Jaffe: D.C.'s juvenile justice system shares blame for murder

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

One of the most egregious random act of violence in D.C. in recent years was the gunning down of Neil Godleski.

Shortly before midnight on Aug. 22, 2010, Godleski was riding his bicycle near Sherman Circle, a Northwest neighborhood of tidy row homes in a diverse community. The young man was returning home from his evening shift as a waiter at Phillips Seafood on the Southwest waterfront. He was working his way through Catholic University to get a biology degree. His mother, Heidi, is a Catholic alum.

Bullets knocked Godleski off his bike. Then Eric Foreman, 16 at the time, walked over to Godleski and shot him at close range. "It's like butter, baby," he told his friends, according to testimony during Foreman's trial last month. On Monday a Superior Court jury found Eric Foreman, now 18, guilty of first degree murder while armed. He could do a minimum of 30 years, and faces the possibility of life in prison without parole. His sentencing is scheduled for November 16.

Neil Godleski's parents came from Norwalk, Connecticut, to attend the trial but left for home before the verdict. I reached Don Godleski by phone and asked him to talk about his son. He told me we would have to wait until sentencing, when the Godleski family would present a statement honoring Neil.

"Briefly talking about it is all I can handle, I can hold it together," Don Godleski said, "but more than that ... I'm sorry."

Foreman's trial left many questions unanswered. Was Neil gunned down for fun or for his money? And the hardest question of all: Was Godleski's death preventable?

I believe the answer is yes. I also think the Godleskis can help prevent such violence in the future.

Eric Foreman fell through the porous cracks of D.C.'s juvenile justice system. He came from a family that knew violence. His father was killed on the Bruce Monroe School basketball court. His brothers, John "Baby J" and Maurice, joined violent crews to avenge their father's death. Both are in jail, Baby J for murder. Eric has followed their path.

When the 16-year-old shot Neil Godleski off his bike and killed him at close range, he was a ward of the city's Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services. He was staying at Dupree House, then a halfway house in Petworth that has since closed. Dupree House was known as a filthy place with scarce counseling and open doors, yet it continued to get city contracts. Why? It was operated by Associates for Renewal in Education, a nonprofit whose president was Thomas Gore, a very close associate of Mayor Vincent Gray. You might recall that Gore recently plead guilty to paying off mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to harass incumbent Adrian Fenty, then destroyed the evidence. He awaits sentencing.

The Godleskis sued A.R.E. in civil court. Now that the criminal case is winding down, Don Godleski told me they might drop the civil case.

Please don't. The evidence that might come forth in their case could expose the way D.C. lets violent kids roam free.

It would be a public service and help heal the loss of their son.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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Harry Jaffe

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The Washington Examiner