A murderer at 11, Abraham's legal woes mount again

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Nathaniel Abraham, 13, of Pontiac, Michigan has his leg-shackles removed by an Oakland County Sheriff Deputy in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Auditorium prior to the start of jury selection at his murder trial on Oct. 18, 1999.

Pontiac -- Now 32, Nathaniel Abraham has spent more than half of his life incarcerated, first in a juvenile facility and later in adult prison.

And Abraham may be soon headed back to prison on charges of indecent exposure and assaulting police officers, the latest in a string of legal troubles that followed his arrest at 11 years old for shooting a stranger to death outside a Pontiac party store.

Those who know and care for Abraham have described him as troubled but also bright and engaging and say his problems stem from youthful mistakes and being branded with a reputation he may carry for a lifetime.

Those who have investigated, prosecuted and monitored Abraham describe him as someone who does whatever he pleases and believes he is a “celebrity” after being courted by the likes of Oprah Winfrey.

Abraham’s choices continue to dog him and many, including a judge and former attorneys, question whether efforts to help him will ultimately be for naught.

“He killed my brother,” said Nichole Edwards, sister of Ronnie Green, who died in October 1997 from a .22 rifle shot fired by Abraham. “I did know of the trouble he got in recently but it is truly, truly hard on me and my family. It’s like a bad nightmare that never ends.

“One of his promises when he first got out (at 21) was that he planned to go out and talk with and mentor young people. We all feel we’ve been lied to,” said Edwards, who agreed to appear with him on “Oprah” after his release from juvenile detention in 2007.

By 11, investigators said Abraham already had at least 22 police contacts for arson, assaults, break-ins, thefts and threatening children and adults alike with a steel pipe.

While serving his first sentence at Maxey Training School, a facility for juveniles, Abraham obtained a GED but also got into trouble for threatening other inmates.

A few months after being paroled, he was picked up in possession of a large supply of ecstasy in May 2008. A short time after his return to prison, he was convicted of assaulting two guards in late 2010.

And this summer, within a few weeks of completing parole, he was accused of indecent exposure and subsequently failing to show up in court. That led to a fistfight with deputies who tried to arrest him on the street and used a stun gun to subdue Abraham.

He was taken to the Oakland County Jail and later placed in an isolation cell after multiple warnings for exposing himself to other prisoners and trustees, according to the sheriff's office.

'Changed ... forever'

Abraham has summed up his life, until now, as making “mistakes” and listening to the wrong people. As a child, he claimed he made youthful errors of judgment, like shooting weapons at targets in his neighborhood, but was committed to changing his behavior.

As an adult, he claimed to sometimes react to hostile forces around him, including prison guards and cops. He recently admitted in court that he needs counseling and psychiatric help.

“He doesn’t want to go back to prison, back into the belly of that beast,” his current attorney, James L. Galen Jr., told a judge at a recent hearing for his Aug. 8 arrest. “He wants more than anything to assimilate into society.”

Galen believes the indecent exposure charge will be disproved at a district court trial on Nov. 8. He said Abraham's confrontation with plainclothes deputies stemmed from fear and his client’s misunderstanding of when he needed to surrender himself for court.

Attorney Mayer Morganroth, who assisted in Abraham’s trial for Greene’s death, called his former client’s present situation “a shame.”

“I think going away at a young age changed his life forever,” said Morganroth, whose high-profile clients have included assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian and auto executive-turned alleged drug dealer John DeLorean.

“Being in a place like that, I think we all know there really is no rehabilitation and more bad habits learned.

“I visited him many, many times to try and give him assistance,” Morganroth said. “I always had the impression he was just a kid. He didn’t understand what was going on or what he had done.”

Nathaniel Abraham argued with the judge at his arraignment August 10, 2018.

Confusion and explanations

Brian York, the Pontiac police officer who arrested Abraham for Greene's slaying, said he encountered a seemingly confused 11-year-old when he first questioned him Oct. 31, 1997. But York also said Abraham was quick with explanations.

“We went to his junior high school where he was dressed up like Abraham Lincoln with a top hat and white beard for a Halloween party,” recalled York, now retired. “He was taken out of class and we went to a room and later to the police station to discuss the Greene shooting with his mother present.

“He played innocent: At first he didn’t know anything about it,” York said. “Then he said he might have been in the field when another kid did it and named another boy who he said was responsible. When I asked him why his fingerprints were the only ones on the rifle, he said it must have happened when he had shot at a tree branch and missed.”

The .22 caliber rifle had been stolen in a neighborhood burglary. The rifle stock had been chopped down -- by Abraham, York believes -- to shorten the weapon, making it easier for a small person to grasp.

York said Abraham’s mother came to the police station, thinking officers were questioning her son about another weapon -- a shotgun that she had called police to remove from her home a week earlier.

“She was shocked,” recalled York.

“The Abraham story was an emotional one for a lot of people, because of his age,” said York, who retired from the since-disbanded Pontiac Police Department. “He and the victim didn’t even know each other. It was random.”

There was more, York recalled.

Abraham was picked up for stealing trick-or-treat candy from younger kids at a city-sponsored Harvest Festival the night after the shooting.

Nathaniel Abraham, 13, is escorted from his murder trial in Pontiac, Mich., Nov. 9, 1999.

“He liked to use a teddy bear for target practice,” said York. “We found it in the driveway at his home with bullets in it. He had lost interest in shooting at tree branches and streets signs.”

Abraham was convicted of second-degree murder in Green's death and spent nearly a decade in juvenile detention.

“That’s more (time) than some get,” York said. “Unfortunately he didn’t do what he should have – get out of Pontiac.  When he got out, he began associating with dopers and drug dealers. And not long after that, he went down again."

'Learning from the wrong people'

In May 2008, 18 months after release from prison for Greene’s death, Abraham was arrested in Pontiac with 254 ecstasy pills in a liquor bottle bag.

In January 2009, as Abraham faced sentencing for possession of drugs with intent to deliver, defense attorney Bryon Pitts reminded Oakland Circuit Judge Daniel O’Brien how his client had been incarcerated before becoming a teenager. He asked a sentence of around 36 months.

“The chance at life that you know and I know, and almost any of these other people in this room have known are completely different from the circumstances he had found himself in…” Pitts told the judge.

Assistant prosecutor Beth Hand requested 60 months, noting that just 18 months had elapsed from Abraham's release to the drug offense.

“He is not going to do anything that doesn’t want to do and that behavior is continued while he is incarcerated in the Oakland County Jail," Hand told the judge. "He basically thinks he is some type of celebrity or doesn’t have to abide by the same rules and conditions that other people do.”

O’Brien sentenced Abraham to 4 to 20 years, with credit for 146 days served in jail. Abraham was released from prison in June 2017.

Pitts said he hasn’t had contact with Abraham in several years and could not comment on his current situation. He said for some young offenders, sentences serve to acclimate offenders to the prison environment rather than the outside world.

“It's my opinion that lengthy sentences, especially for young offenders, are not effective if you are hoping to return someone as a law-abiding member of society," he said. "An offender can spend too much learning from the wrong people and come back out and commit crimes.”

Galen said he felt good about bonding his client out of jail this past week but was not celebrating. He said he has advised Abraham not to leave his house except to go to work.

“A former employer has offered him work,” said Galen, who did not elaborate. “I think it is his best interest to stay at home with his mother and not be out in the community.”

Nathaniel Abraham agrees to a plea deal on a drug charge before Judge in Pontiac in this Nov. 17, 2008, file photo. Abraham, now 33, of Pontiac was sentenced Tuesday in Oakland County Circuit Court to 6 to 40 years in prison for selling drugs to an undercover police officer in Farmington Hills.

Besides family, Abraham has found numerous supporters over the years, like John Cromer, who described himself as a mentor who has known him since 2007.

“When he got out, I helped him get enrolled in school, get a job and car, and paid for his apartment for a year,” Cromer said. “He is an intelligent and gifted writer and his songs and writings speak of his pain.

"He’s been through enough punishment and what he needs more than anything now is support to help him make it on the outside,” he said.

Cromer said Abraham initially told supporters police had planted the drugs on him in May 2008. He later pleaded guilty to the offense.

“But I don’t believe that (indecent exposure) charge for a minute,” said Cromer. “That’s not like him and I don’t believe he would do anything like that.”

Another supporter, Samara Willis, said she also had known Abraham “for over 10 years and believe he deserves support.”

As for Abraham’s personal life, Willis said he is writing a book that will elaborate on his experiences.

The idea that Abraham might write a book that would likely include information about her late brother, Greene, rankles the victim’s sister, Edwards, who also read rumors of such a project on social media.

“I miss Ronnie every day,” she said. “There is no way we are going to allow him to profit from his death in any way.”


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