Tuesday, June 11, 2002

New juvenile trials defended



By Marie McCain, mmccain@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of the first Juvenile Court juries convened in Ohio ended in a deadlock last week.

        But even prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that the idea of using jury trials for juveniles accused of violent crimes has merit.

        Because of the deadlock, an involuntary manslaughter charge was dismissed against a 15-year-old Avondale girl who was blamed for her 39-year-old father's death after he'd been splashed with bleach.

        Now, Hamilton County officials are gearing up for what could become the second juvenile jury trial. A 16-year-old boy accused of the April rape of a girl under the age of 12 could face life in prison if convicted.

        Does the deadlock in Hamilton County's first case mean the new law that created jury trials for juveniles is in some way flawed?

        Authorities are quick to say no.

        “I don't feel the least bit uncomfortable with the law in the respect that it affords a juvenile the right to a trial,” said Hamilton County Juvenile Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon, who presided over the four-day trial.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said: “I don't think (the outcome) was in any way, shape or form, a referendum, if you will, on this law.”

        One of the teen's defense attorneys agreed that in this case a jury was the way to go.

        “I'd have been more pleased if the charge of felonious assault had been dismissed as well,” said Terry Weber, assistant Hamilton County public defender. “I still believe(the new law's) penalties are too harsh. But it gave us the option of presenting to a jury, and that's what we wanted to do.”

        Ohio's first juvenile jury trial took place in Marion County in April. A jury acquitted three male teens who were accused of attacking an individual and leaving him in a coma.

        Sponsored by State Rep. Robert Latta, R-Bowling Green, the law allows for a juvenile accused of a violent crime to be classified a “serious youthful offender.”

        These defendants are kept in juvenile court because it is believed they'd benefit more from prosecution in juvenile court than in adult court.

        If convicted, the child would face incarceration in a youth facility until 21 and then possible imprisonment in an adult facility. The adult prison term would only be applied, though, if the child did not respond well to rehabilitation programs.

        In the Hamilton County case, jurors deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilty on the felonious assault charge; while voting 11-1 in favor of not guilty on the involuntary manslaughter charge. Jurors agreed the new law was not a factor in deliberations.

        “No one had a problem with (her age). That was not an issue,” said Mary Boylan, one of six women on the 12-member panel.

        “There was a lot of confusion. (Jurors) didn't feel that the causation was made very clear,” Ms. Boylan said.

        Although one trial is over, the girl involved still faces legal problems. Prosecutors will return to court June 17 to say if they will pursue the felonious assault charge, which could keep her behind bars well into adulthood if she is convicted.

        If the charges are pursued, the teen could make a second appearance before a different jury.

        Opposing sides put forth opposing theories about what caused the respiratory distress that killed Archie Dale Hall.

        Mr. Hall had argued with his daughter, who was 14 at the time of the January incident, over the girl's 17-year-old boyfriend. The girl, who had been washing clothes, was carrying an uncapped bottle of bleach.

        At some point the argument turned physical and bleached was splashed over both Mr. Hall and his daughter. The girl suffered no ill effects while Mr. Hall suffered breathing problems, lost consciousness and spent the remaining three weeks of his life on a ventilator. He died Feb. 18.

        The boyfriend, Gregory Douglas, 17, faces an aggravated assault charge in adult court. He allegedly placed Mr. Hall in a headlock after he'd been splashed with bleach.

        Opposing sides offered differing theories about the part bleach may have played in Mr. Hall's death. Prosecutors contended it was the cause of his eventual death. The defense said bleach couldn't have caused the death because it is relatively benign to the human system.

        They argued that Mr. Hall's breathing problems were triggered by the beer he'd drank earlier in the day. They said he vomited and inhaled some of that fluid which led to his death.

       



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