My kids have done a lot of embarrassing things thus far in their short lives and while I like to think that I am in control of their actions, the truth is, what they do is ultimately their decision as human beings and they need to be held accountable for their own actions. Should I be hauled to jail for shoplifting if my 3-year-old steals a candy bar from the grocery store without my knowledge? What if one of my kids sneaks out of my home one night and steals a car as a teenager? What then? Cuff me and haul me to the clink for grand theft auto because I’m the one who raised a kid that would steal a car?
“What is a parent’s responsibility for and toward a child as he gets older?” It’s a question Lisa Belkin is asking on Yahoo as she reports on the 2012 murder of a New Jersey girl. 15-year-old Justin Robertson pleaded guilty to strangling his neighbor, 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale, after she stopped by his house to trade parts for her bike. But the story doesn’t end there. In many ways Autumn’s murder was just the beginning. Her father, Anthony Pasquale, is now suing Justin Robertson’s parents for raising a murderer.
“Parenting comes with responsibilities, and one of those is to raise your kids right, to pay attention, and know when they’re a danger to someone else. That’s a parent’s job.” Pasquale tells Yahoo. He came to this realization while in court listening to a lawyer detail the history of his daughter’s murderer to the judge:
“There was significant history as outlined in [Justin’s psychiatric report] of domestic violence in his household when he was young. Justin also suffered abuse, physical abuse, by his father. This was learned behavior, Your Honor. Justin saw his father strangle his mother on more than one occasion. Justin has inappropriate responses to stressors as a result of his disabilities.”
“My light bulb went off so fast when I heard that. My lawyer was next to me and I said, ‘We have to do something about that.’ If it was a learned behavior, then teach a different behavior. If you taught your son to kill, then you need to be punished, too,” Anthony said.
So he’s suing Justin Robinson’s parents for being bad parents. In addition to his civil suit, Anthony is urging a change in criminal law, trying to get the New Jersey legislature behind what he calls “Autumn’s Law” which would punish parenting that leads to crimes with prison. Anthony believes that if parents knew they would go to jail for their parenting, they would do a better job. He has also started a Change.org petition. “Parents who ignore the warning signs of their children’s propensity toward violence are direct contributors to their minor children’s murders,” his petition reads. “If the minor who murdered my daughter was properly treated, parented, disciplined, and supervised my daughter would probably be alive today.”
So who are Justin Robinson’s parents? His mom, Anita Robinson Saunders, divorced Alonzo Robinson in 2005, amid allegations of domestic abuse. She stayed in the house while he moved a few towns away. Dad admits to not being very active in his childrens’ lives. Saunders says her son was a special education student who was trying to overcome his disabilities. “Justin did the best he could to adjust to school and those around him in light of his disability, his learning disability,” she said at his sentencing hearing. “He was determined to be independent. He got a job cutting grass with a friend whose family owned a landscaping business. He also cut our next-door neighbor’s lawn who happened to be his math teacher.”
Police reports show Justin Robinson had a difficult childhood and became a troubled youth. As Belkin notes on Yahoo, “The estimated 700 pages of documents include reports of domestic abuse between Alonzo and Anita, as well as accusations against their sons of such things as bullying, shoplifting and theft.”
Regardless of his record, regardless of the kind of parents Alonzo Robinson and Anita Robinson Saunders were, the person responsible for Autumn’s death is Justin Robinson. Holding parents responsible for the actions of their children is a dangerous precedent to set. Sometimes there are just bad apples and you can’t blame parents who did everything within their power to raise good citizens. Many people are raised by crappy parents and go on to live fulfilling, productive lives. Transversely, some are raised by great parents and turn out bad. But even if parents are neglectful, how do you judge what amount of neglect played a role in the crime committed by the child? You can’t sue one set of parents and set a precedent that all parents can be sued. If we were held responsible for all our kids actions, we’d all be screwed.
Most parents do the best they can to teach their kids right from wrong but as kids grow up they begin to make their own choices that are beyond our control. Nobody “teaches their child to be a murderer” as Anthony Pasquale seems to think. Although my heart goes out to the grieving father, just as his daughter made the unfortunate choice to visit Justin at his home, Justin made the choice to take her life — both decisions have nothing to do with their parents. We all had good and bad influences growing up, which influences a person chooses to emulate or reject is up to them and them alone.
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