Boy Killers: Never Released From Truth - NBC Chicago

Boy Killers: Never Released From Truth

Convicted as children, two killers find little in freedom



    Boy Killers: Never Released From Truth
    Jesse Rankins is out of prison ... for now.

    In 1994, Jesse Rankins, 10, and Tykeece Johnson, 11, became the state's youngest inmates, convicted of murder after dropping 5-year-old Eric Morse from the 14th-floor window of a CHA housing building.

    The crime sent shock waves through the country. In 1996, a New York Times editorial blamed the boy's death -- at least in part -- on Chicago's public housing system.


    The city designed and treated them as pariah states, even while they were bright, shining steppingstones for the black middle class. Public housing was far too densely built, walled off with freeways and railroad lines used as ghetto walls. As the poverty deepened, there was simply no way to dilute it.


    The author noted that the two young killers had "I.Q.'s of 60 and 76, with perhaps less emotional maturity" than their 5-year-old victim. They were, basically, damaged goods.

    It is, then, no small wonder that once Rankins and Johnson entered the correctional system, they all but disappeared from the public consciousness.

    On March 6 of this year, Jesse Rankins was released from prison -- not for the first time.  He had returned to prison in 2006 following a release in 2004, imprisoned that time for having broken into an animal shelter and stealing a pit bull, the Chicago Tribune reported in Tuesday's edition.

    The Tribune, in fact, had unique access to Rankin and Johnson earlier this month. Reporter Gary Marx presented a picture of their lost lives and their sporadic efforts to try to get them on track.

    Both men have returned to prison time and again, Marx reported, and their most recent release finds them with painfully bleak futures, "freed to a world they no longer knew."

    Rankin grew up in the correctional system. Johnson spent less time "inside" because he was initially tried as a juvenile.

    Clearly damaged at the time of the murder, the two had little chance to improve, heal or become whole while they were behind bars.

    They had also taken any chance Eric Morse had of a future. The boy was abducted by Rankin and Johnson and dangled from the hi-rise building because he refused to steal candy for the boys.

    In an interview posted to the Trib's Web site, Rankin denies that candy had anything to do with it.  He also told Marx that he carries Eric's death with him everyday. He showed the reporter a scraggly, homemade tattoo inked into the skin on his chest -- a tombstone with Eric's name on it.

    Rankin said he has a recurring nightmare in which the bloodied boy, "his eyes red and blood dripping from his mouth, nose and ears, repeatedly pleads with Rankins, 'Why me? I didn't get a chance to grow up.'"

    But, perhaps the nightmare is in the reality of what his life has become.

    "I'm lost. I've been locked up all my life," he told Marx.

    Johnson has faired only slightly better. He's gotten his high school diploma and has held a variety of jobs over the years. Though currently unemployed, he is hopeful that some work will become available to him soon.

    "I want readers to know I'm not a horrible person," he told the Tribune. "The people who know me know that I ain't no dangerous person."

    His girlfriend apparently believes that. He lives with her and "five children in a run-down South Side apartment, surviving on food stamps and public assistance," the Tribune reported. 

    Rankin's wife of just over four years says she knows of his past, but feels "people can change." 

    But what change would make this right?  None that Marx presented, and none that's become apparent in the last 14 years since the death of Eric Morse.


    Read also, Gary Marx's story about Eric Morse's brother, Derrick Lemon, who witnessed his little brother's fall to his death.