As a seventh grader at P.S. 320 in Brooklyn, Robert "Bam Bam" Lawrence said he wanted to be a football player where he graduated from high school or college. Less than four years later this hulking 16 year old boy was on his way to a life in prison after shooting undercover Syracuse Police Officer Wallie Howard Jr. in the back of the head. That 16 year old is now a 40 year old man making a plea to federal court for leniency.
A ruling by the United States Supreme Court vacated the federal sentence of life without parole for Lawrence. That sentence came on a federal conviction for murdering a federal officer and being part of a drug conspiracy. The decorated officer, Wallie Howard Jr., who was shot that day was a key player in a combined undercover drug task force working to break up the cocaine supply coming from New York City to Syracuse.
The Supreme Court ruled it's cruel and unusual punishment to pronounce such a sentence on a person under the age of 18. The public defender who is representing Lawrence has detailed to the court a difficult childhood growing up without parents in Brooklyn. Lawrence admits he did not know how to read and write as a teenager. As a 15 year old Lawrence was recruited by Jaime Davidson to be in a drug gang trafficking cocaine to Syracuse.
Lawrence's attorney Lisa Peebles tries to convince the court in her brief that it was Davidson that bears the greater responsibility for Officer Howard's death for luring Lawrence into the drug business. The Memorandum of Law in Support of Robert Lawrence's Resentencing claims the shooting of Officer Howard was done in self defense after the undercover officer shot Gary Anthony Stewart when it became apparent Stewart planned to rob Howard of the money that was to be used for the drug buy. That self defense theory did not hold water at trial.
The Federal Court filings give a history of Lawrence's life and time served in state prison. During the time Lawrence has been in prison he has earned his high school G.E.D. He has trained to work in the law library. He even got married to his longtime girlfriend at Great Meadow Correctional in 2012.
His counsel would like the court to consider his maturation as an adult when deciding the length of the federal sentence to be imposed. They are asking for a six year concurrent sentence that would wrap up as Lawrence concludes thirty years of his thirty years to life sentence in state prison. That would allow him to be free at the age of 46.
That prospect angers the mother of Officer Howard who plans to attend the resentencing. 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.
Mrs. Howard will be joined by dozens of Syracuse and Utica police officers at the Federal Courthouse in Utica who plan to turn out in support of the family and their lost brother in law enforcement in October of 1990.
The United States Attorney has requested the court resentence Lawrence to a term of life in prison for the shooting of a police officer assigned to the DEA as part of the Drug Task Force. The government's brief describes the moment Officer Howard was shot, "Lawrence shot Howard at near point-blank range during the commission of a planned armed robbery. In fashioning a sentence that is sufficient to address the seriousness of the offense, nothing less than a life sentence is warranted. It is impossible to imagine a more egregious crime."
"Bam Bam" Lawrence has officially apologized for the crimes he committed as a 16 year old. He writes, "I am extremely remorseful. I've grown into an individual who is compassionate and understands how precious life is. I ask for forgiveness and mercy, I pray the court will allow me another opportunity to take advantage of everything I once took for granted. I'm sorry for what I did. I'll continue to have a heavy heart. Again I apologize to all whom I've hurt and caused pain. "