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

Rampant Human Rights Violations of Children Internationally

On October 31, 2017, the United Security Council met to discuss their deep concern for international abuse of children. The Council said that it is “gravely concerned by the scale and severity” of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed against children in some countries, including terrorism, mass abductions, and sexual slavery, which can cause displacement and affect access to education and healthcare services. You can read more about the Council meeting here. Attached was a report that chronicles the high number of child casualties in Afghanistan. Additionally, 50 children have already been killed in Jamaica this calendar year and you can read more about that here. These human rights violations don’t just stop with homicide, as lack of access to education is another disheartening disparity. You can read about the President of Tanzania banning pregnant girls from school here.

Surrogate Mother wins Custody Battle for Biological Son

In Perris, California, surrogate Jessica Allen gave birth to two healthy children she believed to be twins. It turned out that one of those babies was actually her biological child. This happened as a result of what is called superfetation, and it occurs when a woman continues to ovulate after becoming pregnant, resulting in two babies with different gestational ages and, in this case, two different sets of genetic parents. This only happens in 1 in several million pregnancies. Allen reported that after a complicated process, she and her husband Wardell Jasper got custody of their son in February. You can read more about this medical marvel and custody battle here.

States in the U.S. Seek to End Child Marriage

Though many U.S. officials are critical of child marriage abroad, we are guilty of allowing the exact same practice right in our own backyard. In 25 states in the United States there are no minimum age requirements to wed, while in the others, the age requirement ranges from 13-17 years old. Child marriage correlates with domestic violence, psychiatric disorders, dropping out of high-school, poverty and financial instability, and early stress that leads to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. That is exactly why Human Rights Watch has launched a campaign to support a bill that could potentially end child marriage in Florida. As it stands now, pregnant girls in Florida can get married at any age if a judge approves it. You can learn more about child marriage in the U.S. here.

Teenagers and Sleep Deprivation: A Solution Schools Aren’t Accepting

What is one public health concern for which experts across the board have determined a reasonable solution? Sleep deprivation in teenagers exacerbated by the early start times of most public high schools. I know this problem firsthand. I have a teenage son who has to catch his bus for high school at 6:30 am. Most school nights he’s up until 11:00 pm doing homework, and then he gets up at 5:30 am so he’s able to get to the bus on time. Six and a half hours of sleep is not enough for a teenager!

Experts from the American Medical Association (“Sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue affecting our nation’s adolescents, putting them at risk for mental, physical and emotional distress and disorders.…We believe delaying school start times will help ensure middle and high school students get enough sleep, and that it will improve the overall mental and physical health of our nation’s young people.”) to the CDC (“Starting school later can help adolescents get enough sleep and improve their health, academic performance, and quality of life.”) agree that later start times for schools will have beneficial effects on teenagers. However, even with research showing that later start times will help sleep-deprived teens, school districts have been slow to make changes, citing costs to switch the start times and the timing of after school activities.

Public schools are strapped for funds as it is, so any change that requires a large expenditure may be tough to implement. However, the benefits of improved academic performance and less tardies and absences due to teenagers getting more sleep would seem to outweigh the cost issue. The after-school activity argument is also hard to accept. Many extracurricular activities actually have early morning practices, meaning students have to leave their houses before 5:00 am to make it to practice. Also, some after school practices do not even start right after school. My son’s marching band practices usually start an hour or more after school lets out, meaning he has to come home and get back to school or just wait around the school for a few hours until practice starts.

California tried to pass legislation to require all schools to have start times no earlier than 8:30 am, but the legislation was put aside for the time being because there were not enough votes to pass it. It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out over the next few years as the medical evidence continues to show the problems with such early start times of high schools. Will school districts see the value in giving students a chance to be less sleep-deprived? Or will costs and other concerns keep the districts from implementing any changes in this regard? No matter what, if change comes, it will come too late for my teenage son who will be out of school before any change comes to his district.

Sources and for more information:

AMA Supports Delayed School Start Times to Improve Adolescent Wellness

CDC: Schools Start Too Early

If later school start times are better, why aren’t they more popular?

Why Does High School Still Start So Early?

Later school start times for California students laid to rest for the year