BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The judge stared down at the names on the arrest reports, shaking her head as she matched each child to an age.
Ten years old. Eleven. Eight.
When she finished, she told the four boys she wasn't sure how to punish them for molesting a 7-year-old girl last summer.
"They're too young," Magistrate Sara Schoettmer said Tuesday in Hamilton County Juvenile Court.
Too young to be locked up, she finally decided. Too young to serve an adult sentence for what is usually considered an adult crime. Instead, she placed each child on probation and ordered each of them to undergo up to two years of counseling in a sex offender treatment program.
"Hopefully we won't see you guys back," she told the boys. The judge's decision ended a case that prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed was among the most difficult and disturbing they had seen.
It involved a victim who was a first-grader at the time of the offense, and four defendants who could barely pronounce the charge against them, let alone comprehend it.
Each of the boys pleaded guilty to one count of gross sexual imposition last month for his role in the Aug. 12
incident. Prosecutors say they lured the girl into a wooded area, held her down and took turns fondling her.
The boys, who are not being named because they are juveniles, did not speak at their sentencing Tuesday. The girl's mother, who has demanded that the boys go to jail, did not attend.
The victim's court-appointed guardian, Susan Basler, said everyone was frustrated by a justice system that was not equipped to handle such youthful defendants.
"I don't think they even grasp how wrong it was," she said. "If there was a facility to put them in, these boys would be in it."
But after deciding that a juvenile detention center was inappropriate, the judge settled on probation and treatment. She said it was the best chance to salvage their lives and prevent them from preying on the community when they get older.
One of the boys' attorneys, Mark Krumbein, called the judge's decision "courageous." "This is an opportunity to change them, hopefully for the rest of their lives," he said.
Ms. Basler wasn't so optimistic. She said she was disappointed that the judge did not suspend the sentence so it could be imposed later if the boys offend again.
"No matter how much therapy you put them in, they're still going back to the same environment that allowed this to happen," she said. "I'm not sure we can keep it from happening again."