Saturday, August 14, 2004

14-year-old to be tried as an adult in 2 killings


Judge: Penalty not enough as a juvenile

By Sharon Coolidge
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
David Harris
A 14-year-old boy charged with killing two men must be tried as an adult because the maximum term the teen would face in the juvenile system isn't enough, a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge said Friday.

David Harris is believed to be the youngest child moved from juvenile to adult court in Hamilton County and will be one of a handful of boys held in the county's adult jail awaiting trial.

A court-ordered psychological evaluation paints a picture of a boy who was shuffled among relatives, who fell two grades behind at school and who preferred running the streets to staying in the Over-the-Rhine apartment he shared with his mother and four siblings.

Instead, Harris told a psychologist, he stayed in hotels, "hustling" to earn a living.

The evaluation, coupled with two earlier hearings, led Judge Thomas Lipps to move Harris to adult court.

Harris, flanked by his parents at Friday's hearing, was arrested in May on two charges of aggravated murder and two charges of aggravated robbery in the deaths of George Vance, 27, and David Hutchinson, 20. The men were robbed and killed four days apart in Over-the-Rhine.

"The decision isn't an easy one," Lipps said during the hearing.

About a dozen relatives of Vance and Hutchinson crowded into Lipps' small courtroom, saying Harris should be tried as such.

Ohio law states that 14 is the youngest age a juvenile can be tried as an adult. But a judge must look at whether the child can be rehabilitated in the juvenile system and how the public is best protected.

"It's a balancing process," Lipps said.

Prosecutors will take Harris' case to a grand jury. If a grand jury indicts him as an adult and he is convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Ohio law does not allow anyone under the age of 18 to be executed.

Harris remains in the Hamilton County Justice Center in lieu of a $1.4 million bond.

Hamilton County Assistant Public Defender Terry Weber had hoped Lipps would keep the boy in Juvenile Court.

"How do you tell a juvenile he's looking at 20 years minimum on each charge?" Weber said. "We have a juvenile system for a reason."

Harris' parents, Angela Harris and David Williams, declined to comment on the ruling.

Lipps made his decision after reading David Harris' evaluation, which he released before Friday's hearing. In it, Harris and his parents told Paul Deardorff, a psychologist who works for Hamilton County Juvenile Court, about their chaotic lives.

David Harris, the second of Angela Harris' five children, told Deardorff her son was slow to talk and has always been quiet.

He lived with his mother until he was 5 years old. At that time, Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services took her children away from her after they had been left home alone. The children lived with their aunt.

Six years later, Harris and his siblings began living with their mother again. Angela Harris said she doesn't work and stays home with her children. They live on about $800 a month.

She and Williams never married and Harris rarely saw his father growing up.

Harris last attended sixth-grade classes at Rothenberg Elementary School. He was two grades behind peers and sometimes placed in special-education classes. Early this year, Harris skipped several days of school, was suspended and never went back to classes, Angela Harris told the psychologist.

Angela Harris told the psychologist her son was running around with older boys who were a bad influence.

"The older kids gave him drugs; he ain't in his right mind," she told Deardorff.

In early May, Harris ran away from home and never went back. His mother filed a missing person's report with the Cincinnati Police Department May 10.

Hutchinson was robbed of money and shot to death May 13. Vance was robbed of drugs and killed May 17.

On May 22, Harris turned himself in to police.

Harris told the psychologist that he lived at a hotel and supported himself through "hustling" after he ran away from home. Harris never specified in the report what hustling meant.

He also said he used marijuana daily.

To survive, Harris said, he "hustled things" or pumped gas for cash.

"I didn't want to go back home," Harris said.

Sometimes he'd stay at hotels with girls, he said. He would sometimes sleep until early afternoon, then spend the rest of the day smoking marijuana, playing video games and basketball.

"I could be up for 24 hours for three straight days," Harris said.

Harris said his friends are young adults. He estimated about half are involved in drugs or alcohol.

In the evaluation, Deardorff did not recommend whether Harris should be moved to adult court. Instead, he presented the facts that would help Lipps make his decision.

"There is evidence to suggest that David is an emotionally troubled youngster whose difficulties may be attributed to a chaotic upbringing, limited contact with his father and intellectual limitations and academic struggles, along with a family history of mental illness, substance abuse and criminal activity," Deardorff wrote in the evaluation.

Deardorff also indicated that Harris may suffer from depression.

When he asked Harris if he were afraid, the teen replied:

"No, there is nothing to be scared about."

E-mail scoolidge@enquirer.com




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