She made it to yet another dedication, another ceremony in the name of her son the police officer. Delores Howard looked on as the Van Duyn School playground was rededicated. Syracuse police retirees were part of the rebuilding of this playground that rose up after being burned to the ground by vandals. A sense of duty compelled the retired officers to offer their services. After all, the playground bears the name of Officer Wallie Howard Jr. who was shot and killed during an undercover drug buy in October of 1990.
The man or teenager who pulled the trigger on that sunny autumn day was 16 year old Robert "Bam Bam" Lawrence. No one could believe Lawrence was only 16 years old at the time. He was a big man who made an adult choice to be wrapped up in a criminal enterprise that involved trying to rob Officer Howard of the drug money brought to the parking lot of Mario's Big M.
Delores Howard vividly recalls seeing her son's body in the hospital that day. She will point to the back of her head where Lawrence fired the deadly shot. "When he picked up that gun and pulled the trigger he was no longer a kid. He became an adult," said Delores.
This issue of whether Lawrence was an adult or a minor that day has become legally relevant recently. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that 16 and younger is too young to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The court ruled that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
The change in the law has compelled the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York to resentence Lawrence. That date which had been scheduled for November has been pushed to January 10th at the Federal Courthouse in Utica.
Delores Howard does not plan to attend. She does not want to relive the darkness and anger of her loss. "Junior doesn't get a second chance," she said referring to her son. "Why should he?"
A typically soft spoken woman Howard's blood starts to boil thinking about this Supreme Court decision putting into question the sentencing by Judge Neil McCurn in 1993. "It's like saying to the judge he didn't do a good enough job," said Howard.
It doesn't matter to her how old "Bam Bam" Lawrence was when he fired that deadly shot. "Nobody put a gun next to his head to make him do it. He did it on his own. He can stay in jail the rest of his life. He can live on bread and water the rest of his life."
Lawrence is currently serving 30 to life in state prison. If he is granted parole at his first hearing in 2020 he would then begin serving federal time.
As for Mrs. Howard, she wishes her son was still here to take care of this mess. She would quickly trade away all the dedications in his name to have him back.