Eric Morse died when he was only 5, dropped from a 14th-floor window because he would not steal candy for two older boys. His 9-year-old brother lives with the memory of his failed battle to stop them.
Now, the two boys accused in the death face years behind locked doors. The two, who confessed to dropping Eric from the high-rise, were found delinquent of first-degree murder Wednesday.The shocking cruelty of the crime - which took place in September 1994 in a vacant Chicago Housing Authority apartment - drew national attention and outraged the city, where an 11-year-old had been slain by members of his own gang two weeks earlier.
During the two-day hearing, Derrick Lemons testified that he fought the two boys, 10 and 11 at the time, in an attempt to save his little brother.
As the boys dangled Eric out a window, Derrick, then 8, said he tried to pull his brother in again, but the older boy bit his finger.
"I let him go and (the older boy) still had him and he let him go, and he fell," said Derrick, so small he had to sit on a telephone book to be seen over the witness box. "I ran down the stairs."
A prosecutor asked him why.
"Trying to catch him," Derrick said.
He testified that the boys lured him and Eric to the vacant apartment on the pretext of showing them a clubhouse. The two boys were mad at Eric because he got them in trouble with their parents and wouldn't steal candy for them, Derrick said.
The accused, small for their age and wearing white T-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes, fidgeted during the proceedings Wednesday. One kept turning away from the defense table to watch a sketch artist.
Defense lawyers presented no witnesses but argued that the boys were functionally illiterate and could not understand what was happening when police questioned them.
"It was the state's job to present the case, and we thought they hadn't proved it beyond a reasonable doubt," defense lawyer Amy Friedlander told reporters. She said she would probably appeal.
During her closing argument, Friedlander said the state's evidence came from the testimony of a confused child, Derrick, and a statement from an investigator who didn't take notes during interviews.
Sentencing was set for Nov. 14.