Teen Charged With Murder Could Face Trial As Adult

By: Cayle Thompson Email
By: Cayle Thompson Email

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Friday, June 4, 2010

A 14-year-old boy at the center of a deadly shooting in rural Saline County this week could face trial as an adult.

Although Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell says she has not decided on adult charges, Kansas law gives insight into how such cases often proceed.

The teen was arrested and charged as a juvenile with First Degree Premeditated Murder after Tuesday's shooting death of 9-year-old Kaden Harper.

Harper and the teen were stepbrothers. Court documents say investigators found a 357-magnum revolver loaded with .38 caliber hollow point bullets inside the home. The gun was fired only once. Detectives say it was not an accident.

Wichita-area attorney Kevin O'Connor has years of experience as a criminal prosecutor. He explains how the juvenile justice system works, and why prosecutors can ask for adult charges.

State laws say minors 14 and older can be tried in adult court based on their maturity, their history, and the severity of the crime.

"It's as serious as it gets," O'Connor said of the first degree murder charges in the Saline County case.

"The presumption in this particular situation is that you're an adult," O'Connor explained, "meaning it would be up to the juvenile to overcome the presumption."

O'Connor says if prosecutors ask a judge to try the 14-year-old as an adult, the request will be granted unless the defense can show compelling reasons why the case should remain in juvenile court.

The difference in punishment is considerable. If convicted of first degree murder in juvenile court, the suspect could be incarcerated until he turns 21.

But if convicted as an adult, he could face up to life in prison, with no chance for parole until he is almost 40.

O'Connor says the decision to charge minors as adults is never taken lightly, and can weigh on a prosecutor's mind.

"But age or not, when you have a crime of this nature, something has to happen," he said.

The state's juvenile justice code emphasizes rehabilitation instead of long-term punishment, which is generally reserved for adults, O'Connor said.

Friday, the suspect appeared in Saline County court for a brief hearing. A judge ruled the teen was to remain in the county's juvenile detention facility pending further review of evidence in his case next week.

The boy's family and attorney declined to comment after the hearing.

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