Teen-agers On Trial

Two Plead Guilty And Ask For Mercy

Two of the girls charged in the case, Lisa Warzeka and Katie Dunn, decided to plead guilty to armed robbery. They faced the possibility of 10 years or more in prison. The girls chose to have their sentences determined by a jury: in Texas, in cases like theirs, juries can be more lenient than judges.

In February, a jury heard the two girls' cases. To help her daughter Katie, Virginia Dunn testified. Her goal: to tell the jury how tough life has been for Katie growing up, in the hope that the jury would not sentence her to hard time.

Dunn told the jury that she raised Katie and her two siblings alone, without much help from her ex-husband. Before moving to Kingwood, the family briefly had been on welfare.

Lawyer Pat Hubbard said that his client Katie committed the robberies to support a cocaine habit. "She...had been taking an escalating amount of drugs," Hubbard said. "That will over a period of time affect your judgment."

Katie told authorities that just before her arrest, she had been on a cocaine binge for more than two days. During the time of the robberies, her judgment was impaired by drugs, she said.

Hoping to convince the jury that she was sorry and deserved a second chance, Katie also took the stand. "I feel so terrible for what I've done," she said. "I know that they may never forgive me for this, but I will make it up to them in any way. If I have to wash their feet with a toothbrush, I would; I seriously would."

But during the cross-examination, prosecutor Terrence Windham got Katie to admit that the foursome didn't use all the robbery money for drugs; they also bought body piercings. Windham, who argued that the motive was simply greed, asked for prison time for the girls.

"These defendants didn't just steal their money," he said, referring to the impact on the victims. "They took their peace of mind. They took their sense of security in earning a living. And anything less than penitentiary time for that would be an injustice."

But Lisa's lawyer Crespin Linton said in his closing argument that the girls deserved a break: "Six months of hell in the Harris County jail has awakened them to the reality of what they've done wrong," he said.

On the second day of deliberations, the jury reached a decision: It gave Lisa and Katie seven years in state prison. Upon hearing the verdict, Katie nearly collapsed in court. The two will be eligible for parole after serving three years.

The judge in the cases, Mark Kent Ellis, had some final words for the two defendants: "You made a choice. Despite all the advantages that you had, in your homes, in your school, in your neighborhood, you made a choice. And that choice was to be thugs. Spare me your tears. You have sown the wind, and you have now reaped the whirlwind."

Last spring Krystal Maddox went on trial. Because the case had attracted so much attention in Houston, her criminal trial was moved 240 mies north, to Dallas. The only one of the four who pleaded not guilty, Krystal was being tried as an adult. Her well-off family hired a high-powered lawyer, Robert Scardino.

"She's a sweet, demure, immature 16-year-old girl," Scardino said of his client.

Others had a different view. "I was very wary of her," says Katie's mother Virginia Dunn. "I told Katie, 'Maybe you need to rethink your choice of friends.'" Dunn calls Krystal the ringleader.

Before her arrest, Krystal apparently was getting into trouble: At her sentencing trial, Katie testified that she and Krystal had used cocaine, heavily for a time.

"She's the one who would call everybody and say, 'Hey let's go do this,'" Katie said of Krystal's role in the robberies. "I'm, like, whoa. She'd have the place picked out, the time, the clothes all ready, everything. That girl was prepared!"

Still Krystal decided to plead not guilty.

But even Scardino concedes that "not guilty" is not the same as "innocent.""The term 'not guilty' is a legal term," he explained. "It's not necessarily 'I didn't do it,' but 'they can't prove I did it.'"

Even if Krystal was involved in the armed robberies and even with testimony from the other girls, she may still avoid conviction. Under Texas law, a jury cannot convict a defendant solely on the testimony of accomplices. To convict Krystal, the prosecution had to present other evidence.

All three girls did testify against Krystal. Lisa told the jury that Krystal had driven the getaway car, a Pontiac Firebird. Krystal's father had given her a Firebird as a gift.

A key part of the prosecution's case: Detective Billy Stevens told the jury that Krystal was the group's leader.

Krystal's friend Shelly Frye testified that Krystal had admitted to one of the robberies. Michelle Mourneau also testified that she thought that Krystal had come up with the idea of the robbery.

On April 10, the jury found Krystal guilty of aggravated robbery. She faced a wide range of penalties: from probation to 99 years in prison, for each of three counts.

On April 14, the jury sentenced Krystal to seven and a half years in prison. She will be eligible for parole after serving half of that time.

Morneau, who agreed to testify against her friends, served just four months in a corrections boot camp and is now on probation and is doing OK.

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