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Redirected toward bright future, but shadowed by past

College-bound man faces sentence for ’08 crime

Alex DoSouto in action for English High School in January. Alex DoSouto in action for English High School in January. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / July 8, 2010

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He was a face of redemption in the Boston schools, a former street thug, shooting victim, and high-risk dropout who remade his life with help from a community outreach worker and the new Boston Scholar Athlete Program.

Unlike his three older brothers — all shot, one fatally, in street violence Alex DoSouto appeared destined to escape the Cape Verdean gang life that has long roiled his Dorchester neighborhood. He repudiated the gun culture, established himself as an all-city schoolboy basketball star, and earned his diploma last month from English High School.

Next stop, college. DoSouto was registered for the fall semester at Potomac State College in West Virginia.

Then the verdict arrived. Early last month, DoSouto was convicted by a Norfolk Superior Court jury of participating in an armed robbery more than 2 1/2 years ago, before he quit the street life. He was 17 at the time.

The conviction came, coincidentally, the same week Boston police included a mug shot of DoSouto on a “shame campaign’’ flier publicizing photos of suspected gang members, even though he had not been charged with a crime since turning his life around in 2009.

Now DoSouto sits at the Norfolk County House of Correction, his bail revoked, his reformation stalled, his future uncertain. He is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow, with his supporters appealing for mercy. Two codefendants already have been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail, plus probation.

DoSouto was convicted 11 days before Governor Deval Patrick urged students at English’s graduation ceremony to persevere in the face of personal adversity. A teacher picked up DoSouto’s diploma for him.

“It’s very painful for a lot of us at the school because Alex changed his life, got accepted to college, and didn’t get into any more trouble,’’ said English headmaster Sito Narcisse. “We’re hoping the judge allows him to go to college, out of Boston, and out of the neighborhoods.’’

At English, DoSouto epitomized many of the high-risk dropouts the Boston schools are trying to save, with help from the system’s enhanced athletic program. The multimillion-dollar Boston Scholar Athlete Program, launched last year by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, provides student-athletes vital support by funding academic coaches and enlisting tutors for high school teams.

DoSouto had spent most of his junior year in jail in lieu of bail before he suffered a gunshot wound to his leg in the spring of 2009. He was ambushed in front of his home on Hamilton Street, where his brother, Luis, had been shot to death three years earlier.

Alex DoSouto survived and became determined to quit the street life and desperate for direction. He turned to Anthony Robinson, a street worker who runs Youth in Crisis Inc., and has long tried to defuse the violence in the Geneva-Bowdoin neighborhood. Robinson steered DoSouto to English High, where he received daily support from Rene Patten, the Boston Scholar Athlete Program’s inaugural academic coach of the year.

DoSouto quickly became a star at English: a productive student, the most valuable player and cocaptain of the basketball team, a tutor to younger students, a mentor to other youths at risk. He described himself as a scholar athlete.

The students he mentored drew from his determination. “Alex gave me a second chance,’’ said Alex Almonte, a former dropout who graduated last month from English and plans to attend Mass Bay Community College in the fall. “If it wasn’t for Alex mentoring me, I wouldn’t have graduated from high school and there’s no way I would be going to college.’’

One of 10 children, DoSouto expected to become the first male in his family to attend college. He planned to improve his academic credentials at Potomac State and transfer to North Carolina A&T, whose Division 1 basketball program had expressed interest in him.

“We thought there was no way Alex was going to be stopped,’’ Patten said tearfully. “Things had turned around for him. It looked like the changes he made were going to pay off.

“Now,’’ she said, “we don’t know how it’s going to go.’’

The only obstacles remaining between DoSouto and his college dream were two criminal cases dating to 2008. He cleared the first hurdle in May when a Suffolk Superior Court jury acquitted him of charges of assaulting and robbing a man in the Back Bay.

In the Norfolk case, prosecutors alleged DoSouto drove a getaway car while accomplices wielding a BB gun robbed three pedestrians in separate incidents in Quincy. Two of his codefendants pleaded guilty and received 2 1/2-year sentences.

DoSouto and the fourth suspect went to trial May 31, the day Boston police distributed a flier to the media resembling a wanted poster. The flier showed mug shots of 10 young men purportedly connected to a Cape Verdean gang. Two of the suspected gang members were arrested in the shooting death of 14-year-old Nicholas Fomby-Davis the day before on Bowdoin Street.

Police already had charged DoSouto’s 16-year-old cousin, Joshua Fernandes, with shooting Fomby-Davis three times while an accomplice, Crisostomo Lopes, 20, pinned the youth to the pavement. Police have said Fomby-Davis was not a gang member.

The purpose of the flier campaign, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said at the time, was to shame members of the gang allegedly linked to the murder.

For DoSouto, who had quit the gang life more than a year earlier, the campaign had a different effect. First, he feared for his safety, he said in an interview at the jail. The flier did not name the young men in the photographs, but their images were disseminated by numerous media outlets and circulated by police throughout their Dorchester neighborhood.

“It made me a target,’’ DoSouto said. “Anyone who wanted to retaliate, all they had to do was go after the kids in those pictures.’’

DoSouto said he worried, too, about the campaign’s possible impact on his trial. Publicity generated by the flier swirled throughout the weeklong proceeding, angering some of DoSouto’s supporters.

“The Boston police should be ashamed of themselves,’’ said Lefteris K. Travayiakis, who represented DoSouto in the Suffolk case. “At the time that flier went out, Alex had never been convicted of anything and he had certainly turned his life around. But they made a conscious decision to put his picture all over the Internet and on the news.’’

Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for Boston police, said DoSouto’s photo was included on the flier because he, like the others, had past identification as a gang member. Asked about his efforts to turn his life around since then, she declined to comment, but did not suggest that he had been charged with any criminal activity since his 2008 cases.

Norfolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders noted during the trial that DoSouto’s image had appeared in the news, but she determined he could receive a fair trial nonetheless. The jury, which was ordered to avoid all news coverage, convicted him of one count of armed robbery.

David Traub, a spokesman for Norfolk County prosecutors, said the armed robbery conviction is punishable by up to life in prison. He declined to comment further. DoSouto’s lawyer, Paul P. Hayes Jr., also declined to comment.

Many English High teachers and staff are expected to attend the sentencing.

“We really thought this was a kid we had won with,’’ Narcisse said. “We work so hard to get our young people to a good place, out of the poverty and violence, but unfortunately the sins sometimes follow them.’’

DoSouto’s supporters hope the judge sentences him to probation as well as the jail time he has served during pretrial detention and since the verdict (a combined nine months).

“I know we have to pay for our crimes and be rehabilitated,’’ said Robinson, the outreach worker. “But Alex already has rehabilitated himself. He has stayed out of trouble, and he has a lot of people supporting him. Can he get a second chance?’’

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.

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