Abuse didn't justify killing dad, judge says
By Andrea Simakis, Plain Dealer Reporter
(Cleveland) Plain Dealer, November, 22, 2001

There is no doubt that Gregory Scruggs Jr. was abused by his father, Judge Janet Burney told a packed courtroom yesterday.

"Blacked eyes, scars and bruises," she said, "should never be part of parental discipline."

But the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court judge still found the 13-year-old boy delinquent by virtue of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of his father in June.

The abuse, she told Gregory, did not justify the killing - though she made it clear that she did not consider him a lost cause.

"I do not want you to think because this court has found you delinquent of killing your father, this court is giving up on you, young man," the judge told the slight boy in the black suit. "That is not the case at all. Do you understand, Gregory?"

"Yes," Gregory replied.

Nearly 30 witnesses and 60 exhibits presented over nine days convinced Burney that almost everybody knew that Gregory, who admitted killing his father, was being battered. Yet no one - from Shaker Heights police to county social workers, to aunts, uncles and cousins - ever did anything about it.

"This did not have to happen," Burney said.

Burney did not buy the argument that the boy acted in self-defense the day he put a bullet in the back of his dad's head as the man sat at his dining room table eating a sandwich.

Burney won't announce Gregory's punishment until Dec. 3. Her options are wide open, concede both the prosecution and the defense.

She could send Gregory, who has been in a detention home since June, to a juvenile lockup until he is 21, or give him less time. She could also order Gregory to undergo psychiatric treatment.

As the judge delivered her ruling, she hinted at taking a gentler route.

The case, according to Burney, was symbolized by what Gregory carried in a duffel bag to his grandmother's house after the killing: A Nintendo game, which represented youth and innocence; the gun, which symbolized violence and death; and a Bible, "which many people see as a symbol of hope and redemption," the judge said.

"We will seek to rehabilitate and restore the hope of children caught up in violence," Burney said.

After the judge left the bench, Gregory's mother, Nafia Matthews, who had quietly attended each day of her son's trial, got into a yelling match with the boy's uncle, Lavelle Scruggs.

"You're the reason my baby's sitting in jail!" Matthews shouted as a guard pulled her from the courtroom.

Matthews said she dropped out of the boy's life when he was 3 because his father, Greg Sr., was beating and tormenting her.

Outside the courtroom, she dried her tears and explained her outburst.

"Lavelle Scruggs and [his wife] Crystal Scruggs, they can go home and have Thanksgiving dinner and my son can't. They sat here in court and said they knew he was being abused and they did nothing," she said.

Matthews stood at the entrance of Juvenile Court, the building almost empty as clerks and lawyers scurried home to be with their families. "My soul is hurting," she said.

Lavelle Scruggs testified during the trial that he knew his brother was beating Gregory but that he tried to stop the abuse. "We almost got into a couple of fights over how he was treating Gregory," he said. Blaise Thomas, an assistant county prosecutor, said Burney followed the law in making her decision.

"The judge avoided giving into the emotion and sympathy that surrounds this case," he said.

Martin Keenan, one of Gregory's lawyers, said he didn't understand how Burney could agree that his client was an abused child but not acquit the boy.

Gregory was also confused, Keenan said.

"He asked me what happened," Keenan said. "All he knows is he's going back to the detention home."

Still, the boy told his lawyer he likes Judge Burney and thinks she is "nice."

Contact Andrea Simakis at:
asimakis@plaind.com, 216-999-4565

2001 The Plain Dealer.

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