Is it a crime to raise a killer?

Lisa Belkin
Chief National Correspondent

Anthony Pasquale stops to visit his daughter at the Cedar Green Cemetery every morning, then returns once or twice more during the day. He sits on the small white bench and faces the polished granite headstone, etched with a hologram of Autumn on one side and the things she loved on the other — bicycles, soccer balls, cheerleading, skateboards.

From where he sits he can see the middle school, where his 12-year-old girl was a student, and next to that the high school, where the 15-year-old boy who killed her was one, too. When school is in session, Pasquale has even glimpsed a classmate peering out of the ground-floor science-lab windows, which look directly onto Autumn’s grave.

That’s how things work in a small town like Clayton, New Jersey, where everyone knows everyone else, where lives and stories intertwine. “Because it’s a small town — that’s why we live here,“ says Anthony Pasquale. But it was also why Autumn died.

“She trusted him because she thought everyone was raised the way she was,” he says of her attacker. “That everyone could be trusted. That all parents taught kids right from wrong.”

It has been nearly two years since Autumn went missing and Justin Robinson went to jail, pleading guilty to strangling her after she stopped by his house to trade parts for her brand-new bicycle. In that time her parents have learned that the stages of grief now include another step — finding someone to blame. It’s a stage well known to parents wrenched by a particular kind of loss, a kind arguably more common and certainly more public of late — losing children at the hands of other children. And it is raising questions with few answers in the existing legal system.

Anthony Pasquale surrounded by memories of his daughter, Autumn, in his home in Clayton, New Jersey. (Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

“Where were their parents?” grieving families asked after Columbine and Newtown, after Isla Vista and Troutdale.

“Where were the parents?” asks Anthony Pasquale, sitting in the back booth of the Liberty Diner in Clayton, where his coffee is on the house now, because, as is the case everywhere else in town, everyone knows who he is. “Parenting comes with responsibilities, and one of those is to raise your kids right, to pay attention and know when they’re a danger to someone else. That’s a parent’s job.”

To fail at that job is a crime, he believes. He’s recently taken his certainty to court, suing Justin Robinson’s parents for, essentially, being bad parents. He has also turned to and the New Jersey Legislature, advocating for “Autumn’s Law,” which would punish such parenting with prison.

“Parents who ignore the warning signs of their children’s propensity toward violence are direct contributors to their minor children’s murders,” his petition reads. “If the minor who murdered my daughter was properly treated, parented, disciplined and supervised my daughter would probably be alive today.”

Or, as his lawyer put it, “If you’re going to raise a murderer, you’re going to take responsibility.” 

It is a controversial point of view, rooted in society’s ever-changing expectations of parenting — and the increasing impulse to right wrongs with lawsuits. Are today’s parents too lenient, creating a generation of undisciplined kids? Or too hovering, creating fragile, dependent children? Are parents too quick to blame their children’s quirks and missteps on “issues”? Or is our mental health system not equipped to respond to the rising need of families for help? What is a parent’s responsibility for and toward a child as he gets older? Is it bad parenting to insist on knowing everything about your children? Or bad parenting not to?


Raised in Clayton himself since he was in kindergarten, Anthony Pasquale trusted that the town was perfectly safe. As a postal carrier for more than 15 years (occasionally walking the route that included the home of his daughter’s killer), he knew it as a place where people kept their doors unlocked, where children headed for the park by themselves for the afternoon, where there hadn’t been a murder for more than a decade.  Even with all that, he had very strict rules for his three children.

Autumn was the middle child, the tomboy, the risk taker who practiced wheelies and jumps on a bike ramp she built in the bank parking lot, and she knew her father’s rules by heart. “No further than Jim’s Pizza going south on Delsea Drive,” Anthony would tell her,  “and no further north than the Heritage” convenience store on the other end of Delsea, which was the only road in town with a traffic light.  

In the days before she died, Autumn roamed that square mile on a brand-new Odyssey BMX motocross bicycle, white with a white seat and black guns, white handgrips and silver rims — a bike all of Clayton would soon come to know well.  It was an early birthday present from her father, given to her before the start of school, though she wouldn’t turn 13 until Oct. 29. “BMX for life,” she wrote in celebration on her Facebook page, and Anthony still saves the reply she sent when he texted her a picture of the find on eBay, a BuyItNow for $200. “OMGGGG. Dad, I love you. I can’t believe it,” she wrote.

A collage dedicated to Autumn Pasquale in the home of Anthony Pasquale in Clayton, New Jersey. (Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, was homecoming day in Clayton. AJ Pasquale, a year and a half older than Autumn, was playing defensive end at the Clayton Clippers football game. Natalie Pasquale, a year and a half younger than Autumn, was heading to the parade with a friend. Autumn planned to “ride around for a while,” her father remembers, and yes, she said, she knew the rules.  

“Be careful, and I love you,” Anthony would remember saying.

“I love you, too” is the last thing she would say back.


Anita Robinson Saunders was also raised in Clayton. She graduated from high school there in 1986 and married Alonzo Robinson several years later. For a time she was employed by a funeral home, while her husband worked as a truck driver. Together they lived in the 800-square-foot bungalow on East Clayton Avenue, painted white with burgundy shutters, that Anita had inherited from her grandmother. Justin, their youngest, was born with a cleft lip, repaired by surgery but leaving a scar.

Alonzo and Anita divorced in 2005, amid allegations of domestic abuse. She stayed in the house while he moved a few towns away and, by his own account to newspapers after Autumn’s murder, rarely saw his children, leaving Anita to raise Justin and his two older brothers as a single mom.

Anita Saunders refused several requests to be interviewed for this story. She at first agreed to talk to this reporter in order to clarify what she said were misperceptions and mistakes in local news coverage of the case. But her lawyer, Alfred Quasti, then advised her not to have any contact with the media while lawsuits against her were pending. “It can’t help our case to make our defense plan public,” he said.

Alonzo Robinson does not appear to be represented by an attorney and could not be reached for comment.

Public documents and accounts from people familiar with Anita’s story seem to show that Justin was struggling and that his mother and the Clayton school system were trying to help him. A report from a court-appointed psychologist submitted by his lawyers at his sentencing hearing described him as having a “low IQ” and having been diagnosed with “attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and somatic symptom disorder.”

The Clayton School District said it could not release Justin’s records for privacy reasons, but his mother told the court that he was a special education student. Neighbors and fellow students told the local newspaper that he had been sent to a school for students with learning and emotional challenges in another New Jersey town for a year but had returned to Clayton High School that fall.

Justin Robinson, who plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the death of Autumn Pasquale, leaves the courtroom after his sentencing on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, in Gloucester County, N.J. (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ron Tarver, Pool)

By Anita’s description, Justin was trying to overcome and succeed. “Justin did the best he could to adjust to school and those around him in light of his disability, his learning disability,” she said at his sentencing hearing. “He was determined to be independent. He got a job cutting grass with a friend whose family owned a landscaping business. He also cut our next-door neighbor’s lawn who happened to be his math teacher. “

It was the system, she said, that failed him: “I believe that even though he is a special education student,” she said, “Justin was not given the type and amount of help that he needed.”

However hard he was trying, and whatever help he was getting, though, he was also getting into trouble. As he reached his teens he became known to local law enforcement. “The police knew him by name,” Anthony Pasquale’s lawyer, Kathleen Bonczyk, said in an interview with Yahoo News.   

A printout of police logs of visits to the Robinson house, several sources close to the investigation say, goes back ten years. The estimated 700 pages of documents include reports of domestic abuse between Alonzo and Anita, as well as accusations against their sons of such things as bullying, shoplifting and theft.

He seems to have had a particular interest in BMX bicycles and their parts.  A friend of Autumn’s who played football with Justin was quoted in the New York Times as saying that when his own bike was stolen two years earlier, “I went to Justin, and went in his backyard, and took it back. I knew he had it.”  However, his lawyers would stress at his sentencing hearing, Justin was never convicted of any crime.


Though they were three grades apart at school, Autumn knew Justin from the season when Justin was on the town football team with AJ and Autumn was a cheerleader. She probably also knew him from the year that her grandmother, Mary Pasquale, who had worked at the Clayton Middle School for 22 years, had taught Justin in her class.

And she apparently knew him from Facebook. A few days before Autumn disappeared they appear to have had this exchange on Justin’s page, after Justin posted a photo of a black BMX.

“Is that ur bike?” Autumn wrote beneath the photo.

“Yeupp,” Justin answered.

“Thts sexy,” Autumn wrote.

Another friend jumped in and said, “no its not” — it is unclear whether he was refuting the appeal of the bike or the fact that it belonged to Justin.

Replied Justin: “yes. Cme 2 my house.”

Autumn did. She pedaled out of the driveway of her West High Street home at about 12:30 that Saturday afternoon, wearing navy blue sweatpants, a yellow T-shirt that said “Clayton Soccer” and bright blue high-top sneakers. She had her backpack with her, too, a light gray one with the word “Reckless” on the front pocket.

She sent a chatty, unremarkable text to one friend at 1:30 and another at 2:27, the police would later say. At about 2:45, Justin would eventually tell police, she found her way to his home at 312 East Clayton Ave. — down the block and around the corner from the Pasquales, it was a total of 14 houses away from her own, well within the protective limits set by her father.


Anthony watched AJ play football until early afternoon, then came home and fixed Natalie some lunch and took photos of his son with his date before the homecoming dance that night. “The kids were in and out, I was in and out, it was a regular Saturday,” he says. He first realized something was wrong at 8 p.m., when Autumn missed her curfew.

When she hadn’t replied to texts or phone calls by 9:30, Anthony called the police. He also called his ex-wife Jennifer Cornwell, who lived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with her husband. (The Pasquale children lived with Anthony during the school year and with their mother during the summer. Cornwell did not return several requests for comment.) Over the next two days, 100 police officers from 20 agencies would participate in the search, first of the eight square miles of Clayton, then widening to the surrounding towns.

“I thought maybe she’d been hit by a car and was lying hurt somewhere, maybe hit her head in the woods and couldn’t call,” Anthony said in one of several interviews with Yahoo News for this article. “Then I thought maybe some outsider who’d come for the game was responsible. I didn’t ever think it was someone in my neighborhood.”

Family member John Spadafore holds a photo of Autumn Pasquale during a candlelight vigil for the missing girl, Monday Oct. 22, 2012, in Clayton, N.J.  (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

As word spread, 2,500 volunteers joined the search and 11,000 people signed onto a “Find Autumn Pasquale” Facebook page. There were helicopters, K-9 dogs, specially trained horses, and four-wheel ATVs. Looking pale and exhausted, Autumn’s divorced parents appeared at a press conference and offered a reward — $5,000 from the family and $5,000 from the police department. Donations poured in, eventually increasing that figure tenfold.  A message was put on the school district phone tree describing Autumn and asking anyone with information to contact the police. Among the 1,400 homes on the call list was Justin Robinson’s.

Justin was also among the scores of Clayton residents who were interviewed by the dozens of detectives on the case. At first he was not considered a suspect, but sometime on Monday his mother, Anita, who had also attended the Clayton homecoming game that Saturday afternoon, came to police and said she had found some unsettling writings on Justin’s Facebook page

The Clayton Police Department has never confirmed exactly which messages she brought to their attention, but there were several possibilities. In addition to the conversation about the bike, which became public when neighbors provided screenshots to the Star Ledger newspaper, there was the exchange printed by several news organizations, in which Justin appears to have simply written the word “Autumn” on AJ's Facebook page. Underneath that someone asked, “Why post her name then nothing else?” To that Justin answered: “It was an accident the cop waz here & my brother did it.”  (It is unclear whether the “it” was the writing of “Autumn” or the crime itself.) Then, on his own wall, Justin wrote “might be moving,” followed by an emoticon of a frowning face.  

By Monday evening a search was under way in and around Anita’s home, where she now lived with Justin, her two older sons, and her husband, Richard Saunders, whom she’d married just a few weeks earlier.

At about 10 o’clock that night police found Autumn’s battered body stuffed into a large blue recycling container behind the abandoned and boarded-up house next door.

“Like she was thrown out with the trash,” her father says. 

“When I see blue recycle bins I cry,” said her grandmother.

In this Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 file photograph, an investigator removes a bicycle from a house where the body of Autumn Pasquale was found in Clayton, N.J. Pasquale, a 12-year-old girl who disappeared last year after going for a bike ride, was found in a recycling bin at the home. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, file)

Word spread and by dawn a crowd had gathered. Among the onlookers was Justin’s father, Alonzo Robinson, who gave a few interviews to waiting reporters. Yes, his sons were known for stealing bikes in the neighborhood, he said, adding that police had told him a stockpile of bike parts had been found in the basement of his former home. “I think someone wanted the girl’s bicycle,” he is quoted as saying. “Maybe she wanted her bike and resisted, and one of them snatched her off a bike.”  

Late in the morning a detective walked out of the Robinson house wheeling Autumn’s white Odyssey BMX. There was, reportedly, “a collective gasp” from watching neighbors.  Speaking on behalf of the family at a press conference that afternoon Autumn’s uncle, Paul Spadafore, would say, “There is evil everywhere, even in the small town of Clayton.”


Jesse Pomeroy, the “Boston Boy Fiend,” was 14 years old in 1874 when he was arrested for murdering a 4-year-old, just because, and hiding the body in his mother’s basement. George Junius Stinney Jr.  was also 14 in 1944, when he was convicted of battering two younger girls to death with a large railroad spike in a South Carolina ravine (a conviction that many now attribute to racism rather than actual guilt). Leslie Van Houten, the youngest convicted member of the Charles Manson family, was 19 during the summer of the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, 45 years ago this month. Fifteen-year-old Willie Bosket is the reason most states now allow juveniles to be tried as adults, because he stabbed and shot with impunity all through his teens in 1970s New York City. Brenda Ann Spencer was 16 when she shot up a San Diego school in 1979 because, she explained, “I don’t like Mondays; this livens up the day.”

Who or what was blamed for these horrors? Satan. Lack of church attendance. Homosexuality. LSD. Violent films. Violent music lyrics. Violent video games. No one sued any of these teenagers' parents, even in cases where there was some pretty bad parenting involved.

Only recently have parents been sued for murders committed by their children.  The first high-profile lawsuits came after the spate of shootings at the turn of this newest century: In 1997 in Pearl, Mississippi, after 16-year-old Luke Woodham stabbed his mother to death, then shot nine fellow students; in West Paducah, Kentucky, the same year, after three girls were killed by 14-year-old Michael Carneal at a prayer meeting before school; in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a year later, after 11-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson pulled the school fire alarm and opened fire on students as they exited.

Most famously, after Columbine, lawsuits flew between parents of the dead and those of the shooters, including one brought by high-profile lawyer Geoffrey Fieger (previously best known for defending Jack Kevorkian) seeking $250 million in damages and aiming to prove, he said, that if parents had been paying more attention that massacre never would have happened.

This new pointing of legal fingers at Mom and Dad was not due to any change in the actual law. Tort law, before Columbine and still today, consistently makes it difficult to hold parents responsible for the actions of their teens. While parents have a clear legal obligation to care for their children, and can be punished for not doing so, they are not expected to control them.

“Unless you can show that a parent forced or encouraged the child to commit the crime, courts don’t blame parents,” says Naomi Cahn, who teaches family law at George Washington University.

Agrees Martin Guggenheim, a professor at the NYU School of Law, specializing in parental rights: “The law says broadly that I don’t owe my neighbors very much when taking care of my own children. That’s the way it’s been forever. That’s the way it should be. The world is not better off if we impose on parents this extra fear of being made bankrupt or imprisoned because of their child’s misconduct.”

In this April 20, 1999, file photo unidentified young women head to a library near Columbine High School where students and faculty members were evacuated after two gunmen went on a shooting rampage in the school in the southwest Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo.  (AP Photo/Kevin Higley, File)

There is often a gap between law and culture, however, and the new reflex to blame (and sue) parents reflects changes in what society thinks of parents and parenting. The past 15 years have seen “intensive parenting” become the norm — rooted in the assumption that a “good” parent is constantly present and wary. The Internet provides a ready lens through which others freely scrutinize and judge parents they have never met. Parental acts that would have been unremarkable not long ago — leaving a child to play in the park for the afternoon while Mom is at work,  for instance — are now reason to call the police. And overindulgence is labeled “the Affluenza Defense,” used to persuade at least one judge to sentence a teen to time away from his parents, rather than jail, after he drove drunk and killed four people.

“As parents assert more control over their children we criticize that, because it doesn’t seem good for the children, but we also come to expect it,” Cahn says. “Have we come to the point where it’s a crime not to be a helicopter parent?”

All of the plaintiffs in these suits said that they hoped to use the legal system to send the message that parents are responsible when their children kill. Yet none of the most publicized of these lawsuits accomplished that goal. In the Columbine case, the families of more than 30 of those killed and injured eventually settled for a total of $2.53 million between them, most of it from the homeowners insurance of shooters Eric Harris's and Dylan Klebold's parents. In Jonesboro, the attorney representing the parents of the victims has gotten few real answers and no money for his clients. And in Paducah, the parents of the victims agreed to settle with the shooter for $42 million (money all parties agree he does not have), but that was after a judge removed his parents as defendants in the case.  

This hasn’t stopped subsequent waves of families from going to court. Most recently, for instance, in Geauga County, Ohio, the family of the student who killed three at Chardon High School two years ago settled with the victims' families for $899,000 each, nearly half of which will go to lawyers. “It has become routine to sue after a juvenile commits a murder,” Guggenheim says. “Lawyers bring these cases because that’s how they make money. Suing a parent for an act of negligence in the home very commonly brings in the insurance company, and they often settle because it’s cheaper to pay some money than to defend a case.”

Such settlements, he says, “don’t answer the philosophical question that drives them, of what the parent’s responsibility is.” Which may be why those survivor families who want to face that question more directly have been turning elsewhere. After Newtown, not a single lawsuit was filed by a parent against a parent, despite the fact that Adam Lanza’s father is a relatively wealthy man. Yes, there was chatter online and on talk radio blaming Lanza’s mother Nancy for teaching her son to shoot, but it was guns rather than parenting that became the focus of public conversation.

After Isla Vista, in turn, Elliot Rodger’s father came forward with profound apologies that he could not stop his son in time, though it seemed clear he had frantically tried. There the focus became the mental health system and the obstacles faced by the parent of a deeply troubled child.

Does this mean that the impulse to blame parents has abated? Not at all, says Michael Breen, the lawyer who brought the lawsuits in Paducah and is now representing a man who was run over by a golf cart driven by a 14-year-old whose parents “should have known that there was a 16-year-old age limit.” A judge ruled that the lawsuit naming those parents could proceed, which Breen considers progress.

“Maybe we were reaching too far too soon” with the school shooting cases, he says now. “Judges are human, and most of them are parents with families. It’s a substantial bar before they start putting parents on trial for bad parenting.”

Lynn and Christopher McDonnell, the parents of seven-year-old Grace McDonnell, grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary after learning their daughter was one of 20 school children and six adults killed after a gunman opened fire inside the school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

But the bringing of cases, even in the face of rejection by the court, he says, has value.

“Law is slow to change and likes to move incrementally,” he says. “The judiciary will wait to see whether factual circumstances keep repeating themselves. If that keeps happening you will see judges start accepting something they were previously unwilling to recognize. I think that’s what’s going on with parental liability. We will reach critical mass so that at some point the courts will be more amenable to lawsuits like that.”


After denial comes anger, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, and once Autumn’s body was identified, and Justin Robinson was charged with strangling her to death, there was rage enough to go around.

First, Autumn’s parents blamed Justin and hoped the 15-year-old would be tried as an adult and given the death penalty. (One of Justin’s older brothers was also arrested, but charges were downgraded to obstruction of justice and he was released.)

Next they blamed police and local prosecutors, for what they saw as too slow a response to Autumn’s disappearance. (When the family filed a tort claim notice, warning they might sue the Gloucester County prosecutor, the case was handed off to the prosecutor in the neighboring county of Camden.)

And for a brief while they even turned on each other. Autumn’s mother sued Anthony, accusing him of shutting her out of decisions about how the upwards of $100,000 donated in Autumn's name would be used. (They quickly settled out of court.)

Gradually, however, they came to focus their anger on Justin’s parents.

It rankled them that Justin’s father publicly equated his loss with theirs, telling reporters that, as a fellow parent, “I wouldn’t mind going to see [Anthony and Jennifer]. Not right now but maybe in the future.” 

It puzzled them that Justin’s mother used her Facebook page to declare that she was also a victim here. “Its times like this when u see who are genuine, who is not,” Anita Saunders wrote. “Those of you who really know me know what kind of parent I am. So interesting to hear and see how ppl are judgmental. SIN is sin, it doesn’t come in levels. Let he who goes without sin cast the first stone. Nobody on here can bend.” 

And it stunned them to learn, first through local word of mouth and then through court hearings and subpoenaed records, that Justin was known to be “a time bomb,” in the words of Anthony’s attorney Kathleen Bonczyk.

Anita Saunders, mother of two teenage brothers, Dante Robinson, 17, and Justin Robinson 15, who were charged in the murder of Autumn Pasquale, 12, walks out of her home Thursday, October 24, 2012, in Clayton,. N.J., with her husband Richard Saunders. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

To the Pasquales’ surprise and disappointment, Justin did not face the death penalty. He was sentenced as an adult, then sent to a juvenile facility under a plea deal. Pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter, first degree, he admitted to luring Autumn to his house and then strangling her. He was sentenced to 17 years, of which 85 percent must be served before he is eligible for parole, meaning he could be out of jail by the time he is 30.   

Anthony, in turn, reluctantly accepted what prosecutors told him — that Justin’s age and his diagnosis of learning disabilities meant it would be nearly impossible to try him in adult court, and that conviction as a juvenile would limit his sentence to seven years. That assumes he was in fact convicted, which, given a lack of material evidence, was far from guaranteed. Anthony was left frustrated, however, not as much by the sentence as by the lack of answers. He expected closure at sentencing and found that mostly what he had were questions. Who was this young man who had killed his daughter? Why had he done it? Could someone have stopped him before he crossed Autumn’s path?

He remembers the exact moment when his attention turned to Justin’s parents.  At the final sentencing hearing, on Sept. 12, 2013, he listened as those who represented Justin, and those who raised him, asked the judge for leniency.

“My Justin is not a monster,” his mother said. “He is now a 16-year-old boy who was born with a physical deformity and who is emotionally and developmentally disabled. He is a respectful, loving child with a sense of humor and we love him. “

Then she said: “No one knows what happened on that day of the accident. The accident has been mischaracterized.”

The idea that the murder of his little girl could be dismissed as “the accident” had Anthony’s attention. He listened with rising anger as Justin’s attorney rose to speak.

She went into more detail about the disabilities to which Anita and the court-appointed psychologist had referred. Then she added this:

“There was significant history as outlined in [Justin’s psychiatric report] of domestic violence in his household when he was young. Justin also suffered abuse, physical abuse, by his father. This was learned behavior, Your Honor. Justin saw his father strangle his mother on more than one occasion. Justin has inappropriate responses to stressors as a result of his disabilities.”

“My light bulb went off so fast when I heard that,” Anthony remembers. “My lawyer was next to me and I said, ‘We have to do something about that.’ If it was a learned behavior, then teach a different behavior. If you taught your son to kill, then you need to be punished, too.”

From that moment came a lawsuit — one similar to those brought after the school shootings, but more sweeping. While the Columbine cases were based on the premise that the parents should have noticed — that there were bombs being built in the garage near Columbine, that there were guns hidden in a backpack in Paducah — the Pasquale suit says that Anita should have known. Good parents should have known that Justin was “possibly engaging in the theft of bicycles” and that he “posed a risk to third parties,” it says. Good parents should have realized that the domestic violence he saw as a child would teach him to be violent himself. Good parents should have recognized that his emotional, psychological and developmental problems meant he needed “proper treatment and proper supervision,” which, the suit alleges, he did not get. His parents should have predicted what he was capable of, because, the suit concludes, it was their parenting that created a child who could kill.

“How was my client’s daughter murdered?” asks Bonczyk.  “Justin witnessed abuse, and among those things he witnessed was his father strangling his mother. ‘Learned behavior,’ his own lawyer called it. If a woman [i.e., Autumn] does not do what you want this is how you respond."

 (Anita’s attorney filed a response to the lawsuit that says his client “is not guilty of any negligence, wrongdoing, or misconduct.” He filed a notice of cross claims against Anita’s ex-husband and against Justin, warning that she will hold them responsible for any damages levied against her in the Pasquale lawsuit. Alonzo reportedly did not respond to either lawsuit.)

In addition to his civil suit, Anthony is urging a change in criminal law. Dubbed "Autumn’s Law," at the moment it is just an idea — a petition, which currently falls 12,000 signatures short of its 20,000 goal. Its point is simple: If parents knew they would go to jail for their parenting, Anthony says, they would do a better job.

The questions raised by that belief — Is it a crime to parent a criminal? Does Anita deserve punishment or sympathy? Do we blame the parents? — have set off a heated debate in Clayton and its neighboring towns, on local newspaper websites and in downtown stores.

Sisters Alexis and Bethany Davis, left, cry at a shrine for Autumn Pasquale Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, in Clayton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

There is support for Anthony and anger at the Robinsons.  But there are also those who point out that Anthony is criticizing Anita for not supervising her 15-year-old son, yet he didn’t know where his 12-year-old daughter was for most of the day. Many give credit to Anita for leading investigators to Justin’s incriminatory Facebook posts. “I’m gonna guess she did her best to steer these 2 in the right direction and outside influences got the best of them,” wrote Felonousjoe in the comments of local ABC affiliate website. “I don’t know if I’d ever give my daughter up if she’d done something bad; this woman is much stronger than me and probably will spend the rest of her life blaming herself.”

And they conclude that it is very hard to be a modern parent. “I understand the parents of the child who was killed are in pain but punishing a mother who is also grieving a loss of a child whom she turned in is not the answer,” a reader with the screen name Blackstripes wrote on “Some children are just bad and they come in all colors and races. The families need to find some peace and let go of the anger.”

Anthony says he is trying. He has retired from his job as a mail carrier in order to spend all of his time with his surviving children. He finds comfort in the reminders around town of his daughter — a portion of the county bike trail is being named for her, along with the local soccer field. Her intramural team, the Clayton Comets, has renamed itself Autumn’s Angels, and the Board of Ed has retired her number until the year she would have graduated from high school. Oct. 29, her birthday, has been declared “Autumn Pasquale Day” in Clayton.  

But there are other reminders, too, that are far from comforting. Because it is a small town Anthony finds himself driving by the Robinson home too often and doesn’t understand why Justin’s family stays. In fact, Anita has been quoted as saying that she would like to move but can’t afford to, so she remains living in a murder scene, where, she said, paintballs have been shot at her house, tires have been slashed and a brick was once thrown through the car window. On the other hand, she said, there have also been cookies from neighbors and notes of support. 

Anthony has also thought of leaving but is determined to stay where he is.

“This is my hometown,” he says. “It’s the only place Autumn ever lived. This is our home. I want my children to grow up here, like I did.”