ANNAPOLIS – Two boys, 11 and 13 years old, go on a shooting rampage at their middle school, killing four classmates and a teacher.
In Arkansas, where that horrendous attack occurred last month, the law says the boys must be tried as juveniles, meaning they could be freed by age 18.
What would happen in Maryland?
“The provision for them to charged as adults does exist in Maryland,” said Grant McDaniel, assistant state’s attorney for the Baltimore juvenile division.
But trying children that young as adults is not automatic in Maryland. And defense attorneys here said that, because of the age of the two boys, they would fight to see them charged as juveniles.
“It would just be totally inappropriate for these kids to be charged in adult court,” said David Addison, assistant public defender for Baltimore.
Under Maryland law, youths under 14 cannot normally be charged as adults but must appear in juvenile court. In cases of capital murder, however, prosecutors can ask that a younger child’s case be waived to adult court.
Arkansas does not have such a provision and because the two boys accused in the Jonesboro killings are under 14 they must be tried as juveniles, said Robert Fisher, ombudsman for the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.
Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, were charged as juveniles with five counts of murder in the deaths of four classmates and a teacher outside their school in Jonesboro, Ark., on March 24. If convicted in the juvenile system, they would likely only be held until they reach their 18th birthdays.
“There’s an outside chance they could be held to 21, but it’s an outside chance,” Fisher said.
Addison, who specializes in juveniles being tried as adults, said that because the Arkansas boys are young, they would be in the juvenile system for a long enough time to be rehabilitated.
“Because of their age, they can be held for years in the juvenile system,” he said.
But they would not likely have that opportunity in Maryland.
Harford County Assistant State’s Attorney Vernon Gentile, like most attorneys contacted for this article, said he thinks the boys would be charged as adults because of the nature of the offense.
The nature of the offense is one of the five factors considered before a juvenile is sent to adult court, but Addison said it should not be the only reason such a case should be waived up.
Addison said that the nature of the offense together with public safety, would send the case to adult court. But he said the accused’s age, mental and physical condition and amenability to treatment should also be considered.
“They’re pretty young, they’re pretty small,” Addison said of the Arkansas boys.
If tried and convicted as adults in Maryland, they could be sentenced to life in prison, but not to the death penalty.
Rene Butta, assistant public defender for Anne Arundel County, said there is no place for such boys in the adult system.
“The juvenile system deals more with the rehabilitation, the adult system is more punitive,” she said. “There is no place for them. They would be there with 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds.”
Gentile said that the prime defense for the two youths would be the infancy defense, which says that children under age 7 are presumed not to be capable of knowingly committing a crime. The defense is also used for children in “the gray area” between the ages of 7 and 14, he said.
But Gentile said that defense would not work in this case because of the boys’ apparent premeditation and planning, including wearing camouflage and pulling the fire alarm.
“Even if they were 9 or 10 years old it would be hard for them to use the infancy defense,” Gentile said.
Victor Houlon, a criminal defense attorney in Prince George’s County, said that despite the crimes that the two boys are charged with, they are still “incomplete people,” and should be charged as juveniles.
“I think they are human beings who aren’t completely grown yet,” Houlon said.
He said that children are not allowed to do adult things like drink or work, so they should not be charged as adults.
“To me it’s just an outrageous hypocrisy,” he said.