The mother of a young homicide victim tearfully told a judge Tuesday that keeping the teen charged with the shooting for five years in the juvenile justice system "would not be justice."
Elka Fernandez took the witness stand and wept as she described how much she misses her son, JoJo Brandstatt, 18, whose bullet-riddled body was found Feb. 6, on a West Valley City golf course, a day after he had been shot to death.
"It has changed everything," Fernandez said of her son's slaying. "I can't sleep at night, I wake up crying, I can't let my daughter out of my sight, I can't let my grandson out of my sight. I miss him so much."
The boy who police believe fired the gun was 14 at the time. He is charged with aggravated murder and other first-degree felonies. Third District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez is conducting hearings to determine whether the youth should be tried in juvenile or adult court.
If convicted in juvenile court, the now 15-year-old would be under court control until age 21. If convicted in adult court, the youth could face a possible sentence of life in prison with no parole.
"I really would like to see some remorse and guilt by (the boy) and the other people involved," Fernandez said. "Your honor, I don't know what the punishment should be. I feel like I'm going to be serving a life sentence no matter what."
However, she said a situation where the boy is automatically released at age 21 "is not justice for JoJo."
Fernandez also wept as she described the brutality of the crime and noted that her son was shot "not one time, not two times, but three times — they made sure they killed him."
Besides the teenager, three adults are charged in connection with Brandstatt's death and face other felony charges as well.
Sam Goldstein, a clinical neuropsychologist for the defense, evaluated the teen and said the boy would benefit from treatment, education and long-term rehabilitation.
Goldstein said the boy has made "dramatic" progress while in a juvenile detention center, is a good candidate for rehabilitation and has shown remorse for the crime, with the teen even questioning whether he deserved to live after what he had done.
The boy's home life has been a mess for years, including abusive physical punishment from his parents, little effort to keep him in school and frequent neglect, according to witnesses.
Goldstein said there was one particularly crucial time when the boy was adrift.
"In the six- to 12-month time period prior to being placed in detention, he was out of control," Goldstein said. "There was no parenting — his mother left town and his father let him do pretty much what he wanted to do."
Under questioning from prosecutors, Goldstein acknowledged the boy still has problems.
When watching movies at the detention center that contain a violent episode, the boy has said, "I want to do it again, but I know it's not right."
Goldstein denied the boy meant he wanted to kill someone again.
"He wants to be out, engaging in violent behavior again?" asked prosecutor Michael Postma.
"He's wrestling with a conscience," Goldstein said, adding upon further questioning that the teen knows the difference between right and wrong and knows he should not have shot Brandstatt.
David Christensen, a juvenile probation officer, testified that he thinks the boy would be best served by being in the juvenile system, but that would not be good for the general public because of the teen's violent inclinations.
"It's not in the best interest of the community," to keep the boy in juvenile court, Christensen said. "They should be protected from those who kidnap, those who steal and those who kill."
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