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Outside of mowing lawns, there aren't many legal ways for a 12-year-old to make a fast buck. "The choices were selling dope," Lee says.
"Everybody ended up getting into the streets from my neighborhood," he adds. That included Keith, who was killed in the streets. "I'd really have to think about who made it out, you know, as far as who made it to be successful. Growing up in your neighborhood, it becomes territorial to a degree because you don't feel really accepted outside."
As for the police: "I never trusted them from the gate," Lee says. Officers tried to win over kids in his neighborhood by handing out baseball cards. "My brother and his friends went off on us," Lee remembers. "'That's the same motherfucker that's trying to lock me up.... What are y'all doing talking to them?' After that, there was no more baseball cards for me."
Lee lasted less than three months at Van Horn High School. He was hanging out on corners with people twice his age, he says, and could no longer relate to his classmates. He learned plenty on Independence Avenue, but it often came not from fellow drug dealers but from prostitutes. They taught him to read faces, to distinguish an undercover cop from someone looking for a sale or looking to steal.
"They'd say, 'Baby, you smarter than that. Don't hang with them boys,'" Lee recalls. "They'd be seeing potential in me."
By the time Lee was 16, he had racked up a handful of juvenile charges, including a rape charge. (A jury acquitted him; the court records are sealed.) Lee was charged with selling crack in 2000, at age 16, and Jackson County prosecutors certified him as an adult. He was convicted and sentenced to probation.
If the criminal justice system has rehabilitative qualities, Lee says he has never seen them. "To say that someone can be rehabilitated, that means they had to be in tune with society at some point," Lee says. "But I was never habilitated."
In the first half-hour of Sunday, September 15, 2002, 19-year-old Traron Logan was shot to death at a block party at 25th and Norton.
Lee was arrested the same night. He wasn't hard to find.
"I never left [the block party]," Lee says. "I didn't have no reason to leave."
Lee was charged with second-degree murder. He posted bond and was released from the county jail shortly after.
A couple of weeks later, 20-year-old Lester Gunn was arrested for driving a stolen car. As police questioned him, Gunn said he knew the identity of the shooter at the block party.
As a prosecutor later related it, Gunn told the cops that a fight broke out between some local kids and a guy who wasn't from that block. Lee walked up with a gun, shouldered people aside and said, "Watch out — lemme show you how we do it," before shooting Logan in the head.
But Gunn refused to sign his statement. At the interview's end, he told police that he didn't want to be known as a rat.
He would never get a chance. The night before Lee's trial, Gunn was shot to death as he sat in a car with his girlfriend. One murder charge against Lee became two, and he spent the next two years awaiting trial in a maximum-security prison in Jefferson City.
In hearings leading up to the November 2006 trial, Jackson County prosecutors painted Lee as the leader of a hyper-violent neighborhood gang. Not surprisingly, they had a hard time finding witnesses to say so on the stand.