by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Dead men tell no tales. And dead parents make no complaints. So it’s impossible to know what Dorothy Mayfield would have thought about her daughter’s acceptance to Harvard University.

Or what she might have thought when Harvard changed its mind.

It seems that her daughter’s application — which featured straight A’s and glowing recommendations — left out one alarming fact: The girl had murdered her mother four years earlier.

Not exactly a small detail.

Now, murder is a strong word. But someone was murdered. The controversy that has erupted since Harvard accepted-then- rejected Gina Grant — the school claimed she lied by not admitting her past — seems to focus on the rights of juvenile criminals.

Almost no one talks about the dead person.

Let’s review: In 1990, in South Carolina, Grant whacked her mother with a lead crystal candlestick. It was not accidental. She whacked her in the head, over and over, maybe 13 times, until she was dead. Then Grant and her petty thief boyfriend tried to make the killing look like a suicide by sticking a knife in the woman’s neck and placing her hand around the weapon.

The police were not fooled.

Grant was charged with murder. At the trial, her lawyers claimed abuse. Not physical abuse. They never said her mother hit her, or, for that matter, ever whacked her with a candlestick. Emotional abuse was the mother’s flaw. She had been an alcoholic.

The judge seemed to sympathize. After the lawyers struck a deal, reducing the charge to voluntary manslaughter, he sentenced the 14-year-old Grant to just six months in a juvenile detention center.

She was then allowed to move in with relatives in Massachusetts, under the umbrella of probation.

Six months and a bus ticket.

That was justice for Dorothy Mayfield. No sign of remorse

Yet today, all we hear about is justice for Grant. Picketers march on Harvard’s campus, offers of help come rolling in — from free legal advice to a guaranteed admission to Boston University — for which Gina, in a statement read by her lawyers, was “deeply moved.”

What she didn’t say in that statement, or in the court transcripts, is that she was “sorry.” That she has remorse for killing her mother.

Isn’t that part of the rehab process?

The judge who gave Grant only six months — instead of locking her up until age 21 — recently said, “I just felt (that sentence) was too much.

“This is a very bright and talented young woman. Every time her life started to take off, someone was throwing a roadblock at her.”

Well. Then again, that candlestick was a pretty big roadblock for her mom.

By the way, Harvard says it is not the crime but the lying about it that got Grant bounced. Grant answered “no” to the application question about previous trouble or probations. She also, allegedly, lied in an interview, saying her mother was killed in a car crash. Harvard only learned the truth after someone sent in newspaper clippings from South Carolina.

Grant’s lying “violates the values of the university,” a spokesperson said. Not to mention that Harvard could be liable if she commits violence once she’s at school.

Grant claims she didn’t have to reveal the incident because “the records were sealed.” This is a sticky legal point. Yes, sealing records is supposed to give juvenile offenders a clean slate. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you can lie to direct questions. Especially if your crime was once front-page news. Paying the price

Now, having said all this, let me throw you a curve. I happen to think Gina earned her admission to Harvard. As dumb as our system is, she did what she was told to do. She has become — on the outside, anyhow — a model citizen, good grades, charity work. That beats paying taxes to keep her in prison.

But Harvard is not out-of-bounds to seek honesty in its candidates. And critics are not out-of-bounds to scream for the victim. In this instantly disposable society, we’re too quick to forget the dead. Even the O.J. Simpson trial seems to focus more on what’s fair for him than for his ex-wife and her murdered friend.

Grant is not the first person to suffer emotional abuse. Not everyone grabs the nearest weapon. And while being 14 makes it sad, it does not entirely excuse the act. Serious crime by teens — even murder — has doubled in recent years, and that may have something to do with how we sentence them.

Sure, missing out on Harvard hurts. It’s called “punishment.” And as much as any college class, it is a concept worth learning in our blame-somebody-else society. Critics wail about Gina Grant having to
“continue to pay the price,” but isn’t that what happens when you kill somebody? As near as I can tell, the victim continues to pay the price as well.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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