What to Know
- A 13-year-old boy pleaded guilty to robbery in connection to the death of Barnard College student Tessa Majors, and was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention
- The plea deal means he will avoid murder charges. Two other teens have been charged as adults, and face murder charges
- Majors was fatally stabbed during a "robbery gone wrong" in Morningside Park on Dec. 10, police said
A 13-year-old boy was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention after pleading guilty to a robbery charge in connection to the killing of Barnard College student Tessa Majors in Morningside Park in late 2019.
The teen pleaded guilty earlier in June. According to the city's prosecutor James Johnson, the boy will serve at least six months in a limited secure facility before it is left up to the Administration for Children's Services whether to release him and monitor his progress in the community. He could be under ACS watch until his 18th birthday.
"Ms. Majors was a bright, promising, and talented young woman who had just begun to explore life as a college student in New York City when she was tragically and senselessly murdered," Johnson said in a statement. "While we have brought this portion of this horrific case to a close, we know that the pain of this loss will endure."
The plea deal, which was the first admission of guilt in connection to the killing, had the teen charged as a minor — allowing him to avoid facing a murder charge, along with a felony designation going on his record until he is 18. The boy's lawyer said her client admitted being present and involved in the fatal incident, including picking up the knife used in the stabbing, but was "not the main actor."
Instead, the teen said it was his pals, 14-year-olds Rashaun Weaver and Luciano Lewis, who actually went through with the killing of Majors as part of the "robbery gone wrong," as police called it at the time.
NBC New York is not identifying the teen who pleaded guilty because he was charged as a juvenile, but Weaver and Lewis have been identified after being charged as adults with second-degree murder and robbery. Both teens have pleaded not guilty to those charges.
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In a victim impact statement from Majors' family, said that the hearings only "amplified their pain," and were taken aback by the teen's "complete lack of remorse or contrition for his role in the murder" — a term the defendant's legal team neglected to every use, instead calling her death "tragic."
"Reading this description of events, some might wonder if perhaps Tess Majors was involved in an accident. Tess Majors did not die in an accident. Tess Majors was murdered, plain and simple, and no amount of semantic gymnastics changes that fact," read the statement from Inman and Christy Majors, Tessa's parents.
By his own admission, the respondent picked up a knife that had fallen to the ground and handed it to an individual who then used it to stab Majors to death. The family can’t help but wonder what would have happened if that knife had been left on the ground."
The family did not sparse words when it came to the city's prosecution either, saying their statement "also states that this plea deal resolution is 'in the best interest of the community.' The Majors family wonders how many in the community — any community, including the many Tess was a part of and the ones that her family members continue to be a part of — would agree with this assessment." Read the family's full statement here.
The Legal Aid Society, who represented the teenager, said their client didn't touch Majors or take any of her property, but said the plea "is consistent with our client's limited role in this tragic event."
After a lengthy manhunt, the three middle schoolers were all eventually charged in the months after Majors' December 2019 death. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said they believe Weaver was the one who stabbed the college freshman, as prosecutors allege that Lewis prevented her from escaping as she called out for help. Weaver was brought into police custody on February 14, while Lewis was charged six days later.
“While a criminal process will never fully heal the unimaginable pain suffered by Tessa Majors’ family and friends, this indictment is a significant step forward on the path to justice,” District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in a statement. “We are committed to holding these young people accountable, and equally committed to a fair process which safeguards their rights. This is how we will achieve true justice for Tessa and her loved ones.”
According to a criminal complaint, surveillance video taken from Morningside Park shows Majors walking into Morningside Park around 6:40 p.m. on Dec. 11.
The three accused teens are seen on video entering the same side of the park through a different entrance, the complaint says. Weaver was wearing “a navy jacket with a horizontal white stripe and a red stripe across the chest” in the video, according to the complaint.
At first, video shows the three following a male pedestrian through the park, but a subsequent video shows that the male is no longer being followed, the complaint says.
Around 6:47 p.m., surveillance video shows Weaver and the two others "surrounding a female who was walking up the stairs," but later shows them turn and walk back down the stairs after a different male pedestrian walks down the stairs, according to the complaint.
Less than two minutes later, a witness told police he heard a "male voice" near the stairs, the complaint says.
"Informant…. heard a male voice from the area just to the east of the landing, say in substance — run your s---. Gimme your phone. You got some weed, gimme that too," the complaint reads. "According to informant… after a few moments, he then heard a female voice scream, among other things, help me! I’m being robbed."
A minute later, surveillance video shows the three struggling with Majors on the landing before Majors "break[s] free and slowly stagger[s] up the stairs," the complaint says.
Majors’ blood was recovered from the landing and stairs, and DNA recovered from one of her fingernail clippings matched Weaver’s DNA profile, according to the complaint.
An autopsy found that Majors was stabbed in the torso several times; one of the stab wounds "pierced her heart," the complaint says.
The NYPD also obtained an audio recording in which Weaver admitted that he "hit [Majors] with a knife" inside the park after she refused to give up her phone, according to the complaint.
Weaver was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree robbery and three counts of second-degree robbery in connection with both Majors' death and with a separate robbery that took place inside Morningside Park on Dec. 7, according to a criminal complaint filed with the DA's office.
One of the murder counts represents "intentional murder," while the other represents a charge for "a murder caused in the course of a robbery," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. noted.
Detectives reviewed "a combination of many types of evidence ranging from scientific to digital to video to [Weaver's] own statements" prior to his arrest, Vance said.
Prosecutors say Weaver was also one of three people involved in a knifepoint iPhone robbery that took place inside Morningside Park four days before Majors' death, on Dec. 7.
Weaver was wearing the same jacket during that robbery, and Apple records reviewed by the NYPD showed that the stolen phone was logged into his iCloud account, according to the complaint.
Police previously described how the group of teenagers put Majors in a chokehold and removed items from her pockets. The college freshman was able to fight back, biting one of her attackers on the finger, police said.
The 13-year-old said he watched his friend slash Majors with a knife, according to a detective's testimony.
Detectives say the 13-year-old teen watched as Majors was stabbed at the base of the steps, feathers coming out of her jacket as she struggled to fight back. She was stabbed multiple times and managed to stagger out of the park to find a security guard for help. Majors died at a hospital.
In a statement after her death, Majors' family said they want to know "what exactly happened to Tessa and who committed her murder. We believe, for the immediate safety of the community and the surrounding schools, that should be everyone’s top priority and we are grateful to the men and women of the NYPD for all of their efforts."
Police immediately stepped up security in the park area after Majors died. Crime statistics show more robberies were reported in Morningside Park this year than in any other park in the city.