Kelly’s juvenile records show neglect, then criminal delinquency

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 4:59 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Before Ezekiel Kelly became a convicted criminal, he entered the justice system as a dependent and neglected child, according to an exclusive review of his juvenile court records.

Neglected children are more likely to commit crimes later, newly-elected Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon said in an interview with Action News 5.

“What we’ve done in the past doesn’t work and the consequences of not taking care of a problem early on in the child’s life is what we’re seeing now.”

By the time Kelly was 15 years old, he had been charged six times as a juvenile delinquent. In 2018, he was convicted of aggravated robbery and sent to a hardware secure facility run by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

Kelly’s juvenile record came to an end when he was transferred to adult court after he was charged in a shootout that happened in February 2020 on Willow Wood Avenue. Two people were injured, including a 13-year-old.

Kelly faced two counts of attempted first-degree murder but was later convicted of one count of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to three years in prison but spent 11 months at the Shelby County Correctional Center. He had already spent 14 months behind bars between the juvenile detention center and the Shelby County jail.

To try and stop at-risk youth from turning to a life of crime, Sugarmon wants to implement programs used in Nashville’s juvenile justice system in Shelby County, which would include counseling and substance abuse treatment for families.

“For those who are afraid in the community: all of us are,” said Sugarmon. “All of us realize the rise in crime, especially the rise in youth crime, is an issue but we’ve got to change the way we address it.”

Action News 5 also found Cleotha Abston Henderson had a history in juvenile court. He had been in juvenile detention 16 times before he was transferred to the adult system when he was 17 for kidnapping Memphis defense attorney Kemper Durand at gunpoint in May 2000.

Abston Henderson stands accused of kidnapping and murdering St. Mary’s teacher and mother-of-two Eliza Fletcher last Friday.

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