Defense attorneys argued Monday that the abuse that Akeem Page-Jones suffered early in life from his crack-addicted mother should spare him the harshest of punishments he faced -- life without parole -- in the first local case of its kind since last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision on juvenile sentencing.
But for Theresa Williams Dawson, nothing can mitigate what she has had to endure since the March 22, 2011, murder of her 17-year-old daughter, Teesa, who was shot in the face and set on fire in her Penn Hills home.
During the sentencing hearing before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jill E. Rangos, Mrs. Williams Dawson said she never before believed in regrets -- that instead, every experience should serve as a lesson.
But her daughter's death has changed that. She listed her simple regrets -- not allowing Teesa to wear red nail polish or seeing her daughter in her first formal dress.
Then, she continued, "I sometimes regret giving birth to Teesa. I regret that I feel that way.
"It's the most horrible feeling, to grieve so much, to feel so bad, every single day of my life, that my child's murder negates her birth," she said.
Page-Jones, of Penn Hills, who was 16 at the time of Teesa's death, was convicted in May of first-degree murder.
After listening to moving testimony from both sides, as well as lengthy legal argument on the recent change in the law, Judge Rangos sentenced him to at least 60 years to a maximum of life in prison plus 10 years.
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Miller v. Alabama, finding that mandatory prison terms of life without parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional.
Under the ruling, the court found that an individual determination must be made when crafting those sentences, a determination that considers the juvenile's age, level of maturity, family and home environment, peer pressure and the possibility of rehabilitation.
Page-Jones is the first defendant in Allegheny County to fall under the new state statute modeled after Miller. It calls for a mandatory minimum of at least 35 years in prison for juveniles age 15 and older convicted of first- or second-degree murder.
Giuseppe Rosselli, who represented Page-Jones, called to the stand his client's maternal grandparents, who took the boy in at age 3 and raised him and his brother, who is four years older.
Carolyn Page testified that her daughter used crack cocaine throughout her pregnancy with Page-Jones and had only one prenatal checkup. The boy's father saw him twice in 10 years.
On the day his mother brought the baby home from the hospital, Ms. Page said, her daughter put him on the couch with a bottle propped up and left to go get drugs.
She once saw her daughter beat the boy at age 2 because he ran down the steps to greet his grandmother who had a balloon for him.
Another time, also when he was 2, Page-Jones wandered away from his home clutching a dollar bill and was found at a nearby store by himself.
"He had to cross the highway," Ms. Page said. "He could have been killed."
She testified that she and her husband did everything they could to help their grandson when they adopted him, including seeking psychiatric treatment, and he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental retardation.
He was in and out of juvenile court placements for years.
"When it was visiting day, I was there," Ms. Page said. "He didn't have nobody else. We were his parents and his grandparents."
When Page-Jones was implicated in Teesa's death, it was his grandparents who encouraged him to tell the truth and cooperate with police.
The defendant did not speak on his own behalf, and he had no emotional reaction as he listened to Mrs. Williams Dawson describe the impact her daughter's death has had not only on her family but the community.
Everyone in the neighborhood knows what happened at their home, and comments are inevitable. Teesa's 14-year-old brother refuses to talk about his sister's death, although her youngest brothers, now 8 and 6, remember the girl fondly and talk about how she baked cookies for them.
Physically, the family lost everything in the fire, and while insurance paid to have the home rebuilt, Mrs. Williams Dawson said she no longer can get homeowner's insurance.
As for Teesa's impact in the community, the girl had been enrolled in the Best Buddies program, where special needs students like Teesa are paired with able students, her mother said. Teesa's partner had to quit the program after the girl's death because she couldn't bear it.
Fundraisers have been held, and a scholarship was created for students who pursue careers helping people with special needs.
Wearing a bright pink-and-white top, Teesa's mother told Judge Rangos that pink was her daughter's favorite color, so the entire family wore pink for the sentencing. She also played for the court the girl's outgoing voicemail message so that the judge could hear the teen's bright and cheerful voice.
Mrs. Williams Dawson described her daughter, who was mentally retarded, as having the mental capacity of a 7- or 8-year-old, who was easily influenced and manipulated.
"I have to live with the information that my daughter suffered," she said. "People say to me, 'Try to remember the good times.' How can I?"
When testimony concluded, Mr. Rosselli said that a life sentence eliminates the possibility of any rehabilitation for his client.
"If you sentence Akeem Page-Jones to life in prison, you will eliminate any and all purpose he has in life," he said.
But Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Walker told Judge Rangos that rehabilitation is unlikely.
Recounting his criminal history, the prosecutor outlined more than 10 juvenile court petitions, including aggravated and simple assaults, and attacks on his teachers and staff members at his juvenile placements.
Further, Ms. Walker argued that Page-Jones showed "a significant degree of criminal sophistication" in the attack.
"When the shooting didn't work, he kept at it until Teesa was dead," she said.
Page-Jones was 18 months from his 18th birthday the day Teesa was killed, Ms. Walker said. He was not a 14-year-old, as in the Miller decision.
"From the age of 3 years old, he had a loving and caring home," Ms. Walker said. "He had grandparents who gave him everything that they could.
"He threw it away."
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com or 412-263-2620. First Published August 26, 2013 5:15 PM