Grant Case Sparks National Debate

Juvenile Justice, Admit Processes Questioned

When Harvard's faculty admissions committee voted to rescind its offer of admission to Gina Grant last Monday, it sparked what has become a national debate on whether the juvenile justice system can protect the anonymity of child offenders and on the degree of candor that can be expected of college applicants.

That debate now threatens to overshadow the case of Grant, the 19-year-old Cambridge Rindge and Latin School senior whose offer of early admission was canceled this week after the University received anonymous information that she had bludgeoned her mother to death in 1990.

But these facts, which have been repeated in newspapers and on television since the story broke Thursday, may not be all that lies at the root of Harvard's decision.

A source on the Faculty Standing Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid, which voted to annul the offer, indicated that Grant may have misrepresented her past in more than one area of her application.

The source said that the media has been focusing too narrowly on an application question pertaining to discipline and academic probation incurred in high school.

There are three parts to the proba- tion question used on the Common Application:whether a student has been disciplined within thelast three years; whether a student has ever beenremoved from school; and whether a student hasever voluntarily left. The Common Application wasadopted by Harvard this year to increase applicantdiversity.

Although University officials have refused tocomment specifically on Grant's case, a statementreleased by the Harvard News Office Thursday saidthe faculty standing committee had decided toreconsider an application of early admission after"new information" because available.

"The integrity of the admissions processdepends upon the accuracy and completeness of theinformation contained in the applicant's file, onwhich decisions are based," the release said.

According to the news office, an offer ofadmission could be rescinded if a student fails tograduate, shows a significant drop in performancebefore graduation, engages in behavior that bringsinto question honesty, maturity, or moralcharacter, or if any part of the applicationcontains misrepresentations.

Harvard

Questions have also arisen over the procedureHarvard followed in its rare decision to rescindGrant's early offer of admission, made inDecember.

Despite repeated calls to her home yesterday,Harvard's Vice president and General CounselMargaret H. Marshall refused to comment, sayingshe had earlier been available for questions.Marshall also refused comment Friday evening.

But sources close to the applicant who spoke oncondition of anonymity have blasted Harvard formaking its decision before questioning Grant, andfor not allowing the student the chance to clearher name.

After receiving an anonymous courier deliverylate last week, the 34-member faculty standingcommittee held a special meeting Monday. A numberof members said yesterday they were unable toattend.

On Wednesday, Dean of Admissions and FinancialAid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 and Marshall metwith Grant and Professor of Law Charles J.Ogletree Jr., who is assisting Grant as anadvisor, to inform her of the faculty's decision,according to the sources close to Grant.

At the meeting, Ogletree told the officialsthat Grant had followed correct legal procedure innot disclosing her sealed juvenile records,according to the sources.

"As best we can recall, [Fitzsimmons andMarshall] acknowledged that, but said it was ajudgment call," one source said. "In other words,[they said] Gina could have chosen to explain hercircumstances, but chose not to."

Later in the Wednesday meeting, Ogletreereportedly asked whether Grant could haveindicated her involvement in her mother's death inanother part of the application. Marshall andFitzsimmons said there have been cases in whichapplicants note special circumstances on theirforms, the source said.

Marshall and Fitzsimmons conceded that therewas no section on the application for informationrelated to criminal records, but then said thatthe admissions office was troubled by the mannerin which she became an orphan, according to thesource.

Fitzsimmons and Ogletree could not be reachedfor comment yesterday.

"They made the argument that Gina's record,although distinguished, was no more distinguishedthan that of many applicants," the source said."It was the orphan angle that was a good hook. Thefact that Gina was an orphan and had come fromdifferent circumstances was what made her unique."

"The new information, in their minds,undermined her claim to be distinguished by beingan orphan, when in fact the circumstances she hadto overcome were even more difficult" than thoseof other applicants with difficult backgrounds,the source said.

Grant's attorney, Margaret A. Burnham,confirmed yesterday that Grant was not given anopportunity to air her defense before Harvardrescinded its offer of admission.

She said her client plans to appeal Harvard'sdecision and has not ruled out the possibility ofa lawsuit against the University.

"The decision had already been made," Burnhamsaid. "That was a post-hoc meeting. That was agathering to announce the decision, not a meetingto discuss what, if any, action Harvard shouldtake on material it had received in the mail."

Burnham, who was not present at Wednesday'smeeting, said she later talked to several Harvardadministrators, whom she refused to identify.

"The officials that I talked to just describedher application as incomplete, because theapplication did not include a material part of herlife," the attorney said.

Legal Issues

Grant's case was closed in 1991 by theLexington County S.C. Family Court after a judgeruled she had committed voluntary manslaughter.

Under South Carolina law, the proceedings weresealed from the public and can only be reopened ifGrant were involved in another violent crime. Butnews reporters provided daily coverage of Grant's1990 trial.

Burnham said yesterday that the student did notdisclose either the court's ruling or hersubsequent time in a correctional facility on herapplication, because Grant felt she was within herlegal rights not to do so.

Only the second part of the CommonApplication's discipline question--asking whethera student has ever been suspended or removed fromschool--could apply to Grant's case.

Burnham said an applicant is "not required toanswer" the question if an affirmative responsewould involve matters contained in sealed judicialrecords.

"`Sealed' means that no one shall have accessto the records," Burnham added. "I don't read thequestion as applying to [criminal] records, but toaction taken in regard to a student by a school."

Jack B. Swerling, Grant's defense attorneyduring the 1991 murder trial, said he agreed.

"The fact that Gina Grant went through thefamily-court system in South Carolina is notrelevant to Harvard's consideration of whether sheis a qualified student," Swerling said in atelephone interview yesterday.

"The [application] question is something thatrelates to the academic world," Swerling said."She was never punished in the school system."

The criminal-defense attorney said the intentof juvenile-offense confidentiality is to allowoffenders to begin life anew. "That's the purposeof treating juveniles different from adults," hesaid. "In the juvenile system you give themanother opportunity, another chance."

Burnham said Grant did not act alone inchecking "no" to the discipline question.

"She didn't consult with legal experts inrespect to answering the question, [but] sheanswered the question armed with advice thatlawyers had given her at the time of the trialthat her juvenile records were sealed records,"Burnham said.

Burnham said that if Harvard officials did infact want Grant to indicate her past by checking"yes," the question was inappropriate. "If thequestion is to be interpreted as asking aboutinformation about a juvenile record, it is animproper question," she said.

Some legal experts agreed.

Charles Kindregan, co-author of a book onMassachusetts general practices in family law anda professor at Suffolk University, said, "Ingeneral, juvenile records are sealed because mostpeople in the profession feel that when a juvenilematter is over, it's over."

Most states have laws preventing employers fromdiscriminating against applicants on the basis ofpast crimes, especially ones they committed asjuveniles, Kindregan said.

Kindregan endorsed the advice Grant receivedthat Harvard had no right to either the results orthe existence of the sealed records.

"Most juvenile systems around the country aresimilar in this regard, in that they are intendedto give the juvenile another chance," theprofessor said.

A juvenile decision is not intended to bepunitive but rehabilitative, he added. "Itshouldn't ruin the rest of their lives," saidSwerling.

Haunted by the Past

Although the details of Grant's case in SouthCarolina were ordered sealed by Family Court JudgeMarc Westbrook, the memory of Grant's crimepersists.

Then an honors student at Lexington MiddleSchool, Grant was charged with murder after herolder sister found the body of their mother,Dorothy Mayfield, 42, on September 13, 1990.

Grant's sentencing came in January 1991, onlythree months after the murder, but the case isstill remembered in the sleepy hamlet ofLexington, population 6,000, seat of Lexington Co.in the midlands of South Carolina.

In an interview yesterday Lexington Co.Solicitor Donald V. Myers, who prosecuted Grant,said he is still horrified by the crime.

"If you call beating a woman's head to a bloodypulp 13 times with a lead crystal chandelier thensticking a knife through her neck to the spinalcord brutal, I'd say that's pretty brutal," Myerssaid.

Although Swerling, Grant's defense attorney,argued that the defendant had suffered throughyears of extreme emotional abuse under analcoholic mother, Myers said Grant struck hermother following an argument over Grant'srelations with a boyfriend, Jack Hook.

"Her mother forbade her from seeing theboyfriend, the boyfriend would slip into the houseevery night after [her mother] went to sleep,"Myers said. Hook, who attempted to help Mayfield'sdeath appear to be a suicide by inserting acarving knife in the dead woman's neck, pleadaccessory to the murder and served nearly a yearin a juvenile corrections facility.

But Swerling said Lexington residents ralliedaround the then-14-year-old A-student, contendingthat Grant had acted in self-defense.

"It was a highly publicized issue, thecommunity became very sympathetic to her, becauseof the environment she was in," Swerling saidFriday. "The community was very impressed with hercapabilities" as a student.

But Myers maintained that Grant was remorselessand a threat to the community.

"[Investigators] always were concerned that shewas in full denial, that she was never acceptingresponsibility for what she did," Myers said."There appeared not to be much remorse."

But Dr. Harold C. Morgan, who was hired bySwerling to conduct a psychiatric evaluation ofGrant, said she was completely normal, except forher abused childhood.

"Emotionally at least, it was similar to anabused spouse or battered wife kind of thing,although the battering was not physical," Morgansaid Friday.

But Myers disagreed. "There was emotionalabuse, but was that what it was [that made Grantkill her mother] or whether the mother said 'Youcan't see your boyfriend'?" he asked.

Morgan, a psychiatry professor at theUniversity of South Carolina Medical School, saidGrant "was the product of a very sad and abusivefamily" and had been through "a lot of badsituations that no teen-ager should have to dealwith."

A Look Ahead

Despite her troubled past, Grant continues tolook to the future.

Burnham said her client has applied to otherschools and is awaiting their decisions, butrefused to cite which schools.

At least one school has indicated it wouldaccept Grant.

"If she were to apply for admission to BostonUniversity then she would certainly be a seriouscandidate for admission," said Kevin Carleton, theuniversity's director of media relations.

"Any association with the court should notautomatically exclude a potential candidate,"Carleton said. "Even a crime as horrible asparricide should never prohibit a person frommaking a positive change in their life," he added.

Ironically, Grant's past and Harvard'srescinding of her admission might not have come tolight were it not for a complimentary piecefeaturing her life in last Sunday's Boston GlobeMagazine.

The article, "Beating the Odds," focused onGrant and a classmate who had persevered throughdifficult circumstances.

In the article, Grant said she would not allowa difficult past to ruin her future.

"It's true that you can acknowledge that badthings happen and that things are awful," she saidthen. "But to feel I'm a victim, that's just notgood."

Sarah E. Scrogin and Andrew L. Wrightcontributed to the reporting of this story.AP File PhotoGINA GRANT is escorted into a police carafter her hearing on Nov. 3, 1990 at the LexingtonCounty (S.C.) court house.