Before they were formally charged Wednesday with the murder of 6-year-old King Carter, three North Miami-Dade teens were no strangers to the criminal-justice system.
The young men — Leonard Adams, 18, Irwen Pressley, 18, and Tamar Teems, 16 — each had been arrested for violent robberies in recent years. And each had been sent to juvenile rehabilitation programs for their crimes, according to a review of Miami-Dade court records.
On Wednesday, they were charged as adults in the killing of King. His death has sparked rallies and forceful calls to end persistent violence that last year claimed the lives of 33 teens and children across Miami-Dade County last year and another nine so far this year.
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As King’s mother and father watched from the courtroom gallery, only Pressley appeared in the courtroom; he was shackled and dressed in a red jumpsuit reserved for high-profile inmates.
At Wednesday’s arraignment, lawyers for Adams and Pressley entered pleas of not guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder. Teems, who had been charged initially as a minor, remains in juvenile detention and is expected to be transferred soon to an adult jail.
“We just want justice,” the boy’s mother told reporters after the brief hearing.
King, a first-grader at Van E. Blanton Elementary School, was killed last month in the crossfire when two rival groups began shooting at each other outside the Blue Lake Village apartments in the 1400 block of Northwest 103rd Street.
The boy’s father had just given him $3. King was walking to a store to buy candy.
Investigators believed Adams, Pressley and Teems opened fire that day at a rival who was part of a drug-selling operation being run out of the building.
Somebody returned fire, nicking Adams in the neck. Detectives homed in on him after he was admitted to Jackson North Hospital. He later admitted to his role in the shooting, police said.
Pressley admitted that a 9mm handgun found at his home was used to shoot at the rival, a man police have identified only as “JuJu.” Ballistics tests confirmed that the gun was indeed used in the shooting. Pressley was on supervised release from an earlier robbery charge — and cops managed to trace him to the scene because he was wearing a GPS ankle monitor, authorities said.
It is unknown whose bullet killed King. The alleged shooters were charged with second-degree murder under the legal theory that the boy was slain during “a mutually-agreed-to gun battle in a public place.”
David Ranck, Adams’ defense attorney, said, “I don’t think they can prove my client had any responsibility in this.”
All three suspects have histories of arrests.
According to court documents, Pressley was charged for a 2013 robbery and sentenced to a juvenile rehab program in Melbourne. While he was on probation from the program, police said, Pressley was living with his mother in West Palm Beach but went to Miami and robbed a couple in North Miami-Dade along with a friend.
His mother insisted he couldn’t have done the crime. “He just stay in his room, or be on the phone, or be on the computer or something,” his mother, Malatice Cooper, said during a deposition.
Pressley was charged as an adult. His lawyer — citing a history of learning disabilities and a chance for rehabilitation — persuaded the court to allow him into the Miami-Dade jail’s lauded boot-camp program.
The program entails military-style training while behind bars, then time on supervised release. When he was arrested for King’s slaying, his boot-camp uniform was still hanging in his closet.
Pressley, in 2013, was also arrested alongside Adams for the alleged carjacking of a man outside a North Miami-Dade Winn-Dixie supermarket. Both teens were found inside the stolen car soon after the holdup.
But because the victim was a trucker and frequently out of town, prosecutors wound up dropping the case against Pressley. Adams accepted a juvenile conviction and completed a program at the St. John’s Juvenile Correctional Facility in St. Augustine.
As for Teems, he was arrested in May 2014 for allegedly robbing a Miami Shores man of his car at gunpoint. He too was put into a high-risk rehabilitation program, records show.