Five Teens Charged with Second-Degree Murder in Rock Throwing Incident

On October 24, 2017, five Michigan teenagers were denied bond after they were charged with second degree murder for throwing rocks off of a highway overpass and killing a passenger in a van. That passenger, Kenneth White, was a 32 year-old fiancé and father to a 5 year-old son. You can read more information about Kenneth White here and donate to the family’s GoFundMe page here.

Genesee County officials believe that Kyle Anger, the eldest of the group at 17, was the one who threw the fatal rock. Even so, all of the boys are being tried as adults and charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and malicious destruction of property. The maximum penalty is life in prison. Anger, Alexander Miller, Mark Sekelsky, Mikadyn Payne and Trevor Gray all were arraigned on the same day they were denied bond and pled not guilty. You can see pictures of all of the boys in court here.

Their probable cause hearing is scheduled for today, November 2, 2017. Many people in their community are rightfully upset and seeking justice for Kenneth White. Sheriff Robert Pickell stands by his assertion that this incident should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. Pickell said, “It’s second-degree murder. I don’t think anybody’s laughing. You make a bad decision, you could be spending the rest of your life in prison. This is not a prank.”

The rock in question weighed six pounds but investigators also found a rock weighing 20 pounds had been thrown by the boys. You can read more details about the incident here.

What no one in the media is talking about, however, is the flaws in the prosecution’s case as it relates to these boys. They certainly should be held accountable, but they lack the mens rea (or guilty mind) to be prosecuted under second-degree murder. There is an argument to be made that there was no malice or intent to kill White, as they did not know him and could not have intended for him to die.

Hopefully the defense attorneys for the boys will bring up adolescent development issues at their probable cause hearing today. As teenagers, these boys also lack the cognitive development to be tried as adults. Teenagers’ frontal lobes of their brains have not yet properly developed and as such they have poor decision-making skills. They are unable to see the long-term effects and consequences of their actions. Psychosocially, teenagers are impulsive and more likely to take risks. These boys clearly did not think through their actions when they threw this rocks off the overpass, and due to their development they should not be held accountable to the same standard as a similarly-situated adult.

Teen’s socio-emotional system is compromised as well which can mean that adolescents have more difficulty resisting peer pressure. The government in this case is choosing to see that as a conspiracy, but I would submit to you that it is merely teenage group-think. These boys should certainly be held accountable for their actions. But we need to take into account these psychological factors when prosecuting children and consider the big picture when discussing and reporting on these sensitive issues.

You can read about adolescent development and how it is transforming juvenile justice here.

Weekly Roundup

Minors Charged as Adults Sue County for Placing Them in Solitary Confinement

In King County, Washington, four minors who were charged as adults and were placed in solitary confinement are suing the county. The county has a practice of placing youths in isolation before their trial dates. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges “King County regularly confines children incarcerated at the RJC [Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent] alone in miniscule, barren cells for 23 or 24 hours a day in a unit dedicated to isolating children…[and] King County holds children in these isolation cells for weeks or months on end.” Read more here.

Opioid Orphans

The current opioid crisis is leading to “a generation of children…being neglected, abandoned or orphaned by parents addicted to opioids.” Grandparents, then, are often called on to take the place of the parents. Here is one of their stories.

Schools Start to Reopen in Puerto Rico after Maria, But Many Remain Closed

Some children are able to head back to school in Puerto Rico, but many others may have to wait for months to return to school. Read here for more.

 

“Raise the Age” Legislation Denied in Texas

Inmates wait to enter their dormatory at The Marlin Orientation and Assessment Unit, a Texas Youth Commission facility in Marlin, Texas on Friday , March16, 2007.

High-profile legislation to raise the age for criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 was declared dead in the Senate in early May, as leaders rejected House overtures to pass the bill but delay its implementation until 2021.

Senate leaders said the estimated $35 million cost to implement the change and concerns that putting perhaps thousands of additional youths into the state’s already overburdened juvenile system led them to opt instead for a two-year study as a prelude to enacting the change when the Legislature returns in 2019.

“The concept has merit, but the votes are not there on the Senate floor to do it this year,” said Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and longtime chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “With all due respect to the House, their proposal did not have any funding in the budget they passed, and there was no plan on how to change the juvenile system to successfully accommodate the additional population of 17-year-olds.”

Texas’ age of adult responsibility has been at 17 since 1913. Texas is one of five states that treats 17-year-olds as adults in criminal cases, with New York having recently raised its age from 16 to 18. A dozen states have left that list in the past 10 years, and statistics show that many of them either overestimated the costs of raising the age or ended up paying nothing for the policy change.

Juvenile justice advocates of the change have said treating 17-year-olds as juveniles makes sense because their rehabilitation needs are similar to 16-year-olds in the juvenile justice system; the move would keep them safe from exploitation by older prisoners; and the likelihood they won’t re-offend would increase. It seems as though those advocates will have to wait until the study is complete and the House can come up with the money to make this proposed action a reality.

You can read the rest of the article here.