In the spring of 2005, Warren Messner and his friends were smoking dope and drinking in the woods when they came across an unsuspecting homeless man, 53-year-old Michael Roberts. Authorities say the teens beat the vagrant to death and returned to the site to show their friends Roberts' mangled body, even taking pictures of his remains with their cell phones.
Dr. Phil cameras travel inside the maximum security prison for the first televised sit-down interview with now 18-year-old Warren.
"I'm serving a 22-year sentence for murder. It was a homeless guy. My buddies and I were just hanging out, smoking weed and drinking. We went to the woods, and we found him. We ended up beating him," says Warren. He recalls his part in the heinous act. "I stomped on him with a log. The log was placed on his stomach, and I jumped on it. I weigh 290 pounds. He weighed 115 pounds. I didn't feel bad about it at first, but when I found out he died, that's when I felt bad about it."
"I made a bad choice of friends. I don't know why I hung out with them," Warren continues. "I liked the things they do " smoking, drinking, partying."
"Warren is a good kid; he just got caught up in something that was horrible," says the teen's mother, Lori. "I believe that he was caught up with the wrong crowd."
After a visit with her son, Lori is visibly upset. "He gets nothing. He is locked in his cell all day long. He goes to lunch, he goes to breakfast and he goes to dinner. He gets nothing, no schooling. Nothing!" she vents at the Dr. Phil camera crew. "Prison has changed my son. He tells me what goes on there. It's not a pretty thing."
"Prison is not a good place for a teenager. I've been here almost a year now, looking at 18 more years. A lot of crazy stuff going on, a lot of violence. Can't do what you want to do, trapped in one spot. Can't spend time with your relatives or friends. Not being able to be with my family would be the worst part," Warren laments. Yet, the youth sees one bright spot in his bleak future. "I'd like to be an inspirational speaker for troubled teens. If I could change one kid's life, that would mean a lot. I would feel like I've done some good for all of the bad I've done."
Back in his studio, Dr. Phil addresses Lori. "You're saying he sits in a cell, goes to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Isn't that what prison is?" he asks.
"Yes, it is," she replies.
"Do you think he should be out?"
"I think my son needs help. I think he deserves to be punished, yes. But when you talk about four teens beating that man " they went there three times. My son was there once, the very last time," she says. "My son tried to stop them from killing this man. He pulled one of the kids off of [homeless victim Michael Roberts] and told him, â€˜Stop, you're going to kill this man.'"
Dr. Phil questions Lori's recounting of the events. "One of the things I think needs to happen is we need to be realistic," he says. "You say he was trying to pull kids off of him. In his own words, [Warren] said, â€˜The man weighed 115. I weigh 290. I put a log on him and stomped him to death.'"
"In his statement that he made to police, the log was placed on the man, and he jumped on the side of the log. That is what's in his statement," Lori says. "He jumped on the side of the log, not on the man's chest.
Dr. Phil addresses Warren's sister, Liane, in the audience. "Do you think he's being unfairly punished?" he asks
"In some ways, yes," she replies. "He can't do anything, but he's supposed to come back out into the real world in 22 years and be able to function as a normal person again. But he's having a very hard time with schooling, because there are a lot of things he's not allowed to do."
Dr. Phil turns his attention back to Lori. "This was a horrible crime. They even took pictures of the body," he says.
"My son wasn't involved in that," Lori says. [AD]
"This wasn't a â€˜homeless man.' His name was Michael Roberts. He had a mother and a father. This was a human being," Dr. Phil observes. "You say you missed some warning signs. I'm just wondering what you would do over, what you would do differently if you had a second chance at this."
"I would pry into his life to find out more who his friends were, what they were doing," Lori replies.
Dr. Phil consults his notes. "You said that he was distancing himself from the family. That's our first warning sign," Dr. Phil says. "You said you knew he was drinking, and you thought he was just being a typical teenage boy."
"I don't believe I ever said I knew he was drinking," Lori says.
Dr. Phil turns to Liane. "Did you know he was drinking?" he asks.
"Yes, unfortunately," she replies.
Dr. Phil consults a list of charges against Warren. "He was arrested for battery, vandalism, got into trouble at school for kicking someone, setting off smoke bombs," he says, reading from his notes. "Did you consequate any of that stuff?"
"His vandalism, he went to court for. He did his probation. He paid back his restitutions," Lori replies. "What they call battery, my son was shoved by another student, and the school resource officer pressed the charges against my son. The mother of the child who got pushed down wrote to the courts and told them that this was an accident, and she did not want any charges pressed against my son."
"He was involved in the death of this man," Dr. Phil says grimly. "You say he jumped on the side of the log like that's better?"
Lori throws her hands up in exasperation. "I'm not saying what he did was right, because what he did was not right. I understand that he needs to do the time," she says, her voice breaking. "He went to prison at 15 years old. He gets no education. He has to live with what was done. He doesn't get any psychiatric help. I understand he needs to be punished, but he needs a chance also."