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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
And now prison: Adams talks with his attorney before his sentencing Monday for his part in three armed robberies. Teachers and administrators once described him as a solid young man.
TAMPA - Avery Adams called himself a mama's boy.
He took his mother, Jacqueline, to his senior prom. He blew her kisses in the stands during football and basketball games. Back in spring 2006, she said he never gave her any trouble.
But at the Tampa courthouse to support her son Monday, she acknowledged she has since borne a heavy load.
"It has been a nightmare for a while," she said.
In February 2007, less than a year after mother and son attended Leto High School's prom, Avery Adams was accused of committing a string of armed robberies. Last month, he and two co-defendants pleaded guilty.
The young man with dreams of playing college football came to court Monday in shackles. He faced up to 75 years in state prison.
Nineteen when he was arrested and 20 now, Adams apologized to his parents and to the judge.
"If you give me a second chance, you'll never see me in this courtroom ever again," he promised.
Adams' story once inspired.
In April 2006, St. Petersburg Times columnist Ernest Hooper wrote about Adams going all out with his prom duds and choosing his mother as his date.
Jacqueline Adams, an elementary school cook, faithfully attended all his sporting events. She also had breast cancer but refused most medical treatment.
Avery Adams said then that he planned to go to junior college.
He didn't make it. He got arrested in August 2006, accused of operating an unregistered vehicle.
Then came the more serious charges. Authorities said Adams and 20-year-old Andrew Adkins, another former Leto High football player, robbed people who were making nighttime deposits at banks.
The teens carried BB guns during the crimes. Demetrius Wise, then 19, drove the getaway car during one incident.
A bystander saw one of the robberies and wrote down the car's tag numbers. Sheriff's deputies found the three young men in the car.
Jacqueline Adams, 48, says her son fell into the wrong crowd. Despite his guilty plea, he told her that he did not commit the robberies. He said he had just been hanging out with friends when the cops came.
She wondered why he would need to steal. Shortly before his arrest, she had given him money to buy a cell phone and other things.
"I just couldn't believe," she said.
Jacqueline Adams prayed hard before court.
Wise got a sentence last week that included no jail.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder started with the other co-defendant, Adkins, on Monday.
The young man's attorney talked about mercy, saying Adkins had stolen money to help his mother's finances.
Holder ordered a youthful offender sentence of two years of community control, three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. The judge withheld adjudication for Wise and Adkins, so they won't be considered felons when they apply for jobs.
Avery Adams was next.
Caught smoking marijuana by a police officer in November, he was back in jail awaiting his sentence. He had no plea deal; his fate rested with the judge.
Holder read from an e-mail sent by Hooper. The columnist expressed his dismay over Adams' arrest, particularly after teachers and administrators had described him as such a solid young man.
The judge grew reflective. He said he had thought about these cases all weekend.
"It's very easy to be hard," the judge said of sentencing. "It's very easy to max someone out.
"You are but a moment away from what I refer to as the seventh level of hell, Florida state prison."
But Adams would be spared. Holder gave him the same sentence as Adkins.
Jacqueline Adams left the courtroom with tears of relief dampening her cheeks.
She still refuses treatment for her cancer, saying she's alive "by the grace of God."
Her sister, Tammie Gilbert, nodded.
"Even in the courtroom," Gilbert said, "there is a God."