New Jersey man completes 30-year murder sentence only to kill mother two days later

By Yanan Wang

"I have failed," Pratt told the judge, his voice barely audible, the Press of AC reported. "I don't want a trial. I'm guilty." Photo / Washington Post
"I have failed," Pratt told the judge, his voice barely audible, the Press of AC reported. "I don't want a trial. I'm guilty." Photo / Washington Post

In October of 2014, Steven Pratt was supposed to begin his life anew. He had served out a 30-year prison sentence and gone home to Atlantic City, N.J., where his family held a party to welcome him.

But a violent history would repeat itself all too soon.

Pratt was 15 when he got into an argument with his next-door neighbor, Michael Anderson. Court records show that Anderson was a father figure of sorts to Pratt. On Oct. 11, 1984, he asked Pratt and his friends to vacate a hallway in their apartment building where they were noisily hanging out and smoking marijuana.

Angered by Anderson's request, Pratt retrieved a lead pipe from his apartment and approached Anderson with it in hand. Anderson wrestled the pipe from Pratt's grasp, striking him on the face.

Then Pratt's mother entered the room, and Anderson left.

Hours later, Pratt knocked on the door of Anderson's apartment. When the neighbor appeared, Pratt asked him if he recalled their fight earlier that day, then shot him dead.

Pratt was tried as an adult for the murder, and began serving his sentence at a maximum security prison.

Thirty years later, things should have been different. Pratt was 45 when he got out, and returned to the Atlantic City neighborhood where his 64-year-old mother resided, the Press of Atlantic City reported. It was a quiet part of town, the kind of place where kids carved hearts around their initials in wet cement on the sidewalk.

Neighbors told the Press of AC that Gwendolyn Pratt was "kind and impeccably dressed." She took a 6 a.m. bus to work every day without fail.

No one guessed that she would lose her life less than two days after her son got his freedom.

On the Sunday morning after Pratt's release, police found Gwendolyn dead from blunt injuries to the head. Pratt was charged, and at his initial court appearance, he wept.

"I have failed," Pratt told the judge, his voice barely audible, the Press of AC reported. "I don't want a trial. I'm guilty."

He officially pleaded guilty to manslaughter this week. He is expected to be sentenced to 25 years in prison, according to the Associated Press.

A 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that about 77 percent of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within five years. Among convicted murderers, however, the recidivism rate is much lower, especially when it comes to those who commit murder again.

Nancy Mullane, author of the book "Life after Murder," studied the patterns of 988 convicted murderers who were released from California prisons, none of whom were rearrested for murder.

The timing and gruesome repetition of Pratt's crimes make him an anomaly - one that led many to ask whether he had been destroyed by juvenile incarceration or was just inherently murderous.

"If anybody's been in prison 30 years in the adult system, they're no sweethearts," Ronald Gruen, a psychologist who has evaluated juvenile criminals for decades, told the Press of AC. "They're probably a very angry, very paranoid individual. Probably very upset with the world."

- Washington Post

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