Even at 14, Nate still does not see the world like an adult. Adult inmates can often recall every detail of a crime even years afterward. Someday, Nate is likely to be serving a sentence for a crime that has receded like any childhood memory. Most people, by the time they reach their 40s, would have trouble remembering the names of seventh-grade teachers. Thirty years from now, Nate probably won't remember what Barry Grunow's face looked like. But no doubt he will remember the name.


Brazill convicted of second-degree murder, sentencing looms

May 16, 2001

A Florida jury convicted Nathaniel Brazill of second-degree murder with a firearm for shooting Barry Grunow, deciding that the boy did not plan to kill his seventh-grade English teacher.

The panel of nine women and three men deliberated for 16 hours before returning to a tightly packed and anxious courtroom. As the court deputy read the panel's verdict, mixed emotions washed across the faces of the two families torn apart by the shooting.

Paula Powell, Brazill's mother, sobbed silently after the verdict was read. But Grunow's brothers, widow and mother weren't smiling in triumph, instead staring straight ahead.

Standing erect in front of the shocked courtroom and dressed neatly in a beige button-down shirt and black tie, Brazill, 14, remained largely stoic throughout the proceeding, as he had during the trial and on the stand.

"He said 'not too bad,'" defense attorney Robert Udell recalled after the verdict. "He didn't say anything else and he went back [to a private room] and he cried."

Most of the Grunow family did not comment on the verdict, but the victim's brother, Curt Grunow, told Court TV they were "very disappointed" and felt "the jury must have been watching a different trial."

Although Circuit Court Judge Richard Wennet could conceivably sentence the 14-year-old Brazill to life in prison, the verdict was a small victory for the defense. The boy was charged with first-degree murder and faced a guaranteed sentence of life behind bars without parole if convicted of the more serious charge.

The prosecution pressed hard throughout the trial for a first degree murder conviction, arguing that Brazill made statements before the shooting that indicated he planned the killing. But the jury, instructed by Judge Wennet that premeditation meant thinking "long enough to allow reflection," decided that the boy was not guilty of the higher charge. They also convicted Brazill of aggravated assault with a firearm.

Both prosecutor Marc Shiner and defense lawyer Udell said that the sentencing phase of the trial, scheduled by Judge Wennet for June 29, will be all important. Florida law gives judges wide sentencing discretion for second-degree murder, which is defined an act "evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual."

Brazill could serve a minimum of 21 years in prison to a maximum of life behind bars.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the application of a statute that increases prison terms for crimes committed with firearms. But Udell claims that law, known colloquially as "10/20/life," does not apply to criminals younger than 16. The lawyer also said that his client's age and spotless prior history give Wennet the option of sentencing Brazill to less time than the statutory minimum.

Udell said he might ask a psychologist who examined Brazill to testify during the sentencing hearing. Dr. Phil Heller was expected to take the stand during the trial, but the defense decided not to call him for undisclosed reasons.

"He was not a sociopath," Heller said in a telephone interview after the verdict.

Shiner would not disclose a sentencing hearing strategy, but said he was pleased with the jury's decision in the trial.

"We were confident going into this case that the jury would make the right decision, a just decision. And we are confident that they did," said the prosecutor. "The jury did what they thought was right and what the law requires them to do and the system works."

Brazill shot Grunow on May 26, 2000, the last day of classes for Lake Worth Community Middle School. A boy without any history of disciplinary problems, Brazill was suspended that day for throwing a water balloon.

Upset that he would not be able to say goodbye to two friends for the summer, he returned to school with a gun and demanded that Grunow let him see the two girls, who were in his class. When the teacher refused, Brazill shot him between the eyes.

The highly emotional trial featured the testimony of 23 students — including Brazill — and many more teachers and community figures. Several of the children broke down on the stand when recalling the shooting of a beloved teacher by the mild-mannered and well-liked boy.

After the verdict, school officials and community leaders spoke of looking ahead and healing those scarred by the shooting.

"We're gonna be there for kids and we're gonna be there for teachers. As needs arise, we'll do what's best," said a somber Kevin Hatcher, principal of Lake Worth Community Middle School. "I am very excited that we'll have the opportunity to provide some closure prior to the school year ending."

The Reverend Thomas Masters, chairman of the Coalition for Justice and a vocal opponent of the decision to try Brazill as an adult, said it was necessary to mix compassion and political activism.

"We must continue to pray for the healing of the Grunow family," he stated. "At the same time we're going to have to go back to the drawing board and fix the juvenile justice system."



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