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In one sense, the story of two boys nicknamed Antoine and Tony came to an end in late January when a Cook County judge sentenced them to prison, turning them into America's youngest inmates.
At age 10 and 11, the boys had killed 5-year-old Eric Morse by dropping him from a high-rise window; now they would be locked away from a society that had recoiled at the crime and their utter lack of remorse. But, in many respects, the boys' story is just beginning for an army of social workers, psychologists and prison officials who have been given an urgent and perhaps impossible task by Juvenile Judge Carol Kelly.
Since the boys, who are now 12 and 13, can be held only until they are 21, Kelly has ordered the experts to figure out how they could kill as casually as they scooped up creatures from Lake Michigan to take home as pets.
Then she wants the experts to do what they can to ensure that when Antoine and Tony emerge from prison in less than a decade, they don't kill again.
In bluntest terms, that means reaching into their personalities and discovering what makes them 12- and 13-year-old human beings and not cold-blooded killers.
Some pieces of the puzzle will emerge Monday when prison officials and other experts appear before Kelly to disclose comprehensive treatment and educational plans for each boy. For months, experts have been analyzing the boys' histories and backgrounds to devise their strategies.
It would be easy to see the outlines of their stories and dismiss them as products of painfully familiar inner-city "risk factors": drugs, gangs, neglect and blight.
But a reconstruction by the Tribune of their lives from psychological and probation office reports, court records and interviews with teachers, relatives, mental health workers and law enforcement officials, indicates a more complicated picture--and some signs of hope:
- There's the scene of tiny, rugged Antoine in 1st grade carefully tending a peach plant so it would be ready to give his mother and grandmother on Mother's Day.
- There's the recollection of a family friend that he was a playful little boy, "always clean, wearing these little cotton clothes." And the boy's own distinctively conventional answer to a psychiatrist's request to tell his three wishes: a red Chevrolet, a house and a store of his own.
- Even after the boys plummeted into a ragged life on the streets, Tony displayed the human touches of friendship: He fed and took care of his younger buddy, Antoine.
Such moments that defy the grimmest portrait may be critical in figuring out how they can be infused with traits of compassion, empathy and trust.
The same kids who tossed a 5-year-old out of a window because he wouldn't steal candy for them also had an unusual fascination for animals.
"They'd go to the (Lake Michigan) beach and bring back turtles, fish, frogs, worms, crabs and other sea animals. They'd put them in a tank," said Andrew Wesley, an 11-year-old Ida B. Wells public housing complex resident who lives in its low-rise apartments.
The same criminal histories that log arrests for theft, battery and possession of weapons and narcotics contain a poignant incongruity: Antoine and Tony once were arrested for something that seems almost "normal," stealing a hamster from a downtown pet shop.
Still, there are formidable social and psychological hurdles.
Antoine and Tony grew up at 527 E. Browning Ave., one of a handful of high-rise buildings in the Wells development, a drab 63-acre complex about a mile and a half south of McCormick Place. One of the CHA's larger complexes, it is close to the lake and has some newly renovated units for working-class families. But it also has many units that typify the worst of urban slums: cramped, filthy, overrun by roaches and in appalling disrepair.
As they grew, the boys were alternately nurtured and ignored by adults whose own lives were combustible and unpredictable, though neither came from stereotypical single-parent households characterized by a string of unplanned pregnancies.
Tommy Jenkins and Sandra Johnson, Tony's parents, had been together for many years and in fact dated for three years before his birth. Johnson was regarded as a quiet, ambitious woman who worked at a fashion shop while attending classes at Malcolm X College.
Shirley and Wade Rankins, Antoine's parents, early on succumbed to alcohol and drugs, but the boy was close to a grandmother and aunt and was able to spend many weekends with them in their apartment.
Nevertheless, by the time they killed Eric Morse, the boys were like a time bomb, their actions woefully predictable, experts say. Angry and defiant, frustrated and lonely, they lived in a primitive, violent world where they were blind to the consequences of their actions and where the feelings of others played no part in the daily calculus of life.
The boys suffer, in clinically understated parlance, from something called "severe childhood conduct disorder."
"These are kids who are impulsive, they literally don't think before they act," said a mental health expert who has evaluated one of the two youths. "They need to be taught how to think. They need to be taught how to take someone else's point of view."
The extremes of their lives make for disparate conclusions. Tony, the older boy, thought his dad--a one-time auto mechanic turned gang member, criminal and, curiously, Civil War buff--was "the best thing since ice cream," according to one relative.
Neighbors recall that when Tony was 4, his dad began picking him up at school and taking him to Ellis Park, on the South Side, to teach him the ominous art of living in a CHA development.
The little boy was learning to fight by shadow-boxing, towels tied around his hands, a bar of soap taped in each one.
Antoine, a 4-foot-11 wisp of a boy, acquired a veritable menagerie, roaming the neighborhood collecting stray dogs, walking them before and after school and scavenging rusted trash bins for food for his pets. He told adults he wanted to be a dog trainer.
Among the threads that run through Tony's story is the time he spent with his father and their dog named General Grant. The combination Rottweiler and Doberman pinscher was so vicious that during the day he was chained in a locked closet just outside the boy's room in the family's seventh-floor apartment.
"Everybody was scared of that dog," Tony's father said, "but he loved my son."
But their good traits are usually laced with a streak of cruelty. Teenagers in the Wells complex recalled that the boys would whack their dogs in the face with stones to toughen them up--then order the dogs to attack other youths to steal their money.
Certainly in reconstructing the boys' lives, experts will look at the spring of 1993, when two events seem to have sent them spinning out of control. And they are events that may, in the long run, have been more pivotal than the beatings they witnessed and were subjected to or the sight, in Antoine's case, of his parents stretched out on an old sofa in the evenings smoking crack cocaine.
That was when both families were forced to move out of their apartments--because of CHA renovation--and both fathers were imprisoned.
Though the fathers were unsavory characters who set an example of violence and criminality in the household, it was their abrupt departure from the boys' lives that seemed to break the youths' grasp on any sense of order.
"The absence of his natural father created a devastation for (Tony)," the boy's probation officer wrote. "For a child who was used to spending so much time with his natural father this absence created a harsh adjustment."
"As bad as this guy (Tony's father) may have looked from the outside, he may have been dependable for this kid," said Patrick Tolan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Sandra Johnson, the boy's mother, told a court psychologist that her son, who flunked every class in 4th grade, "didn't do his school work because his father was not with him."
The event was complicated in that the father was imprisoned for stalking and attacking his mother, who had refused to reconcile with him after he had an affair. Tony blamed his mother for his dad's fate and soon flouted all attempts by his mother to discipline him or keep him at home.
"When a person who the child is dependent upon is removed suddenly from their life, it's not unusual for a child to be angry and sad and act aggressively," Tolan said.
In 1992 and 1993, Antoine suffered another bitter loss: His grandmother died, along with his aunt, who had AIDS.
"Wouldn't you feel angry inside if you ain't got nobody?" said Saundra Davis, a family friend. "That boy felt alone. He was a child in the wilderness."
After their fathers went to prison, CHA Police Officers Laurie Sabatini and Donnie Hixon began spotting the youths loitering along Pershing Road and Vincennes Avenue.
"The older boy (Tony) wasn't a prodigal son or anything, but he wasn't one of the bad kids until he hooked up with the younger boy," Hixon said. "It was the younger boy (Antoine) who had the smart mouth."
Tony and Antoine called themselves SWA, an acronym for "Shorties With an Attitude," and they soon took up a haphazard life on the streets. They often slept in gutted, abandoned apartments.
Tony's mother would call police in the middle of the night, crying, begging them to look for her son in the morning. Sabatini and Hixon sometimes cleaned him up, took him to breakfast and then dropped him off at school.
When the officers once found drugs on the kids that they were carrying for gang members, Tony's mother was summoned to the police station. Wildly frustrated, she beat him viciously in front of the police officers. But the pain only seemed to harden the boy and make him fear going home.
A 4th-grade teacher wrote of Tony: "Never does any school work . . . talks out loud to himself in class and makes all kinds of strange noises. He often refuses to sit down, leave the room to go to lunch, go home or do anything."
About a month before Eric's death, Antoine got into a fistfight with a teacher at Doolittle School. A few days later, his mother came by to look at his school work and gently set a box of doughnuts on his desk. He refused to look at her, but later, grinning, shared the treats with friends.
"It made him feel important that his mother had bought him doughnuts. He had a lot of anger in him, but he had more than just anger in him," said his teacher, Teddy Osantowski.
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Experts say there is no model program--no combination of medication and therapy--that has proven effective in permanently changing such youths. Experts say the two boys' prognosis is further clouded by their low IQs--Tony's is 76, Antoine's 57--which limits their ability to absorb therapeutic lessons or learn job skills.
Antoine, especially, has an extremely poor memory and difficulty articulating even the most basic ideas. "He's 12, but he acts like a 5-year-old," said one official who has worked with the youth.
Still, though there is no assurance of success, there is consensus on the most effective treatment.
"You have to completely restructure these individuals' inner and outer worlds," said David Hartman, director of neuro-psychology at the Isaac Ray Center at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center. "That's not a matter of a month or a year but a decade or more. There are a lot of people who say it can't be done."
Much of their behavior, experts feel, was a type of copycat reaction to what they saw at home.
"It's called the slide or train of violence," explained Bruce Perry, a professor of child psychiatry at the Baylor University School of Medicine in Houston. "When the child gets bigger, they begin to beat younger siblings or weaker kids in the neighborhood. Remember, these two boys didn't drop a 15-year-old out of the window. They picked someone weaker than themselves."
Tony received some counseling at a community center in the Wells' complex, but Antoine got no formal help. The only member of his family he seemed close to after his aunt and grandmother died was his older brother.
The brother, now 15, was charged on Jan. 28 with the rape of a 4-year-old girl in a stairwell of a Wells high-rise.
"The boy raised himself," said David Hirschboeck, an assistant public defender who represents Antoine. "His mother said that he was beyond control, but there was no concerted effort to bother with him."
Experts say therapists working with the kids must focus on modifying their behavior primarily through strict discipline. If the boys stay out of trouble and follow prison rules, they should be rewarded. If the boys break the rules, they should be immediately punished.
But therapists also must try to get the boys to recognize and talk about their feelings, to literally stop when they get mad and think out acceptable actions.
It has still not been decided where the boys will serve their time--though experts agree they should be separated. But no matter where they go, the prison environment itself will pose problems.
"(The Department of Corrections) must keep the boys out of gangs, and I don't know if they can do that," said one psychologist.
A key factor in whether the boys have any chance at living normal lives, experts say, is their parents.
At least one mental health expert says the court should legally sever the parents' rights over Tony and Antoine if the parents fail to take an active role in the boys' lives--and get help for their own entrenched problems.
Johnson, Tony's mother, is already undergoing counseling for depression and has visited her son several times since he was incarcerated at the Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles in early February, according to court records. Jenkins, the boy's father, who is scheduled to be released from prison later this year, plans to rejoin his longtime girlfriend and younger son.
Jenkins says he'll do whatever it takes to help his boy in prison, though he does not believe his son needs intensive therapy. "Once I get out, everything will be all right. I will be able to keep him in line," said Jenkins, who as a juvenile was incarcerated at St. Charles and two other state youth prisons. "Whatever my son goes through, I have to go through it with him."
Antoine's family is more problematic. Wade Rankins, the boy's father, was released from prison in December 1994, but was charged with battery after kicking his 6-year-old grandson in a waiting area outside a juvenile courtroom. The case was later dropped.
The family has moved four times since Antoine was arrested in October 1994 and is now living in an apartment outside Ida B. Wells, on 48th Street. Shirley Rankins, Antoine's mother, completed a drug-rehab program and now works part time as a waitress.
But she failed to show up for a key meeting with a court psychologist while her son was at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center; both parents also failed to visit Antoine for a month after he was sent to St. Charles.
They also failed to return numerous telephone calls last month from Antoine's lawyers seeking to inform them about their son's situation--though the apparent lack of concern may be related to the fact that the mother has an outstanding arrest warrant on a 1993 drug charge and a charge of trying to smuggle heroin into Cook County Jail.
Hirschboeck and David McMahon, an assistant public defender who also represents Antoine, finally tracked down Shirley Rankins late last month as she was entering the Cook County Juvenile Courts Building. Looking tired and worn, she was accompanying her eldest son to court for a hearing on his rape charge.
Asked how Antoine is doing in prison, the mother angrily shot back: "He's doing all right." Asked what treatment she hopes her son will get during his incarceration, she responded, "I know nothing about that, nothing at all."
One measure of hope is that teachers and social workers say Antoine and Tony are relatively well-behaved when they are closely supervised.
Osantowski, Antoine's 5th-grade special education teacher, said that after the youth attacked her and was suspended from school for several days, the boy did not act out again in the remaining weeks before he was arrested for Eric's murder.
Osantowski said the key to controlling Antoine was setting strict limits and showing him that she cared about his academic progress. She moved Antoine, who is illiterate, to the front of her class, where she constantly watched over him and helped him with his schoolwork.
Osantowski, who is now director of special education at the Posen-Robbins school district, remembers: "His behavior improved 100 percent."
Two years ago, a 10-and 11-year old murdered 5-year-old Eric Morse by casually dropping him out of a high-rise window. Now officials must wrestle with a judge's charge to rehabilitate them-if that can be done.
"When asked, `if I could be any animal...' he responded, `I would be a pit bull' so he could defend himself." -- PSYCHIATRIST'S REPORT
"He often uses profanity and disregards any limits set for him..he has had numerous fights, using both his fits and any available weapon." -- DETENTION CENTER REPORT
"He enjoys sports, watching television, playing video games and listening to music." -- PROBATION OFFICE REPORT
"He has been involved in several group disturbances fights, and verbal altercations with both staff and peers...he needs to be counseled and supervised closely due to his explosive nature." -- DETENTION CENTER REPORT
A VIOLENT PATH
By the time they killed Eric Morse, the boys were like a time bomb, their actions woefully predictable, experts say. Angry and defiant, frustrated and lonely, they were blind to the consequences of their actions.
Many units typify the worst of urban slums: filthy, overrun by roaches and in appalling disrepair.
Age at time of crime: 10
Age when sentenced: 12
Date of birth: Nov. 21, 1983
Grew up on 3rd floor of a CHA high-rise with his mother, father, older brother, step-sister and aunt.
"His father has 21 arrests and was in prison...at the time Eric Morse was killed." -- COURT RECORDS
"The mother has one drug conviction and is wanted by police for drug possession." -- COURT RECORDS
He has an IQ of 57 and has a severe learning disability. Cannot read or write.
"Three-year discrepancy between his grade placement and his achievement. -- TEACHER'S REPORTS AND SCHOOL RECORDS
"Verbally assaulted and threatened teachers." -- TEACHERS'S REPORTS AND SCHOOL RECORDS
"He feels unloved by his mother whom he perceives as chronically angry with him...unloved, disliked, and mistreated by everyone." -- PSYCHOLOGIST'S REPORTS
"He is a chronically depressed youth... this leads him to respond to others with withdrawal, anger and misbehavior." -- PSYCHOLOGIST'S REPORT
Age at time of crime: 11
Age when sentenced: 13
Date of birth: Jan. 3, 1983
Lived on the 7th floor of the same CHA high-rise as Antoine. Lived with his mother, father and younger brother.
"His father has 9 arrests and is currently in prison finishing an 8-year sentence." -- COURT RECORDS
"His mother has no criminal record and has worked for many years as a sales clerk." -- COURT RECORDS
He has an IQ of 76 and has been diagnosed with a learning disability. He failed 4th grade and 5th grade.
"He is extremely hyperactive and has a difficult time focusing on his class work to completion...however he is cooperative with the teacher." -- DETENTION CENTER SCHOOL REPORT
"He has angry feelings towards his parents and parent figures, viewing his parents as unavailable to him." -- PSYCHOLOGIST`S REPORT
"He has an explosive temper whenever demands are made by authority figures...(but) he is beginning to develop some insight into his behavior and is not as impulsive as he was at the start of his incarceration." -- PROBATION OFFICE REPORT