A former felon's message for parents

After serving a 15-year sentence for second-degree murder, Ellis Curry is talking about the night Terry Parker High School student Jeff Mitchell was killed and why he's committed to trying to convince kids like him to not fall into a life of crime.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ellis Curry and a group of friends went to Terry Parker High School on Nov. 4, 1993, to find someone who owed their friend money. That boy wasn't there, so they decided to rob someone instead.

Jeff Mitchell

At random, they picked 14-year-old Jeff Mitchell (right), who was waiting with a friend for his father to pick him up after an after-school event.

Jeff's father arrived to find his shot to death.

Curry sat down with Channel 4 anchor Jennifer Waugh in an effort to help parents spot the warning signs he says his own mother missed.
Talking about that night 19 years ago, Curry say: "That was never supposed to happen. We would rob somebody, just take whatever they got and just let them go."

Curry's friend, 19-year-old Omar Jones, is the one who shot Mitchell. Curry and two other teenagers also were charged with murder because they took part the robbery that led to Mitchell's death. Curry, who was 16 years old at the time, is the only one no longer behind bars. His three friends are currently serving 34 years to life sentences in prison.

Curry says he bought his first gun when he was 12 years old for $25. The older brother of a friend of his bought the gun for him at a pawn shops in Arlington.

Asked why a 12-year-old needed a gun, he said: "At that time I felt like if I have a gun, I have power. I've got a convincer. I can instill more fear with a gun than with my fists."

"Even at the time I had no intentions of shooting somebody. I was just going to pull it out scare a couple of folks and make everyone think I was this really bad guy, I'm really not,' Curry said.

Curry says he grew up wanting to be a thug like in the movies he and his friends would watch, movies like Boys N Hood and Menace II Society.

"At the time we thought that was the image to be," Curry said. "The group didn't say 'I want to graduate and go to college,' although that should have been our mind set. But it wasn't."

It's the first time Waugh says she's heard an ex-offender attribute their criminal behavior to images they had seen on television.

"There have been studies that suggest violent movies and video games are bad influences on children, but to hear an ex-offender confirm it convinced me to continue my own vigilance with my children about censoring what they watch on TV," Carroll said.

Curry says his trouble started when he was just 8 or 9 years old. He and his friends would throw rocks at cars and think it was funny. While some parents might pass that off as, boys being boys, Curry says the rock throwing graduated into throwing bricks, then into fighting at school, at the mall and at public parks.

Curry says his mother was no match for his lies. He says his mother loved him, but raising five children without a father to discipline them gave him a license to misbehave.

"I knew I could convince her to believe just about any story I'd tell her," Curry says. "A lot of parents won't put a stern punishment on their kids these kids know today if you take my game she'll give it back in two days, if you take my play station she'll only take it two days. Parents are not putting enough fear in their child to respect them and do what they tell them to do."

Ellis Curry as a boy

Curry says there is a mentality among young boys growing up without a father that they need to earn respect by developing a reputation as being tough and intimidating. Curry says that everyone in his neighborhood knew he had a gun; they would frequently turn to him for protection. But he says no one ever told his mother he had it.

Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson asked Curry how he was able to hide his gun from his mother.

"I'd hide it under my bed; sometimes in the bushes outside my apartment," Curry answered.

As a former police officer, Jefferson is familiar with a neighborhood's fear of retaliation for snitching on someone like Curry, who should not have been carrying a gun.

"If anyone in my neighborhood that knew I had a gun had told law enforcement, then that may have stopped us from making it to Terry Parker that night."

Curry says he encourages neighbors to get involved if they know about crime happening where they live. He says people shouldn't worry about retaliation for snitching, "if you go and tell something to the police and you don't let nobody else know that you told how is the suspect going to know that you told if you keep your mouth closed."

What Curry said next about the night Jeff Mitchell was killed was hard to hear.

"I would say about 70 percent of the people we ever robbed, we knew before we ever robbed them that we weren't going to get anything."

So why do it?

"It's the fact that I can say I robbed somebody, or I did that," Curry said. "That's the wrong mentality, but that's what it was, that's what it was to be able to say that you said you did it."

So a high school student lost his life because someone wanted bragging rights.

The father of a 14-year-old killed at high school is now friends with one of the men convicted after the murder as they work for a common goal.

Curry was released from prison in 2005 and works now as a welder. He says he regrets every day his part the murder and has become friends with Jeff Mitchell's father, Glen (pictured, right). Together, they work toward a common goal of trying keep the next generation teenagers from following the wrong path.

"That's the whole reason I'm here today; that's why I do what I do," Curry said. "It's all because Jeff's life, my incarceration and the whole incident is why I try to go out and stop anybody who's on that path.

Watch Jennifer Waugh's interview with Ellis Curry and Glen Mitchell