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The end of second chances

May 22, 2011

(anchored this collaboration with Justin George and Philip Morgan)

Walter “J.J.” Revear walked out of the Hillsborough County jail that day into hugs from relatives and questions from reporters.

“Do you know what a break you got? Are you going to stay out of trouble now?”

It was his 13th birthday, Oct. 20, 1995. And he was the chubby-cheeked face of a flawed juvenile justice system at a time judges wrestled over punishments for kids who committed grown-up crimes.

The fifth-grader, who stood at 4-foot-6, had driven the getaway car in an armed robbery. The victim caught a glimpse of him, giggling.

In court, he had to sit tall to see over the jury box. He swam in a button-up dress shirt. Prosecutors wanted him to go to prison, but community activists asked the judge to believe in his future.

He got house arrest — that time. The next time he walked out of jail, no one met him. He lost his baby fat, grew facial hair, began to stick out less among the chained men. News reports logged in arrests with fading interest.

Then, on Wednesday, reporters gathered around a Tampa Police Department spokeswoman to hear about a murder outside a Nebraska Avenue bar. The victim was someone familiar; the news, not unexpected.

It was J.J.

Dead at 28.

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