Free-Range Kids

Are the Parents of a Teen Murderer Guilty of Not Anticipating His Crimes?


George Bergman / Wikimedia Commons

In the fall of 2012, Justin Robinson, 15, strangled Autumn Pasquale, 12, both of Clayton, New Jersey, when she came over to trade BMX bike parts. He plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter and received 17 years in prison. But now, writes Lisa Belkin, Autumn's dad, Anthony Pasquale, is filing suit against Justin's parents (who are divorced). She quotes Pasquale saying:

 "Parenting comes with responsibilities, and one of those is to raise your kids right, to pay attention and know when they're a danger to someone else. That's a parent's job."

To fail at that job is a crime, he believes. He's recently taken his certainty to court, suing Justin Robinson's parents for, essentially, being bad parents.

….In addition to his civil suit, Anthony is urging a change in criminal law. Dubbed "Autumn's Law," at the moment it is just an idea — a petition, which currently falls 12,000 signatures short of its 20,000 goal. Its point is simple: If parents knew they would go to jail for their parenting, Anthony says, they would do a better job.

Bold face mine, because: Really? Not that we don't try to keep our kids on the straight and narrow —99.999 percent of us parents do—but it is obviously impossible to control our children's every move. What's more, we shouldn't want to live in a society that requires this.

Criminalizing parents for raising law-breaking children would not only reinforce the idea that good parents are always on top of their kids (even in their teens), it would also enshrine "worst-first thinking" as the law of the land: If parents aren't constantly imagining the worst-case scenario first—"Gee, my son seems moody today. I hope he doesn't stab his playdate"—they would be guilty of not paying enough attention.


A policy like "Autumn's Law" should also seem ridiculous when anyone considers brothers like David and Ted Kaczynski. One was the Unabomber. One turned him in. If the parents created the murderer, how did they also create his brother, who worked as a youth counselor and then, after making the difficult decision to turn his brother in, became an anti-death penalty activist and eventually director of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery?

Parents cannot program their children or predict their every move. So while I can't even imagine the sorrow and horror that Autumn's parents have gone though, I hope they do not win their lawsuit. Parents already face enough criticism and blame for their child-rearing. ("Why did he eat the extra cookie?" "Why is he so scared to eat one extra cookie?") Heaping more criticism and blame on them will not make them parent better. It will only make them more paranoid.

That's not a quality most parents today are lacking.