Editor’s Note: Nearly two dozen Chicago students have been killed so far this year. Police say gang violence is behind many of the deaths. The alleged killers are as young as 14. What drives kids that young, and even younger, to gang life and crime? And what about the consequences? Today, we have the first part of a story we hope will offer some perspective on both questions. Years ago, Addolfo Davis got mixed up in gangs, and a crime he committed when he was 14 landed him in prison for life. With no chance for parole.
Related: Where Addolfo’s Story Took Him
It was 1990 and a turf war was kicking up between two factions of a single gang. Both sides wanted to sell drugs off of a high-traffic corner on Chicago’s South Side. Addolfo Davis was one of the gang members in the middle of this mess.
O’CONNOR: Addolfo Davis? Any time you’re talking about a juvenile who started a criminal career at the age of 8 and had an armed robbery under his belt by the age of 10, and then at the age of 14 commits a double murder? Ummm, I think that says quite a bit about that juvenile…
David O’Connor was a prosecutor at Addolfo Davis’s trial. Addolfo was 5 feet tall, 100 pounds and had barely turned 14 when he and two others were arrested for a brutal crime: home invasion, double murder and attempted double murder.
A man they abducted testified that he heard them talk about who would die and who would be allowed to live.
O’CONNOR: That, I think, is indicative of a certain mentality that the vast majority of the public has just NEVER encountered.
In fact, O’Connor says, Addolfo was the worst of the worst…the kind of street-smart, violent kid who adults couldn’t reach.
Clanking sound of keys & doors being opened & closed
When I went to Menard Prison, almost at the southern tip of Illinois, to talk to Addolfo Davis the first thing I asked was, “What name does he go by?”
DAVIS: It don’t matter, but everybody here call me ‘Spooncake’…
Spooncake. It’s an affectionate nick-name his grandfather called out in a drunken stupor one day. Addolfo is strongly attached to the many names his family has given him.
DAVIS: My, uh, grandmother call me, Catsugar.
PAUL: I’m not sure I’m catching it, Cash Sugar? Like cash money? DAVIS: No, like cat..C- A- T
PAUL: Ohhh! Cat sugar !
DAVIS: Yeah. That’s what my grandmother call me.
There’s always been one person in Addolfo’s life who’s cared deeply for him. And that’s his grandmother his “heart” as he calls her. Fannie Davis is 78 years old. When I visited her recently in the south suburbs, she told me in the months before Addolfo was arrested, her husband died and one of her twelve children was murdered. But it’s what happened to Addolfo that particularly haunts her.
FANNIE DAVIS: I would see him in my sleep. I would hear him callin’ me and that just pull me ALL the way down to nuhthin.
In the years before the crime, Fannie Davis was overwhelmed. She worked all day and came home to a husband who was disabled and bedridden, a son who was mentally retarded, and a daughter, Addolfo’s mother, who was hooked on drugs.
DAVIS: She dint’ care ‘bout nothing I did.. I went to school dirty, she didn’t care, as long as she got that check once a month.. ‘Boy, go to school, u ain’t fixin’ to mess my money up.’
By Addolfo’s own account - and the records back him up - his first run- in with the law came at a tender age.
DAVIS: When I was 9, that’s when I caught my first robbery. I was hungry. I was pumpin’ gas and I was hungry and wasn’t nobody coming, wanting me to pump their gas so I saw this little girl and I was like, I snatched the bag from her and go buy me something to eat. That was the first time I went to the Audy Home.
The Audy Home is another name for Cook County’s juvenile detention center- a place where young people live while waiting for their day in court. Most kids really hate it. For Addolfo, it was a little slice of heaven.
DAVIS: I ate on time 3 times a day. I got snacks. I had clothes. I had my OWN room.
Because of all the chaos at his own home, Addolfo started spending all day and sometimes nights on the streets. He met up up with people who became like family and that was his gang.
DAVIS: So we bonded with each other. That was my brother and I was they brother. But- it was the wrong kind of love, you know? We thought we had to be hard and stuff like this.
It didn’t work out too well for him, all this street life. By the time he was about 13, his rap sheet included armed robbery and several counts of automobile theft. Gang members had taught him to hot-wire cars.
DAVIS: Everything that I did was basically to get money so I can take care myself. I ain’t just go stealin’ no car, just to be stealin’ no car. Cuz I didn’t even know how to drive that good. So I just stole the car, drove it a few blocks and took off what they want it for..
It often happens to kids like Addolfo that older gang members want more. Pretty soon Addolfo was selling drugs and pulling down some big money.
DAVIS: Yeah, $250 a week? I was like, man, I was THE MAN. You know I had brand new clothes, I had food. I wasn’t riding no car, I had a brand new bike…
JACKSON: That’s him. I remember that nose.
Cassandra Jackson is sitting on her comfortable living room couch, leaning over a recent picture of Addolfo Davis.
JACKSON: And that smile. He always smiled. He looks good, though.
Jackson is a social worker who worked with Addolfo and his family starting when he was about 11. After the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) removed Addolfo from his mother’s custody. His grandmother, Fannie, was his legal guardian.
JACKSON: You know Fannie loves all of her children… And Fannie was a wonderful woman. But all of the discipline, structure, you know, supervision that Addolfo needed.. uh … Fannie wasn’t able to provide for him.
Even though twenty years have gone by, Jackson can still remember the first time she went to visit their apartment.
JACKSON: It was surprising to me because I believe they thought that it was actually an apartment.But it was really what we would term down in the south, cuz I’m from the south – umm, “under the house.”
In other words, it was more like a cellar than an apartment. There were no separate bedrooms and no designated kitchen, just a refrigerator against the wall. The electricity they had came from an extension cord that snaked up the stairs to the landlord’s apartment.
JACKSON: I remember that when I first when in you could actually see, even though there was tile but, it was on the ground.. it was not really , like on a floor.
One of the first things Jackson did was help the family find an apartment and try to get Addolfo in school. To her, Addolfo seemed like a small, quiet and respectful child.
JACKSON: I think Addolfo was doing what he needed to do, to survive.
Addolfo’s probation officer had more problems with him. He’s no longer alive, but in testimony he described Addolfo as an uncooperative and emotionally troubled youth who showed no remorse and took no responsibility for his actions. Eight months before the crime took place this probation officer recommended to DCFS that Addolfo be removed from his home. He never heard back from the agency.
A clinical evaluation done 7 months before the crime, paints an alarming picture: Addolfo reportedly banged his head against the wall, occasionally burned himself with cigarettes, and was seen jumping from one high building to another. Both Cassandra Jackson, the social worker and Addolfo’s probation officer agreed that Addolfo needed more adult help.
JACKSON: He was adamant that Addolfo should have been removed from his home. We may have had different reasons, but he was adamant about that.. I can’t speak to if he really saw Addolfo as dangerous. He saw him as needing structure, and needing supervision, for sure.
Shortly after his 14th birthday, Addolfo Davis was made a ward of the state. The probation officer specifically asked the state not to put Addolfo in a temporary shelter because he was concerned that Addolfo would run away. If no residential setting could be found, he said, Addolfo would be placed temporarily in a psychiatric facility. In spite of the warning, DCFS did exactly what it was asked not to do. Addolfo was put in a temporary shelter that some experts have described as a “human warehouse.”
As predicted, he ran away. The murders took place 5 days later. Cassandra Jackson was no longer working with Addolfo by that time, but she was shocked when she heard the news.
JACKSON: That was, from my working with Addolfo, absolutely out of his character. I was very, I was devastated. I was very close to his family. I was devastated.
The way Addolfo tells it, he didn’t know that he and his cohorts would get involved in any violence on the night of October 9, 1990. He says he was ordered by older gang members to accompany them to the stash house of a rival gang member. He thought they were gonna figure out who could sell drugs where.
DAVIS: When we went there, I’m thinkin’ we fixin’ to talk..
PAUL: What was the objective? What did they tell you they were tryin’ to do?
DAVIS: Umm, to straighten out the beef between the GD’s and the BD’s.
But instead, when they got there, Addolfo says, his older companions abducted a man at gun-point.
DAVIS: They carry the guy up to the building, knock on the door, and once they open the door, they rushed in and start shootin’. And I’m still in the hallway. Once I hear the shots fired, I turn around and jet.
He ran, he says. The man who opened the door that night testified that Addolfo’s two companions immediately rushed into the living room. He said he then knocked a gun out of Addolfo’s hand, heard shooting, and himself ran out of the apartment.
Prosecutors say Addolfo went on to fire some shots that day, but Mark Kusatsky, Addolfo’s public defender says no. Addolfo was found guilty, Kusatsky says, under what’s called “accountability theory” the idea that you’re accountable for a crime if you help plan or carry it out.
KUSATSKY: So he is not considered a principal in the sense of a person who was found to have killed somebody, but he was found accountable for the actions of those that DID kill somebody.
No one knows for sure if the jury convicted Addolfo for being accountable or if they thought he really did commit murder that day.
What is certain is that when police brought Addolfo in for questioning, the adult they had there to watch over his rights, was his biological mother. This is the mother who the Department of Children and Family Services deemed unfit to be his legal guardian. This is the mother who testified at Addolfo’s trial that the night she joined him at the police station she was high from reefer and cocaine, and that she had also been drinking.
DAVIS: My mom’s like: “Man, sign them papers so we can go home. And as soon as I signed it, I ain’t seen the street since.’
Tomorrow, we’ll continue Addolfo’s story as we follow the prosecution of his case, and how he ended up where he is today.