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.