'It was already over with. I was panicking': Did the system fail a 13-year-old who confessed to murder?

Thursday, October 10, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- There are currently more than 2,000 charges against Richmond County children. Kids in the criminal system are a persistent problem for the county.

One of the latest is a 13-year-old who is serving life in prison for murder. He committed the crime a couple of years ago, but a judge recently sentenced him.

Zietdrick Shelley was sentenced as an adult. Local activists say it is kids like Zietdrick that could have been saved with the proper resources.

At 13, there are few things a child is ready for, but Zietdrick, he murdered a woman the same year he should've been getting ready for 8th grade.

Officer: "Did you take normal classes or were you in special education classes?"

Shelley: "I ain’t been in school for a long time. It's been a long time since I went to school."

Back in 2017, police said he killed a 61-year-old woman. They found her dying near the AUMC.

Shelley: "I told her to get away from [me]. She told me she would cut me up. I say, 'Alright.' Then I grabbed her. She -- because she -- she walked up on me. I shot her."

Zietdrick says the woman wouldn't stop following him. He didn't know what to do. He pulled out a gun he had bought for $60 at a pawn shop.

Shelley: "It was already over with. She -- she ran up on me, so I was panicking. I picked up her purse and left."

He was not in school because he dropped out. He was not at home because he was a ward of the state. He was not himself because he says since he was 7, he's been without his medicine for anxiety and ADHD.

Officer: "We all make choices. Sometimes we got to accept the choices we made."

The teen made a choice he has to live with and he is sentenced to a lifetime of facing it. But before he got here, juvenile justice advocates say he and thousands of Richmond County kids were stuck in the cracks of a broken system.

We previously reported Zietdrick's criminal problems.

An old jail is now waiting to be rebuilt. The city is looking for a company to do the work now. It will have therapy, dorms, tutoring, and mentoring. This is one step in a new direction for children in Richmond County.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.