NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Kids who kill is a story that all too often makes headlines these days, but sadly it's not a new story.
The story of two child killers from the '90s may offer lessons about what many consider to be a broken juvenile justice system.
"You only have one life to live, and this is not the way to live your life - in prison or locked up," inmate Andrew Jefferson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Jefferson has spent much of his life behind bars and, now at age 38, he is in prison again.
"Yeah, I have regrets," Jefferson explained.
"I have a lot of regrets because I feel like me being older, I could have did more with my life instead of spending it in prison, because I didn't see no 20's on the street at all. All my 20's was incarcerated so I didn't ever get a chance to live and be young and grow and do the things in life that people get to do that is out there and free."
Jefferson first made headlines when he was just 13 after his arrest for the shooting death of Alabama truck driver Henry Purnell.
He was the youngest person in Middle Tennessee at the time to face murder charges as an adult, yet he was barely a teen.
The charges later were thrown out, but then Jefferson was arrested again and sent to prison for yet another murder.
NewsChannel 5 first talked with him in 2003 at the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville.
He told us then, "I'm a convicted felon at the age of 17."
He talked tough and seemed angry.
During that 2003 interview, we asked Jefferson, "How sorry are you for what happened?"
He chortled and asked, "How sorry am I?"
We asked, "Are you sorry?"
Jefferson shrugged and said, "I mean, stuff happens. You know, stuff happens." And he told us then that when he was done serving his sentence, he would do whatever he had to, in his words, to survive.
"By any means necessary," Jefferson explained.
"What does that mean?" NewsChannel 5 asked.
"Whatever it takes for me to make it, then I'm going to have to make it," he continued.
"Robbery?" we asked.
"If that's what it's going to take," Jefferson replied.
"Selling drugs?" we continued.
"If that's what it's going to take," he said.
"If that's what it's going to take," Jefferson answered.
Sixteen years later, we met Jefferson again for a rare prison interview at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. We asked him about what he said the first time we talked back in 2003.
"I don't remember that," he insisted. "You know then, you was talking to a young mind then. So I was still stuck in my ways and being young."
Send us your tips: email@example.com
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Does it surprise you that you said this?"
"It really do," Jefferson replied, "because I don't think like that now. I'm a whole different person."
Jefferson said he's not the same street tough kid he was when he was first arrested for killing someone.
"You don't need to necessarily have to sell drugs or rob or do these things. Now that I'm more mature, I realize that."
"So surviving now for you is a lot different?"
"Of course, it is because I don't want to be here. I don't want to be here," Jefferson told us.
"Here" is back behind bars where he's now serving 25 years on drug and weapons charges.
Jefferson said he tried but couldn't escape the criminal justice system.
"The way I lived in prison, so, I took that out there with me," he said.
And the same thing, it turns out, happened to Terrance McLaurine.
We also interviewed him in prison in 2003 where he was serving time for killing a man during a drug deal.
"I looked up to the big time drug dealers and admiring them for the cool things drug money was giving them, cars, clothes, girls and plenty of pocket change," McLaurine read to us from an essay he'd written and had published.
McLaurine at the time of the murder was just 12 years old.
He was then the youngest person ever charged with criminal homicide in Davidson County.
"I told them (his victim's family) I was sorry," McLaurine said during the 2003 interview.
He also insisted he was turning his life around and planned to do better when he got out.
"I don't want to do anymore time, really. This is the end for me."
Around the same time, when Jim Todd was the Davidson County juvenile court prosecutor, he told us, "These kids don't have a prayer."
Todd is now in private practice and remembers McLaurine well.
"When he came into custody at age 12, he had a very very very lengthy record," Todd recalled.
Todd said McLaurine then became a victim of the system.
"One of the things he told the evaluator was, 'When I was arrested on the murder, I couldn't believe they did not let me go home' - because he was so used to being arrested and released, arrested and released, arrested and released, arrested and released," Todd said.
McLaurine acknowledged the same thing in his interview with NewsChannel 5.
"So you'd get in trouble, you'd go in jail for a couple of hours and then you'd be sent home?" we asked.
"And that was it?"
"That was it," he replied.
"Time after time after and you kept getting in more and more and more trouble?"
"Right," McLaurine answered.
Todd said the revolving jail door is only part of problem.
What to do with these kids is another.
Todd does not believe sending them to prison when they commit serious crimes is the answer.
Take McLaurine, who started out serving his sentence in DCS custody because under state law he couldn't be moved to the prison system until he was 16.
When that happened, there were repeated efforts to keep him out.
"DCS petitioned to keep him til [age] 19 and not send him to TDOC because he was doing so well," Todd recalled.
"So he then stayed in DCS custody 'til 19 for 7 years and, by that time, he was a model kid. Even the victim's family, Larry Huber, the victim in the homicide's family, petitioned me the prosecutor and other people to try to get his sentence commuted so he didn't have to go to the Department of Correction."
Todd believes there's a lesson there.
"I think it shows that given enough time, you can rehabilitate a juvenile - regardless of what they're charged with. But you have to have a lot of time and you have to prepare them to live their life independent of the environment that they came from," he added.
Special Section: Broken
Videos available on NewsChannel 5's app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV
But Todd said, unfortunately, McLaurine did get sent to the Department of Correction and things went downhill from there.
"He got in there to a system that did not help him, that probably taught him more criminal behavior than he knew before he went in. And when he got out, he was not prepared to keep going and struggled."
One of the first things McLaurine posted on Facebook after getting out of prison appeared to celebrate a return to the "gangsta" lifestyle, announcing "I'm here...so make room for da new don."
And not long after he was released, he was arrested, and arrested again and again.
Court records, in fact, show he's been arrested more than two dozen times in the last nine years.
"You have to prepare them to live their life independent of the environment that they came from. Releasing them back into the environment that they came from with the parents they didn't have is not going to fix it," Todd argued.
McLaurine, who is now known as Terrance Ivory, turned down our request, through his attorney, for an interview.
Andrew Jefferson has struggled too.
"Were you prepared for your release?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
"No, not at all," he said. "Cause you've got to think, I was locked up when I was 16, 17. I didn't get out until I was 31 years old. So I'm institutionalized. In my mind, I'm institutionalized. Like I don't know nothing but prison and how to survive in prison."
Jefferson said he tried to survive out of prison.
He held several jobs, got married, had a baby.
But he was also arrested more than a dozen times, not for robbery or another murder, but there are a lot of drug charges.
"I couldn't kick the drugs," he explained.
Jefferson blames an addiction he says he picked up in prison.
"I started buying the cocaine, snorting the cocaine, doing the drugs."
Jefferson is not due now to be released until he's 63. He got an enhanced or tougher sentence on his latest charges because of his criminal history.
He just can't seem to escape what he did as a teen.
"They don't see no father. They don't see all of the jobs I've been working. They don't see the check stubs. They don't see none of that. They don't see the good that I do. They just see a convicted murderer."