Three out of 10 teenagers in Utah will be referred to the juvenile court system at least once before they turn 18, and 68 percent of them will be there for criminal offenses, according to the Utah Juvenile Court.
For two Utah teenagers, a Nevada court was the last stop on a long road of delinquency that had many turns, including everything from pranks to violent crime. For one boy, it will mean life in prison without parole; for the other, death.Those who know Edward Bennett and Joseph Beeson are sad about what has happened, but say they aren't surprised. Bennett and Beeson, like many other teenagers, showed signs of straying from social norms long before the Feb. 9 murder of Las Vegas store clerk Michelle Moore.
"As Joe got older you could see a drastic change in his clothes - he wore lots of black most of the time; in his hair style - he would wear it long, then shaved, then dyed black and punked; in his music - he would play loud satanic music. I feel like these were warning signs," said a neighbor, who requested anonymity.
Before the February murder, both teenagers had been cited for disorderly conduct and, police said, had shown an inclination toward violence.
While Bennett and Beeson's case is one of the more sensational, their road to ruin was similar to that of many teenagers who get into serious trouble.
"We are seeing a more serious type of behavior," said Val Harris, director of the Utah County Juvenile Court.
While this type of behavior seems to be breeding a generation of hooligans, Harris said, "Their behavior says help them, not punish them."
A number of factors or combinations of factors cause delinquency. One of the leading causes in a teenager's life is the feeling of being alone and isolated.
"When a youth pulls away from the norm he begins an ostracization program. He begins to look different to others, while at the same time, he sees people differently," said Ted Gerun, a clinical social worker and president of Western Youth Services.
"More and more we see kids that aren't connected to any support groups of substance. They need to know they are not alone in the world," Gerun said.
Other factors contributing to delinquency include divorce, physical abuse, substance abuse and neglect.
"A vast majority of juvenile delinquents have two common denominators in their background: child abuse and neglect," Juvenile Court Judge Merrill Hermansen said. "If I could have my ultimate wish, it would be to totally eliminate divorce and alcohol. Then we would need only one judge, for property disputes."
Parents must recognize the need for children to feel a sense of security, consistency and foundation in their lives. "There is a need for a significant relationship in a child's life," Gerun said.
Michael Phillips, deputy state Juvenile Court administrator, said, "Mothers (and fathers) have to love kids enough to say no."
He said the path a child chooses depends mostly on how consistently strict or permissive the child's mother is. Fathers also play an important role, but usually the mother's discipline has the most impact on how a child turns out.
Gerun said teenagers can be turned around if they are given regard and trust. "The key thing to watch for is a sense of hopelessness, which comes easily and quickly," he said.
Bennett and Beeson also steadily became isolated from family, friends and society, said neighbors and teachers.
"After age 12 or 13, it didn't matter what Joe's parents said," a neighbor said. "By age 13 or 14, he was running away from home for long periods of time without contacting his family."
By the time Beeson and Bennett reached high school age, they were involved in acting out fantasies with toy guns, using drugs and listening to satanic groups such as "Slayer," "Dokken," "Exodus," "House of Lords" and others.
"A few months before the murder, both boys had formed a band and they would play satanic music at Beeson's house loud enough to be heard throughout the neighborhood," one neighbor said.
Other neighbors said both boys had stopped listening to their parents, and had basically resigned from their families, feeling neither obligation nor commitment to them.
Gerun warned parents not to isolate themselves from their children, even when the teenager has made wrong choices. Parents cannot let their children do their own thing and expect to not have problems.
Bennett and Beeson did choose to do their own thing. Their lifestyle and environment reflected their drifting from normal patterns of teenage life to more rebellious, delinquent behavior.
"During a short period of time before the murder, both boys could be seen driving around Utah County in a gray hearse. It used to be parked in front of Joe's house," an acquaintance said.
Statistics show that the greatest amount of juvenile crime is committed during the mid-teen years. For this reason, the next decade will be a critical one for Utah.
"Utah has a higher ratio of youths under 18 to total state population than any other state," Phillips said. "Teenagers most likely to be referred to the courts are between the ages of 14 and 17, and that group is growing rapidly in this state, while it is stabilizing or declining in other states."
Offense rates have been on the increase for the past 20 years. Between 1984 and 1995 the most crime-prone group, 14- to 17-year-olds, will grow more than 46 percent. Phillips said this has already started to put significant stress on the reduced staffs of juvenile courts.
"I am seeing five to six times as many cases now as there were 10 years ago," Hermansen said. "We are asking for two more judges because of the case load."
Phillips said the biggest concern of the juvenile courts is the high rate of substance abuse.