Reports: Charges Dropped Against Teen In Killing Of Barnard Freshman Tessa Majors

AP News
December 14, 2019 - 6:17 pm
Tessa Majors

Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images


NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — Charges were reportedly dropped against a 14-year-old boy who was taken into custody Friday on suspicion he was involved in the stabbing death of Barnard College freshman Tessa Majors.

The 14-year-old was one of two teens taken into custody in recent days in this week's killing, which has shocked the city.

The Daily News reports that criminal charges against the boy were voided early Saturday. It's unclear why they were dropped or if the teen remains a suspect in the case, the News reported.

The New York Post reports that the teen isn't out of the woods yet and that the city Law Department declined to prosecute him over a lack of evidence.

"He's still a suspect," a source told the Post. "But they want more evidence. They want a stronger case."

A 13-year-old boy was arrested Friday in the stabbing death of Majors, an 18-year-old who was approached in a park by as many as three youths as she ventured from her New York City campus on the eve of final exams.

The arrest of such a young suspect added another tragic element to the slaying of Majors, a case that has troubled city and campus leaders.

The boy was arrested on charges including felony murder, City Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson said in a statement. The teen appeared Friday in family court and is being held in a juvenile detention facility. He is due back in court Tuesday. Charges will not be formalized until a future court hearing.

Rodney Harrison, the New York Police Department's chief of detectives, said on Twitter that one arrest had been made in the killing and “this remains an active investigation.”

Tessa Majors
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

At Friday's hearing, Detective Vincent Signoretti testified that the 13-year-old boy said his two friends grabbed Majors, put her in a chokehold and robbed her, The New York Times reported. The detective testified that the teen said he did not stab Majors — the boy watched his friend slash her with a knife and saw feathers flying out from her coat's stuffing.

The boy, whose name has not been made public, is among just a handful of people in their early teens to be charged with murder in the city in recent years. He will be tried as a juvenile delinquent in family court.

The teen's lawyer, Hannah Kaplan of the Legal Aid Society, said police didn't have evidence beyond the statement from her client, who she said hadn't been arrested before.

“There is no allegation my client touched the complainant in this case,” Kaplan said. “He was merely present when this took place.”

The attackers are all believed to attend a middle school near the park, police have said.

Safe to say I had the Raddest photographer for my senior pictures ----

A post shared by Tess (@tessmajors) on

The crime has caused alarm in the Columbia and Barnard communities. At least one Columbia student, Yao Yu, says he was recently mugged at knifepoint by three teens in the same spot in Morningside Park.

Yu, an international student from China, says he had only been in the city a few days when he was robbed at knifepoint near 116th Street and Morningside Drive.

“They asked me where I was from and if I had any money. At first, I didn’t think they were threatening me, so I told them I didn’t have any money. Then, they showed me an open knife, so I gave them my wallet and they took my money,” Yu told the New York Post Friday.

Yu says he wonders if the same teens are responsible for the murder of Majors.

“When I heard about the girl who was killed, I thought it was the same group of teenagers, and I was scared,” Yu said.

Majors, from Charlottesville, Virginia, played in a rock band in New York and had told an editor from a newspaper internship in high school that she planned to take journalism classes in college.

Flowers and candles were left at a makeshift campus memorial and her family said in a statement Friday that they “are devastated by the senseless loss of our beautiful and talented Tess."

Majors was walking in Manhattan’s Morningside Park, which is located down a staircase from street level, just before 7 p.m. Wednesday when she was confronted and stabbed during a struggle, Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said.

She staggered up the stairway to a nearby street, where she was spotted by a campus security guard who called 911, Harrison said. Majors died at a hospital.

Investigators recovered a knife Thursday but were not certain whether it was connected to Majors’ death. Police have since increased patrols around the park and campus, which is part of the Ivy League’s Columbia University.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC Radio that he was "absolutely confident that any individuals involved in this terrible, heinous attack will be brought to justice and will be brought to justice quickly.”

Under state law, the teen can only be tried as an adult if he is charged with intentional murder.

This is gonna be a long paragraph about music stuff, so if you’re not interested, enjoy the dapper pic and keep scrolling :) Anyway, for those of you who’ve been seeing my posts, my band, Patient 0, has an album coming out tonight at midnight!! This is very exciting, and it’s basically a showcase of all my favorite songs I wrote in high school with Hannah. There are also lots of people I’d like to thank for making this possible. @hannahqfowler for her amazing songwriting skills and guitar prowess, @jamescandrum337 for helping record all the drums and writing so many creative drum parts (and also @clowell21 for writing the drum parts on some of the earlier tracks), Lucas Brown from @breakersband for the countless hours helping us mix and master the album, @mrccville and @harluhouseofjupiter for letting us use their facilities (and also providing emotional support), and to all my countless friends who have encouraged me to pursue music. But anyways, I will link the album in my bio tonight. It’ll be available on Spotify and Apple Music. Also, I would appreciate any streams, Instagram stories, and shoutouts from you all. Thank you -- #punk #newmusic #riotgrrrl

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Juveniles convicted in New York state's family courts can be sent to detention facilities until they are 21 in many cases, and are often released after that.

It's increasingly rare for young teens to be charged with murder in New York City, where the homicide total has plunged to below 300 in recent years.

Last year, just two people 14 or younger were charged, according to police records: a 13-year-old girl in a Dec. 16, 2018, killing in Queens and a 14-year-old in the fatal Sept. 21, 2018, shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Brooklyn. Police suspect both killings were gang related.

In the early 1990s, when the city averaged nearly 2,000 homicides a year, several dozen 13-year-olds faced murder charges.

Majors was killed just as the semester at all-women's Barnard College was winding down, with final exams set to begin Friday followed by a month break.

She sang and played bass guitar in the rock band Patient 0. After her first New York show in October, Majors wrote on Instagram: “Safe to say the first NYC show went well ;)”

Her Instagram account also offered glimpses into Majors' personality and her move from Virginia to the big city, from farewells to the “ville” to posts about college life.

Majors graduated high school in May from the private St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville, where Head of School David Lourie said she was "a shining light in our community, a good friend, respected classmate, trusted teammate, and creative and passionate musician.”

Her father, Inman Majors, is the author of six novels and an English professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“We are thankful for the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from across the country," the family statement said. "We would also like to express our appreciation for the efforts of the men and women of the NYPD, who continue to work diligently on this case.”