The case of a man charged with murder in New Jersey 30 years after he allegedly commited the crime as a 13-year old raises questions about which laws to apply, says the Newark Star-Ledger. An overhaul of New Jersey’s criminal laws took effect in 1979; three years later the code of juvenile justice was revised. Thomas Atkinson grew from a 13-year-old boy to an adult, who stands accused of stabbing a woman to death in 1976.
Bergen County prosecutors face the challenge of convicting Atkinson under laws found in books that were long ago pulled from library shelves and consigned to basement archives. In the 2001 acquittal of Robert Zarinsky on charges of murdering a police officer 43 years earlier, one juror said although he thought Zarinsky was guilty, he could not be certain beyond a reasonable doubt. This year the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld Michael Skakel’s 2002 conviction for murdering a teenage neighbor in 1975, when Skakel was 15. That court rejected Skakel’s claim that he should have been tried as a juvenile and upheld his sentence of 20 years to life in prison. The Atkinson arrest raises the question of whether the defendant should be treated as the adult he is now or the child he was at the time of the offense. Superior Court Judge Harold Hollenbeck said confidentiality rules covering juveniles do not apply to a defendant approaching his 44th birthday, adding, “We have a lot of gray areas to deal with.”