ROCKVILLE – A second teenager charged in an alleged Damascus High School rape case will be tried in juvenile court following a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge’s ruling on Feb. 22.
A defendant becomes a respondent once his case is entered into the juvenile court system.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant said the law requires him to rule on a motion of a transfer of jurisdiction to juvenile court, based on five factors. If his decision had been based on the alleged crime alone, the defendant would retain the adult charges, Salant said.
Defense Attorney Jason Downs said his client would be amenable to treatment – one of the five factors – because his client has a supportive family and has never been late for an interview with police or missed any appointments.
Both parents attended the hearing and sat in the back row of the courtroom.
Another factor for transferring a case from court to juvenile court is the defendant’s age at the time of the alleged crime.
“A 15-year-old does not have the sense of an adult,” Salant said.
Salant said he agreed with some of the Department of Juvenile Services’ recommendations for one of the suspects, regarding factors such as age and amenability to treatment. The department had recommended transfer to juvenile court.
Salant said he does not believe some of the past incidents mentioned by the Department of Juvenile Services weighed in favor of the defendant remaining in adult court. According to a Montgomery County Public Schools report, the defendant hit another student after the student hit him.
If a 12-year-old hits him and he chases after him to hit them back, “(to) make that into a grave, aggressive predator: that does not make sense to me,” Salant said.
Salant read out loud the statement that a teacher “infrequently” observed the defendant taking responsibility.
“Imagine a 15-year-old not taking responsibility,” Salant said. “That’s not uncommon.”
Salant cited an expert witness called by Downs; the witness had completed a study of the defendant, the defendant’s family and his environment. “(The defendant) does not have a predisposition to aggression,” either physical or sexual, according to the expert witness, Kiu Eubanks Smith.
Downs asked Salant to consider four of the five factors to weigh in favor of a reverse waiver to juvenile court, except for the nature of the crime.
“We can see that this is a very serious offense,” Downs said in court.
Downs said his client is “a follower and not a leader,” citing observations from the expert witness who observed and wrote a report about the defendant.
“Others were alleged to be the actual leaders, and that was not (defendant’s name),” Downs said.
Downs added that the defendant had no history with the criminal justice system and had never been suspended from school.
The state’s witness, Detective Dana Williams of Montgomery County Police (MCP), confirmed in court that the defendant had suggested a different victim during the violent incident, based on interviews. She authored the police report of the alleged incident based on the summaries of several interviews.
“Initially, he heard (victim’s name) was going to be approached,” Williams said. “‘Don’t go for (victim); let’s go for (another team member).’”
Since that second suggested victim was stronger, the defense attorney interpreted this as sign of empathy on the defendant’s part.
Co-prosecutor assistant state’s attorney Carlotta Woodward would later disagree with Downs in her closing arguments.
“He (the defendant) was the leader when he suggested another victim,” Woodward said in court.
Detective Williams said in court the defendant admitted to pushing whoever was getting “broomed” and to “egging on” other suspects during the incident.
Williams said police in her division conducted more than 40 interviews, including with suspects, victims family members and Montgomery County Public Schools staff for the investigation.
MCP, under the direction of Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, charged four teenagers – including this defendant – with first-degree rape and other charges related to a violent incident that occurred Oct. 31 in a Damascus High School locker room. Police initially charged the teens with second-degree rape. Four male students were alleged victims of either first-degree rape or attempted rape with a wooden broomstick.
Downs declined to comment following the hearing.
On Feb. 15, Salant granted another student’s motion to transfer jurisdiction of his case related to the Damascus locker room incident to juvenile court.
“The families (of the victims) are not surprised, based on the earlier ruling, but they are disappointed,” said Tom DeGonia, an attorney representing two of the victims and their families, after the hearing.
The remaining two of four defendants in the case – Caleb Thorpe of Gaithersburg and Jean Claude Abedi – still await hearings next month on their motions to transfer jurisdiction to juvenile court.
Downs told reporters he might speak at the end of a press conference after the hearing with State’s Attorney McCarthy, but he did not make an appearance.
McCarthy said during the press conference that he knew that the students’ cases might move back to juvenile court after being moved to adult court in November. He said he does not believe it was a mistake to charge the suspects as adults initially.
Williams said in court that the defendant whose case had most recently moved to juvenile court claimed that one of the victims believed the defendant had stolen from him after the victim’s gold chain went missing. McCarthy said during the press conference that the concern with the gold chain suggests a pre-existing relationship between the defendant and one of the alleged victims.
“Obviously, there was an ongoing relationship between one of the boys that were violated and the young man here (today), (which) was one of the arguments that this was (a risk to) public safety,” McCarthy said after the hearing.
In response to a claim that this defendant was not in school, Downs said in court that while he is not enrolled in classes for school credit currently, he had been a Damascus High School student before the time of the incident and that his parents are paying for him to take non-credit courses.