The 15-year-old who threw the final punch in a fatal assault at the Great Frederick Fair last year will remain in juvenile detention pending the completion of a long-term behavioral modification program, according to a judge’s order Friday.
Frederick County Circuit Court Judge William R. Nicklas Jr. ordered the teen to remain in the Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Montgomery County until the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services finds him space in a suitable staff secure facility where the boy will receive individual and family therapy, as well as medication and other services with the goal of ultimately releasing him back into the community.
Nicklas’ decision was in line with what was asked for by prosecutors Rebecca Clinton and Laura Wilt, who asked Nicklas to impose the maximum possible sentence on the teen, as opposed to the recommendations of Jason Shoemaker, the teen’s attorney, who argued in favor of releasing the boy to complete the treatment while in the community with his family.
While prosecutors earlier argued in favor of trying the youth in adult court, in which sentences are determined based first on punishment for a crime, deterrence of future crimes and lastly on rehabilitation, the court ruled against the state’s motions and determined the teen would be tried in the juvenile system, which prioritizes rehabilitation.
“Obviously we would have preferred that he be tried as an adult, but this was the best we could do given his status in the juvenile system,” said Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith when reached for comment following Friday’s hearing. “For the [victim’s] family, this was a loved one who they will never get back, but hopefully with this disposition they will be able to find some healing.”
Shoemaker, on the other hand, was pleased with the public defender’s office’s success in keeping the teen’s case in juvenile court, even though he wished the judge would have agreed to release his client on probation. While DJS will ultimately determine which facility would best suit the judge’s orders for the teen, Shoemaker said that, once the youth is placed and begins treatment, he could be released in as soon as six to nine months.
“I do wish that the court would have accepted our argument that giving his family the chance and the opportunity to [complete DJS’ program] in the community, and if not, to pull it back, which is what we were asking for,” Shoemaker said outside the courthouse. “... But on the other hand, [my client] is going to do what he needs to do as far as the services and there will be some silver lining in this cloud at the end.”
The 15-year-old and his 16-year-old brother were charged in the Sept. 20 death of 59-year-old Mount Airy resident John Weed following an assault on the midway at the fairgrounds. Witnesses indicated the 15-year-old approached Weed and asked him for a dollar, becoming upset when the man refused, according to stories published previously in The Frederick News-Post.
Both teens attacked Weed, hitting him multiple times, but the 15-year-old threw the final punch that left Weed unresponsive on the ground. The younger teen was charged with manslaughter, first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault.
The 16-year-old, meanwhile, was charged with two counts of second-degree assault, including one count for spitting on Weed after he fell.
The younger teen pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a hearing before Nicklas on April 29 as part of an agreement reached with the state that would see his remaining assault charges dropped.
During Friday’s three-hour hearing, Nicklas heard an impact statement from Weed’s sister, Lori Hawkins, who detailed how her brother’s death had shattered her family both emotionally and in terms of support for her and Weed’s parents and other relatives. Christopher C. Quasebarth, an attorney representing Weed’s family, read Hawkins’ statement for the judge, which also noted that Hawkins’ father had recently suffered a stroke, while all members of the family still struggle to process Weed’s death every day.
“Jay’s needless death leaves me to deal with this alone, and it is hard,” Quasebarth read on Hawkins’ behalf. “... We keep asking ourselves, ‘How? Why did this happen?’ He did nothing to deserve this.”
The teen’s father, Wade Taylor, also addressed the judge, saying his son deserved a second chance and denying prosecutors’ claims that the teen did not appear to have reflected on or accepted responsibility for what he did.
“This happened to be an unfortunate incident, a tragedy on both ends, and I do have sympathy for the Weed family, [my son] has sympathy for the Weed family ... but he’s a 15-year-old kid. He’s still growing,” Taylor said.
While Nicklas praised the teen’s success keeping up with schoolwork in juvenile detention, he also expressed shock and disappointment with recent statements the teen made in interviews with DJS staff in which the boy seemed to blame Weed rather than acknowledge his own culpability. Those statements were not read in open court.
The judge also rejected Shoemaker’s arguments that the teen would be able to receive better treatment in the community than he would in a DJS facility, expressing his doubt that his family had the time and resources to properly ensure the teen would attend all of the required appointments.
“I think the burden we would be placing on [the boy’s] family would be setting them up to fail,” Nicklas said.