In a highly publicized case, a South Florida teenager who viciously beat a 15-year-old girl at a middle school bus stop was sentenced to 20 years in prison recently. The judge imposed the stiff sentence despite evidence the defendant, who was 15 at the time of the attack, is severely mentally ill. The case is a tragic example of what can happen when juvenile crimes end up in adult court.
The attack took place after the defendant and the victim exchanged a series of increasingly hostile text messages. The victim allegedly sent a message referring to the suicide of the defendant’s older brother, which may have pushed the boy over the edge. He attacked the girl, kicking her in the head repeatedly with steel-toed boots which had belonged to his older brother. The victim suffered brain damage and was in a medically induced coma for a period of time after the attack.
Prosecutors made the decision to try the former honor student as an adult. An expert psychologist testified that the boy suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his brother’s suicide. The jury found him guilty, and concluded that the steel-toed boots used in the attack constituted a deadly weapon.
In imposing the 20-year sentence, the judge acknowledged the testimony about the defendant’s mental illness but stated he was still able to tell right from wrong. The defendant, now 18, was on suicide watch at the Broward County jail. His psychologist stated that he has had no treatment for PTSD since he was arrested. At the recommendation of prosecutors, he will serve his sentence in juvenile and young offender facilities until he is 25, in order to have access to better mental health resources.
When a juvenile is charged with a crime it is critical that the defense try to keep the case in the juvenile law system. In a case as violent as this one it is not surprising the boy was charged as an adult. Nonetheless the severity of the sentence in this case demonstrates why adult court is no place for a child.
Source: Bradenton Herald, “Teen gets 20 years in Fla. school stomping case,” Curt Anderson, Oct. 22, 2012