By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
Michael's lawyer, Richard Rosenbaum, is best known for having represented Lionel Tate in the appellate trial that overturned that boy's conviction for first-degree murder in 2003. Tate, who was twelve years old when he beat a six-year-old neighbor to death, avoided spending life in prison without parole (the required punishment for first-degree murder under Florida law, even for juveniles) by working out a plea deal for second-degree murder.
The Hernandez family also hopes to work out a plea bargain, so that neither family has to go through the misery of a trial. Regarding the confession, Rosenbaum contends that a mentally ill fourteen-year-old should have had a lawyer or a parent present before he was interviewed. One judge has already ruled that Michael is mentally ill but competent to stand trial. A defense psychiatrist's contention that Michael suffers from paranoid schizophrenia has thus far been negated by two court-appointed experts.
Michael has spent most of the past three years in the juvenile ward of Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. His parents visit him twice a week, where they scream to their son through a glass barrier in order to be understood. Once a month they get what's called a "contact visit," allowing them to sit in the same room as Michael, along with a policeman. They haven't had a private conversation with their son since the morning of February 3, 2004. "As parents, we have no rights," says Kathy.
A phone call is $2.25, although the phone tends to disconnect frequently and one call can end up costing nearly seven dollars. They send him books. Kathy talks with her co-workers and friends to try to determine what type of literature Michael would be reading if he were still in school. To have books delivered to the jail, his family must order them directly from the publisher. Most recently she purchased him Great Expectations and The Canterbury Tales, which she says he enjoyed. Michael also likes books by Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. He listens to the radio and has gotten into rock music.
As far as education goes, his parents say there isn't really any. "When they say 'school,' people visualize a classroom, but it's not that way. He sits at a table with kids that can't read," says Kathy.
The inmates are seldom allowed outside. Inside the fluorescent lights are on 24 hours a day. Breakfast is served at 1:00 a.m., lunch at 9:00 a.m., and dinner at 6:00 p.m. Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Janelle Hall says the schedule accommodates inmates who leave on 3:00 a.m. transports to court.
Michael broke his glasses two years ago, and Kathy says only recently did he get his eyes examined. "They give you a prescription and you have to go guess what size glasses will fit him," she says.
Michael's case is particularly perplexing. He was not a juvenile delinquent in any sense of the word. His crime was not committed during a botched theft or while trying to buy drugs. However the murder was calculated and well-planned, and committed without apparent remorse. For his parents, the very inhumanity of the crime is proof that the person committing it was mentally ill. They do not believe Michael's mind to be beyond the reach of doctors. His brain, they say, will not be fully developed until he is 25 years old.
"The ideal outcome is for Michael to be placed where he can get the psychiatric help he needs, the medication he needs, and the education he needs," says Kathy. It would take many, many doctors to make him well, she says. "But it would still be a place where he could get help. He wouldn't just be punished." At the correctional center, she says, "he will only deteriorate even more."
Kathy says she has gone around in circles trying to find someone who might advocate for Michael's mental health, but nobody has taken him up as a cause. For some people, it is a relief to know that Michael has a good chance of spending the rest of his life in jail.
For some who were close to Jaime Gough, anything other than a life sentence for Michael is unacceptable. Brian Kornbluth, who grew up in Edgewater Park with Jaime, went to the YMCA gym with Gough the night before he was killed. Maria Gough picked them up. They made plans to see a movie that weekend.
Now a student of music education at Miami Dade College, Kornbluth has little sympathy for Hernandez.
"I don't know if he's sane," says Kornbluth. "But he knew what he was doing, and he should pay for the crime. It's not like he was ten years old or five years old. He planned it out. He should spend the rest of his life in jail."
Kornbluth was a student at Killian Senior High in 2004, but he went to the bus stop to meet friends coming home from Southwood on February 3. For all of them the moment became something of a turning point in their lives. "It made me just stop and think about how life can end. One second you're here alive planning for the next day and the next second you're not."