He downed his first beer at 8, smoked marijuana at 11, dropped out of school after seventh grade and was charged with aggravated murder at 14.
The turbulent life of a troubled teen was outlined in court Monday to help 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez decide whether the youth should be tried in juvenile or adult court.
The boy, now 15, is charged in connection with the Feb. 5 fatal shooting of JoJo Brandstatt, 18, who many witnesses testified had enraged the teenager because Brandstatt was wearing a red T-shirt, which is the color favored by a rival gang.
Valdez's final decision has far-reaching consequences because if the youth stays in juvenile court and is convicted of the slaying, he will remain under the court's control only until he turns 21. In adult court, a conviction for aggravated murder for him could carry the penalty of life in prison without parole.
In addition, the emphasis in the juvenile system is primarily focused on rehabilitation and treatment. The adult system includes those efforts as well, but there also is a greater element of punishment.
Randal Oster, a psychologist who specializes in child and adolescent treatment, conducted an evaluation of the teen and concluded the boy needed long-term and very intense treatment.
Oster said the youth stated, "I don't know why I made such a stupid move" and indicated he felt guilty "over all the bad stuff" he had done.
Under questioning, Oster said the boy might have been expressing sorrow over killing Brandstatt but he also might have been expressing sorrow over the fact that he got caught.
Another professional, Barry Sanchez, who worked as a juvenile court probation officer and who also prepared a report with others on the youth, disagreed with Oster. Sanchez said he believed the boy was unhappy simply because he got caught.
Sanchez said the boy appeared to show some empathy at the start of an interview, in which the youth insisted on telling him about Brandstatt's death and the events of that day even though Sanchez was there only to gather "social history" about the youth's home life, schooling and other things. But later, the boy's attitude seemed to change.
"He said he was glad he got it off his chest," Sanchez said.
Defense attorney Richard Van Wagoner argued that numerous studies have shown that teenagers often cannot comprehend the consequences of their actions, the human brain does not fully mature until age 25 and that this teen's lack of maturity shows he should stay in juvenile court.
However, prosecutor Michael Postma said this boy knew the difference between right and wrong, knew that firing a gun at someone would likely kill him, and knew that behavior like that does have consequences.
Besides aggravated murder, the teen is charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping and five counts of aggravated robbery. These are all first-degree felonies.
Three adults also are charged in the case and are facing identical charges, except they face a lesser charge of murder, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors believe the teenager was the actual shooter, while the others had varying roles that contributed to Brandstatt's death, but they did not fire the gun.
The certification hearing in juvenile court is scheduled to continue Tuesday.
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