What to Know
- A 13-year-old boy pleaded guilty to robbery in connection to the death of Barnard College student Tessa Majors
- The plea deal means he will avoid murder charges. Two other teens have been charged as adults, and face murder charges
- Majors was fatally stabbed during a "robbery gone wrong" in Morningside Park on Dec. 10, police said
A 13-year-old boy pleaded guilty Wednesday to a robbery charge in connection to the killing of Barnard College student Tessa Majors in Morningside Park in late 2019.
The plea deal for the teen, who had been charged as a minor, allows him to avoid facing a murder charge, with a felony designation going on his record until he is 18. The boy's lawyer said her client admitted being present and involved in the fatal incident, including picking up the knife used in the stabbing, but was "not the main actor."
Instead, the teen said it was his pals, 14-year-olds Rashaun Weaver and Luciano Lewis, who actually went through with the killing of Majors as part of the "robbery gone wrong," as police called it at the time.
NBC New York is not identifying the teen who pleaded guilty because he was charged as a juvenile, but Weaver and Lewis have been identified after being charged as adults with second-degree murder and robbery. Both teens have pleaded not guilty to those charges.
The teen who pleaded guilty on Wednesday faces spending between six and 18 months in juvenile detention at his June 15 sentencing, after receiving credit for time served. The plea is the first admission of guilt in connection to the killing.
An attorney for the family of Tessa Majors said the family intends on providing a victim impact statement at sentencing. The Legal Aid Society, who represented the teenager, said their client didn't touch Majors or take any of her property, but said the plea "is consistent with our client's limited role in this tragic event."
After a lengthy manhunt, the three middle schoolers were all eventually charged in the months after Majors' December 2019 death. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said they believe Weaver was the one who stabbed the college freshman, as prosecutors allege that Lewis prevented her from escaping as she called out for help. Weaver was brought into police custody on February 14, while Lewis was charged six days later.
“While a criminal process will never fully heal the unimaginable pain suffered by Tessa Majors’ family and friends, this indictment is a significant step forward on the path to justice,” District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in a statement. “We are committed to holding these young people accountable, and equally committed to a fair process which safeguards their rights. This is how we will achieve true justice for Tessa and her loved ones.”
According to a criminal complaint, surveillance video taken from Morningside Park shows Majors walking into Morningside Park around 6:40 p.m. on Dec. 11.
The three accused teens are seen on video entering the same side of the park through a different entrance, the complaint says. Weaver was wearing “a navy jacket with a horizontal white stripe and a red stripe across the chest” in the video, according to the complaint.
At first, video shows the three following a male pedestrian through the park, but a subsequent video shows that the male is no longer being followed, the complaint says.
Around 6:47 p.m., surveillance video shows Weaver and the two others "surrounding a female who was walking up the stairs," but later shows them turn and walk back down the stairs after a different male pedestrian walks down the stairs, according to the complaint.
Less than two minutes later, a witness told police he heard a "male voice" near the stairs, the complaint says.
"Informant…. heard a male voice from the area just to the east of the landing, say in substance — run your s---. Gimme your phone. You got some weed, gimme that too," the complaint reads. "According to informant… after a few moments, he then heard a female voice scream, among other things, help me! I’m being robbed."
A minute later, surveillance video shows the three struggling with Majors on the landing before Majors "break[s] free and slowly stagger[s] up the stairs," the complaint says.
Majors’ blood was recovered from the landing and stairs, and DNA recovered from one of her fingernail clippings matched Weaver’s DNA profile, according to the complaint.
An autopsy found that Majors was stabbed in the torso several times; one of the stab wounds "pierced her heart," the complaint says.
The NYPD also obtained an audio recording in which Weaver admitted that he "hit [Majors] with a knife" inside the park after she refused to give up her phone, according to the complaint.
Weaver was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree robbery and three counts of second-degree robbery in connection with both Majors' death and with a separate robbery that took place inside Morningside Park on Dec. 7, according to a criminal complaint filed with the DA's office.
One of the murder counts represents "intentional murder," while the other represents a charge for "a murder caused in the course of a robbery," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. noted.
Detectives reviewed "a combination of many types of evidence ranging from scientific to digital to video to [Weaver's] own statements" prior to his arrest, Vance said.
Prosecutors say Weaver was also one of three people involved in a knifepoint iPhone robbery that took place inside Morningside Park four days before Majors' death, on Dec. 7.
Weaver was wearing the same jacket during that robbery, and Apple records reviewed by the NYPD showed that the stolen phone was logged into his iCloud account, according to the complaint.
Police previously described how the group of teenagers put Majors in a chokehold and removed items from her pockets. The college freshman was able to fight back, biting one of her attackers on the finger, police said.
The 13-year-old said he watched his friend slash Majors with a knife, according to a detective's testimony.
Detectives say the 13-year-old teen watched as Majors was stabbed at the base of the steps, feathers coming out of her jacket as she struggled to fight back. She was stabbed multiple times and managed to stagger out of the park to find a security guard for help. Majors died at a hospital.
In a statement after her death, Majors' family said they want to know "what exactly happened to Tessa and who committed her murder. We believe, for the immediate safety of the community and the surrounding schools, that should be everyone’s top priority and we are grateful to the men and women of the NYPD for all of their efforts."
Police immediately stepped up security in the park area after Majors died. Crime statistics show more robberies were reported in Morningside Park this year than in any other park in the city.