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She Sentenced A Teen To 241 Years In Prison. Now She Wants Her Decision Overturned

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Evelyn Baker is a retired St. Louis Circuit Court judge who ruled in thousands of cases. There is one defendant she's not been able to forget - 16-year-old Bobby Bostic, who was convicted of robbery and other charges.

EVELYN BAKER: Bobby was special. He was a child. I hated treating children like adults. The law said I had to.

SIMON: Judge Baker sentenced Bostic to 241 years in prison in 1997. She says that's a sentence she would not deliver today. The judge has joined others to call for the United States Supreme Court to hear Bostic's case and overrule her own decision. We spoke with her earlier this week.

What did you think of Bobby Bostic when you first saw him in your courtroom?

BAKER: I thought he was a little sociopath with no remorse.

SIMON: He'd been part of a pretty bad crime, hadn't he?

BAKER: A series of crimes, yes - basically, they all took place in one night - robberies, assaults, abduction, car theft. It was a very busy night.

SIMON: Yeah. He was 16 years old.

BAKER: Yes, he was.

SIMON: Did that affect the way you saw him?

BAKER: Actually, it did. But his attorneys, his mother, his family were trying to get him to plead guilty to a term of no more than 30 years.

SIMON: Yeah. But he didn't take that.

BAKER: No. His father told him to be a man. Don't take it. Make them give it to you.

SIMON: Do you remember the moment you sentenced him?

BAKER: Yes, I do like yesterday. Bobby was a little kid. He was tiny. He couldn't smoke. He couldn't drink. He couldn't join the military. He couldn't vote.

SIMON: Do you remember what you said to him?

BAKER: Yes. Among other things, I told him that he was going to die in the Missouri Department of Corrections, that there is nobody in that courtroom who is going to be alive when he was eligible for parole. But when I think back on it, he was 16. They're all sociopaths. They don't understand the consequences of what they're doing.

SIMON: How do you feel about the sentence now?

BAKER: I would like to see Bobby have a chance to live in a free society. I'd like him to have an opportunity to show the world that he's changed, that he's matured, that he's an adult, understands the consequences of certain actions.

SIMON: What made you come forward now, Your Honor?

BAKER: Well, there's been a series of articles about Bobby. I saw a picture of him. Boy, that's not the little kid I sentenced. And one of the articles listed the types of things he's been doing while he's been in the Department of Corrections. And it's like, that little sociopath seems to have become a functioning adult human being. I think he should have a chance at a life.

SIMON: We spoke with Judge Baker before details had emerged about Wednesday's school shooting in Florida. The suspect there is a young man not much older than Bobby Bostic was when he was in Judge Baker's courtroom. We called back the judge on Thursday afternoon after the Florida shooter had just been arraigned.

The attorneys of the accused shooter - public defenders told the court that he was a broken young man from a broken home and, in fact, had brain damage at one point. Did it make you think of the case we talked about?

BAKER: I don't think Bobby had brain damage, but he was a broken child.

SIMON: Are you sympathetic to the argument they made?

BAKER: Yes, I am because I've seen too many kids like this young man. I think one of the things I heard was that he and his younger brother were adopted. We don't know what he was subjected to or exposed to prior to his adoption. And, of course, then his, I guess, adoptive father died. And now his adoptive mother has died.

SIMON: Yeah.

BAKER: That puts a lot of psychological strain on anybody. And if you're dealing with someone who very well might have some type of brain damage or has been subjected to severe abuse and neglect at a very early age, it compounds the problem.

SIMON: You must know it's difficult for almost anybody to hear a sympathetic argument in behalf of someone accused of killing 17 people.

BAKER: Yes. And I'm not saying that he needs to be walking free. I think he does need to be institutionalized. But the question is, what kind of institution?

SIMON: Judge Baker, thank you so much.

BAKER: You're welcome.

SIMON: Evelyn Baker, former circuit court judge in Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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