Biting his lip and hugging an uncle before being led out of court, the boy headed for up to 16 months in the residential program, closing a case that spurred soul-searching about out-of-control children.
Charged as juveniles, the boy and a now 13-year-old friend pleaded guilty to assault in the Oct. 30 prank. It seriously hurt a woman who was shopping for Halloween candy to give away.
The younger boy was the one who came up with the idea of tossing the cart off the walkway for kicks, and he gave the cart the final shove, city Law Department attorney Leah S. Schmelzer said.
He arrived at that moment freighted with years of familial and emotional turmoil.
His home life has been chaotic, punctuated with frequent moves, parental neglect and violence, including an episode in which the boy saw his father attack his mother, Manhattan Family Court Judge Susan Larabee said. The judge noted that the boy has been suspended at times from school, once after he started choking a girl, and she told the boy he has serious anger and mental health problems and a lot of catching up to do in school.
"All of those things do not mean that you're doomed to keep living like this," Larabee said. "You can have a better life. You can do better yourself. But it doesn't happen overnight."
The boy's lawyer, Sandeep Kandhari, said his behavior reports have been "for the most part, exceptional" while he's been in a detention facility since his arrest.
For both the 12-year-old and the teen - sentenced last month to six to 16 months in a therapy-oriented boarding school - Larrabee chose a middle ground among possibilities that ranged from locked facilities to a juvenile court equivalent of parole. The judge could decide in future to extend their time in the programs, potentially until they are as old as 18.
The Associated Press generally doesn't report the names of people charged as juveniles with crimes.
To some observers, the shopping-cart plunge was a stark illustration of parental and societal failings. A columnist in The Washington Times called the case a reflection of "a society that is loath to label children good or bad"; an editorial in The Augusta Chronicle, in Georgia, said the incident showed "at least one of society's wheels is completely off the rails."
The cart plummeted onto Marion Salmon Hedges, 47, a real estate broker and active charity volunteer. She was in a medically induced coma for a time, and family lawyer Tom Moore said Thursday she was still undergoing extensive rehabilitation.
He said Hedges' relatives, who have sued the East River Plaza shopping center's owners and others over security there, saw the boy's sentence as a step toward justice.
"Obviously, they know that these are troubled youths who need to be helped and who need to be watched for a period of time. And, hopefully, they'll get that help," he said.
Mall owners East River Plaza LLC have declined to comment on the lawsuit but have said their prayers were with Hedges.