January 6, 1995 in Nation/World

Young Suspect Took System To The Limit Despite Kevin Boot’s 18 Convictions, The Law Couldn’t Keep Him Away From Society

William Miller Staff writer
 

Eighteen strikes and you’re still not out.

Welcome to the juvenile justice system, where 17-year-old Kevin Boot’s inches-thick court file has sparked public outrage.

Now charged with murder, the Spokane youth’s criminal record is long enough to stagger the most jaded police detective: 18 convictions in four years; three probation violations.

But he never was sent to a state juvenile institution reserved for hardcore offenders.

Until now, he never had faced prosecution as an adult.

Juvenile officials say Boot failed the system - rebuffing considerable rehabilitative efforts - rather than the other way around.

To many observers, however, the accused killer’s four-year journey through the juvenile system underscores the need for reform.

“It’s an outrageous failure of a system that’s been far too lax for too long,” charged state Rep. Mike Padden, R-Spokane.

The father of murder victim Felicia Reese also complains loudly of lenient treatment of young criminals.

Kenneth Reese said Boot escaped tough punishment despite a record replete with violence.

“It’s all violent stuff, and he has to kill somebody before he’s finally recognized (as dangerous)? It’s really wrong, really wrong,” Reese said.

Actually, Boot was recognized a few years ago.

During a dizzying crime spree, he was caught stealing, assaulting people and threatening others with guns and knives. Between April and October 1992, he notched 14 convictions in Juvenile Court, setting off alarm bells.

Boot earned a place high on the list of “serious and habitual offenders” receiving top-priority attention from police, probation officers, teachers and counselors.

For all of his crimes, he served a total of 1 years in the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center, authorities said.

The longest stretch behind bars was 40 weeks, starting in October 1992. A judge proclaimed him a danger to society and imposed an exceptional sentence for attacking someone with a shovel and participating in a gang fight.

The standard sentencing range for the crimes would have been 20 to 60 days.

Boot started out as a typical juvenile offender, notching convictions for a string of misdemeanors.

“A whole lot of petty crimes,” said Juvenile Court Administrator Tom Davis.

It began with a minor theft. Boot was hauled before a Neighborhood Accountability Board in October 1990. No formal charges were filed.

The following year, he was convicted of vehicle prowling and malicious mischief but served no time in detention, records show.

He kept getting arrested, for crimes ranging from assault to intimidation with a weapon, spending only a few days in detention for each offense.

His first felony conviction was a second-degree theft in August 1992, which put him behind bars for 30 days.

A residential burglary two months later led to his second-biggest sentence - 12 weeks in detention.

Last year, Boot faced the maximum penalty a juvenile court judge can order: detention until the age of 21. Police accused him of pointing a gun at two teenage girls and threatening to kill them.

But officers illegally entered a home to gather evidence in the case, Superior Court Judge Marcus Kelly ruled in April.

While police seized the alleged gun and obtained incriminating statements against Boot, Kelly tossed out the evidence because the officers failed to obtain a search or arrest warrant and weren’t invited into the residence.

Prosecutors were forced to dismiss the assault charges, returning Boot to the streets.

Kelly’s ruling is now being reviewed by the state Court of Appeals.

Since Boot and his cousin, Jerry Boot, 16, were arrested for the Dec. 29 kidnap-slaying of Felicia Reese, the clamor for juvenile reform has escalated.

Kevin Boot’s long record illustrates the need for “stiffer sentences” before a young offender becomes a hardened criminal, said Deputy Prosecutor Clint Francis.

“We train these kids to be convicts,” he complained, because it typically takes a series of crimes to earn serious punishment.

“Each time the kid is saying, ‘Big deal, I can do this standing on my head,”’ Francis said.

Padden, who chairs the House Law and Justice Committee, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s a joke,” he said. “The consequences (of crime) are not meaningful, and they are delayed so long, the kids don’t take them seriously.”

Proposed reforms slated for the upcoming legislative session would extend adult punishment to younger offenders, allow police to lock up runaways and toughen sentences for so-called “middle offenders” like Boot.

Last summer, revamped juvenilejustice laws took effect in Washington requiring all 16- and 17-year-old suspects accused of certain violent crimes to automatically be charged as adults. They now face adult trials and adult prison terms for what state lawmakers have deemed are clearly adult crimes: murder and the most severe levels of rape, robbery and assault.

Under those laws, Boot and his cousin automatically were sent to the adult jail on the murder charge.

Juvenile officials say the teenage defendant was given every opportunity to turn his life around.

“The kid failed the system,” said Probation Officer Kelly Porter. “We threw everything at him that we had available.”

While in detention, he was given enough schooling to earn his GED, she said.

While in the community under supervision, volunteers worked with him, encouraging him to tap his athletic potential and veer off in a positive direction.

As for punishment, judges and prosecutors say Boot would have served more time behind bars if space was available at the county or state levels.

“The tendency is to give a sentence at the low end of the range because detention is full,” Francis said.

Spokane County voters, however, have scuttled attempts to build a bigger juvenile detention center, rejecting three bond issues since November 1992.

Because the 60-bed facility is full, Davis said lesser juvenile offenders who are the most salvageable aren’t being locked up.

“We need to get at them early, but we can’t,” he said.

MEMO: See also sidebar which appeared with this story under headline “Rap sheet”

See also sidebar which appeared with this story under headline “Rap sheet”


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