Walter "J.J." Revear, whose legal woes go back to fifth grade, deserves prison instead of more mercy, a judge decides.
By GRAHAM BRINK
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000
TAMPA -- Five years ago, Walter "J.J." Revear gained notoriety as Hillsborough County's youngest jail inmate, 12 years old, charged as an adult but barely able to see out of the jury box at court hearings.
On Monday, Revear, more than a foot taller and sporting a mustache, became just another in a long list of teenagers sentenced to state prison.
Revear, now 17, violated his probation for robbery charges by taking a gun from a friend, ruled Hillsborough Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa. It was a serious violation, he said, another in a growing number of problems noted in Revear's swollen case file.
Calling the decision one of the hardest he's had to make since becoming a judge three years ago, Espinosa sentenced Revear to six years in prison. Revear will get credit for time served in a prison boot camp, which could cut the sentence to about four years.
"You must be accountable for your actions," Espinosa said.
The sentence left the teenager's many supporters in attendance crying and shaking their heads. They had seen "great progress" in Revear in the past few years. It was unfair to expect to undo 15 years of turmoil and trouble in just a few months, they said.
"It doesn't change overnight," said Randy White, senior pastor at Without Walls International Church where Revear went to school. "He really needs some grace and mercy."
Revear was in fifth grade in 1995 when he and three older boys were charged with robbing two men at gunpoint at a bank machine. Police said Revear was the getaway driver. He was found guilty and later pleaded guilty to robbing a woman in a parking garage, trying to rob someone else and stealing cars.
The judge in those cases felt Revear was too young to send to prison, and couldn't sentence him as a juvenile. Instead, he received house arrest.
Revear violated the conditions of that sentence at least twice by smoking marijuana and playing basketball late at night when he should have been at home. At one point he was sent to boot camp at Sumter Correctional Institute. He was also accused, but later acquitted, of taking part in a string of car thefts and burglaries.
Still on probation, Revear moved in with Robert and Brenda Fruster about two years ago after they agreed to be his court-appointed guardians. Revear's biological parents had their own run-ins with the law and troubles with substance abuse.
The Frusters live in a well-tended suburb north of Carrollwood, surrounded by middle-class comforts. Revear became involved at Without Walls International Church, a congregation of more than 2,500 that claims to be "perfect for people who aren't."
Through the church, Revear met Ken Hefner and went to work at his car-detailing business. A year ago, Hefner was preparing to move and asked Revear to help him sort through some boxes. At one point, Hefner showed Revear some old photos and a small unloaded handgun. They continued working and Hefner forgot about the gun. Later he realized it was missing and called the Frusters.
Revear denied any wrongdoing when Fruster asked about the gun. Revear later admitted he had taken the gun, which was recovered and returned to Hefner.
Several months later, Mrs. Fruster included the incident on a list she gave to the probation officer of what she called minor problems they were having with Revear. According to Revear's rules of probation, he was not allowed to possess a gun. The probation officer reported it to the court in January.
"He needs to go to prison," prosecutor John Grant III said Monday. "He has been given more grace and mercy than any defendant I've seen come through the system."
The Frusters, Hefner and several pastors from the church all tried to convince the judge that Revear didn't deserve prison. They said he had a B average at school and was on track to graduate in a year. He dressed well, was communicating better and treated people with respect, they said.
Revear had some problems, they said, but no more than a regular teenager. The endless media attention didn't help, either.
"I think he has a great heart," Hefner said. "I think for J.J. to go to jail would be the worst thing."
- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.