Darryl Craig has been in and out of jail since he was 14.
Craig, 21, has been convicted of attempted murder, assault, and illegal gun posession. Despite that, he will go free in less than a year after a federal judge leniently sentenced him last week. Craig told a federal judge he felt like he was being “triple punished for a charge I did time for when I was 14 years old.”
Three months later, a friend handed Craig a loaded gun in Queens and he fired twice at a 26-year-old man, striking him in the wrist and the leg.
This new arrest and conviction for attempted murder landed Craig in juvie for up to four years. (Records on juvenile convictions are sealed.) In 2012, an appeals court threw out his first arrest on the grounds that the stop and frisk that produced the gun was illegal.
“I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of these justices,” then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the media at the time. “He got himself another gun. He shot somebody twice and he was about to blow the guy away with a fatal bullet when somebody screamed and he ran away.”
And Ray Kelly, the police commissioner at the time, devoted an entire op-ed in the New York Post to Craig’s case.
“The decision... to dismiss the case against a teenager in possession of a loaded semiautomatic gun may be as dangerous as the weapon itself,” Kelly wrote. “Whether in the hands of hardened criminals or in the hands of misguided minors, illegal guns are equally deadly.”
While serving time for the attempted murder, Craig and three other young men assaulted an aide at the facility.
“The four attackers beat the employee with their hands and feet, as well with weapons, including chairs, a telephone and a garbage can,” the prosecution’s memo read. “The victim sustained multiple physical injuries from the gang assault, including a fractured elbow, a wrist injury that required surgery, a rib fracture, bruising and a laceration to the face, and a broken tooth that required a partial denture replacement.”
Not yet 18, Craig got a second felony conviction for the assault. He was released on parole in May 2014.
That December, Craig was picked up for dealing pot. Police found a sandwich bag of pot near his groin, a weapon, a loaded .380 caliber Bersa pistol, and more weed in the backseat. As a Bloods gang member, he was dressed head to toe in red.
Craig was charged with possession with intent to distribute and the unlawful use of a firearm for a drug trafficking crime in federal court. He was also hit with an extra offense, a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, because of his criminal history.
He pleaded out to just one count: being a felon in possession of a weapon.
Just before he was sentenced last week, Craig’s defense lawyer Susan Kellman and prosecutors debated whether he was a juvenile or a “youthful offender” when he was convicted of attempted murder at 14. The latter would mean his conviction would count toward his criminal history, despite his young age.
“The defendant’s criminal history, including the instant offense, cannot fairly be characterized as minor slip-ups by a wayward youth,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Gandy wrote the judge, “but repeated acts of extreme violence and criminal behavior that demonstrate a pattern of indifference to the well-being of others and the law in general.”
Craig threatened to break a guard’s neck as recently as November, Gandy said.
“Ms. Kellman said that [a work report from jail] says, he does not make the same mistakes twice,” Gandy said in court. “In this case, he’s made the same mistake over and over and over.”
Kellman argued that Craig’s positive changes, like glowing work reviews, showed he deserved, at age 21, a chance at building a normal life.
“The Court can’t ignore, and I hope won’t ignore, what his background was,” Kellman told the judge. “He never even got a chance to say goodbye to his mother” after she fell ill quickly.
Craig’s background was the subject of heartfelt pleas from his sisters and middle school teachers, the latter of which recalled him as a smart kid who never had a chance.
Craig’s sister, Kelly, told the judge about witnessing another sister’s murder when she was just 16, and how he was born into a family torn by grief. As their mother’s “baby,” he shared her bed until he was 6.
“It was as if they were conjoined twins,” Kelly wrote. But then his mother was quickly killed by cancer, and his life was turned upside down, she said.
“Then his father reappeared. Took him and moved him to Brownsville projects and introduced him to the life of drugs,” Kelly wrote. “He started stealing because his dad didn’t buy him clothes or underwear.”
With the kind of support he never had before, a second chance now would give a different outcome, Kellman said. She pointed to letters by middle school teachers who’d kept contact with Craig, calling him “kind” and a “go-getter” in letters submitted to the judge for sentencing.
Craig didn’t attend school past the ninth grade. Still, “he has demonstrated to me so consistently an effort, a genuine effort, to improve himself,” Kellman said.
She pointed to his eager embrace of the jail’s meager course offerings, adding that he even took one called “Smart Money for Older Adults.”
“Which he’s not,” she said, referencing his age.
Kellman attached glowing a recommendation for a promotion from his work supervisors at the jail. And “he has a goal, which he didn’t have when he was 14, 15, 16,” she said.
He wants to be a truck driver at his uncle’s company in Pennsylvania, Kellman told the judge. She said he’d begged her for books and prep materials.
Letters he sent the court are sprinkled with his own attempts at researching cases to combat his “career offender” status.
“I’m not the worst kid on the planet or in the world,” he said in court. “I came home from jail, my mind was still stuck at 14.”
“I’m a big believer in the carrot and the stick,” Kellman told Judge Edward Korman. “The carrot is his potential job, the carrot is his family.
“And the stick, I’m sorry to say, is you [judge],” she added.
And Korman agreed. He floated a sentence of 64 months, squarely in the middle of the range proposed by prosecutors. And then he cut 10 months, for the time Craig served in state jail. The 54-month sentence falls below what prosecutors asked for, and he’ll get another 10 months off for his time in state jail.
With time served, he’ll be home in less than a year, with the potential to start a new life for the first time since he was 14.
Korman said he weighed the risk “that jail itself can make people worse, and harden them as criminals,” with studies that show youthful offenders have a higher risk of recidivism. When he’s out, Craig will have a strict curfew, and was ordered to receive treatment for anger management.
“I told him if I ever see him in the color red, I’d hurt him myself,” Kellman told the judge, before realizing she herself was sporting a bright-red jacket.
She took it off and flipped it inside out.
“It’s reversible,” she said. “And anyway, I’m not a Blood, I can wear it.”
Craig walked out into Brooklyn Federal Court in khaki scrubs, clutching two manila envelopes in hands folded behind his back. Craig looked out at the public seating, where a young man and woman were waiting for him.
His sister clutched her clasped hands to her mouth.