Teens plead not guilty in stabbing death of N.Y.C. student Tessa Majors
Tessa Majors, 18, can be seen in this undated image. (Tessa Majors/Instagram)
Two teens allegedly involved in the stabbing death of Barnard College student Tessa Majors were arraigned Wednesday in a New York court.
The 14-year-old boys, charged as adults, pleaded not guilty.
Rashaun Weaver is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, three counts of first-degree robbery and two counts of second-degree robbery. Luchiano Lewis is charged with second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree robbery.
"We are committed to holding these young people accountable, and equally committed to a fair process which safeguards their rights," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. "This is how we will achieve true justice for Tessa and her loved ones."
Prosecutors alleged one teen is responsible for stabbing Majors and the other is responsible for putting her in a "bear hug or headlock." There was DNA matching that of one defendant under one of Majors' fingernails, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also detailed the reasons why the teens should remain in custody and the judge agreed.
Attorneys representing Weaver issued a statement.
"Tessa Majors' death is a tragedy and we send our condolences to her family, friends and community," the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem said, according to spokesman Sam McCann. "We urge all involved to not rush to judgment in the aftermath. Our client is a 14-year-old child with no criminal record or family court history. He should not be charged as an adult.
"In our shared history, we have seen too often the impact of hasty condemnations of children. Let us take these past experiences as a warning and allow due process to play out in our young client's case, so that justice can prevail."
Alexis Padilla, an attorney for Lewis, declined to comment.
A 'sustained attack,' prosecutor says
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos spoke about the day Majors was killed, not only highlighting where both 14-year-olds allegedly entered Morningside Park in Manhattan, but that Majors appeared to be their third target.
The 14-year-old boys, and a 13-year-old boy who was previously arrested, zeroed in and briefly followed two other people before passing Majors on a staircase and deciding on her, Bogdanos said.
The entire interaction from the moment Majors walked passed them, including the robbery and stabbing, took roughly a minute, the prosecutor said.
"This isn't a spur of the moment, a few seconds attack. It was a sustained attack, sustained in both space and time," Bogdanos said.
Padilla challenged what was found on surveillance footage, arguing that prosecutors were speculating about the intent of the teens.
"How is walking behind someone considered following?" Padilla said.
Parents for both boys were present at the hearing but said nothing. Majors' father also was in attendance and said nothing.
The next court appearance for the pair is scheduled for April 7.
The 13-year-old boy, from Manhattan, was arrested a day after the stabbing. He was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.
Majors, 18, was walking in the park near Barnard on December 11 when she was attacked, the New York Police Department said. She had moved from Virginia for her freshman year. Majors was from Charlottesville.
Barnard is an all-women's school with around 2,600 students. The campus stretches from West 116th Street to West 120th Street off Broadway in Morningside Heights.