Teen Sentenced for Stabbing Her Son 'Murdered Half of Me,' Mom Sobs
Leonard White, 16, convicted of voluntary manslaughter, will spend at least 4 years in prison. That's not enough, says the mother of the 17-year-old who died.
PONTIAC — A Walled Lake teenager accused in the stabbing death of a West Bloomfield teenager was sentenced as an adult to 4-15 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections Wednesday.
That isn't long enough, said the mother of the 17-year-old who died.
"I do believe with all of my heart that the jury made a mistake," said Amy O'Brien, in between sobs, as she read from a prepared statement. "I believe you, Leonard, should get life ... (White) murdered half of me."
Leonard White, 16, sat stoically in a baby blue-colored sweater in front of a packed courtroom of family and friends who openly wept after the sentence was announced. Also in attendance was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said that he knew the victim and his family.
White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in December. He will remain in a juvenile facility until he turns 17, then will be transferred to an adult prison.
Prior to sentencing, he asked Judge Wendy Potts for mercy. "When I pray at night ... I wish I could have saved (Rickman) myself," he said.
Johnathan Rickman, 17, died June 4 after a single stab wound to the abdomen with a steak knife, not far from the Chelsea Park subdivision home in which he lived with his father, Roderick Rickman.
Rickman and O'Brien both addressed Potts prior to sentencing. The respondent's attorney, Rowland Short, had asked for White to be sentenced as a juvenile.
After sentencing, Rickman said that he felt as though Potts sent "the right message" to children and families with her ruling. "When tragedies like this happen, there are consequences to their actions," he said. "I just hope it doesn't happen to another parent and that (White) is rehabilitated."
'I wish I could have saved him'
White originally faced an open charge of murder, with possibilities of conviction on either first- or second-degree murder charges, as well as a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, a considerably lesser offense, and was found not guilty on the assault charge.
White had testified that he was acting in self-defense by grabbing a knife from a kitchen counter and following the victim outdoors to the street on Rafford Lane after being repeatedly punched in the head at a party which involved drugs and gambling. White also recounted two years of bullying that crossed over into social media online and ended on an extremely hot summer weekend evening.
White's family members were upset with the sentence, supporting White's contention that he acted in self-defense.
"This was a case of bullying, which is very serious. At this time in society, when we have the strong system of juvenile justice and rehabilitation that we do, I find it very sad that (White) was sentenced as he was," said his grandmother, Rosemarie Brooks-Brown of Detroit.
"He is not a threat to society. He is very helpful and loving."
White had much of his past recounted in court as part of the pre-sentencing report, which included information that had not been previously discussed in open court.
Although currently excelling academically at Children's Village, according to attorneys, White had been certified as "learning disabled" and participated in special education classes as a high school student at Walled Lake Central. He was also involved in church, which was evident as he spoke to Potts prior to sentencing.
"I talk to the pastor every time I get a chance," White said softly, which required Potts to ask White to ask him to raise his voice. "He taught me how to heal and get closer to God."
After sentencing, Short said that although White had been sentenced as an adult, his conviction was for a far less severe charge.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," he said. "But we're happy it's not a 25-to-life sentence."
Potts delivers harsher sentence
Potts said that while she believed White to be truly sorry for Rickman's death, that he had other options available at the time.
White had testified that Rickman began to punch White after Rickman was egged on by friends. White said that in a cycle of events which "happened very fast," he grabbed a steak knife and ran after Rickman outside, entirely in self-defense.
Potts said that perhaps once outside, White could have run away.
Had Potts sentenced White as a juvenile, he would have been released on or before turning 21. Instead, she chose to send him first to a juvenile facility until he turns 17, then to an adult prison, saying the severity of the crime — the death of another human being — required the harsher sentence.
"I know you are sorry about his death but you still don’t seem to recognize that there were other options that were available," she said. "You thought that your actions ... were appropriate as you saw them."