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NEW YORK — A 12-year-old boy admitted Wednesday that he and a friend shoved a shopping cart off a fourth-floor walkway at a shopping center, a prank that critically hurt a woman when it plunged onto her.

The boy pleaded guilty in Family Court to assault, as his now 13-year-old friend did last week. Both are in custody until court dates next month, when a judge is to decide their punishments.

Because of their ages, they could be ordered to spend up to 18 months in a juvenile facility, not jail, but their detention could be extended annually up to their 18th birthdays.

“Me and (the other boy) threw a shopping cart off the fourth story of the mall” Oct. 30, the 12-year-old told a judge Wednesday in a shy mumble, with his mother and lawyer by his side. Like his friend, he acknowledged knowing that people on the ground could get hurt.

The case drew attention nationwide. An editorial in The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia portrayed it as evidence that “at least one of society’s wheels is completely off the rails.”

The cart landed on Marion Salmon Hedges, a real estate broker and volunteer with several charity organizations. She had gone to a discount store at the shopping plaza, in gritty East Harlem, to get a load of Halloween candy to give away to the children who flocked to her block of Upper West Side brownstones from a range of neighborhoods, her friends and family have said.

Hedges, 47, was in a medically induced coma for a time. Her husband has said she will need months of rehabilitation.

The 12-year-old has a history of being suspended from school, said city Law Department lawyer Leah S. Schmelzer, who represented the government in the Family Court case. But his lawyer, Sandeep Kandhari, said the boy has never been in legal trouble before.

“He understands the gravity of this,” Kandhari told Judge Susan Larabee. “He understands that he has to take responsibility for his actions, and he’s prepared to do so.”

The Associated Press generally doesn’t report the names of juveniles charged with crimes.

Kandhari asked the judge to let the boy go home for a few hours on Thanksgiving to his close-knit family; his parents, though not a couple anymore, live in the same household, his mother told the judge. Larabee declined.

The lawyer and the boy’s mother declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

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