An assault at The Great Frederick Fair that ultimately led to a man’s death sparked questions about why the two teenage brothers allegedly involved were charged as juveniles.
The two brothers — one 15, one 16 — could not automatically be charged as adults under Maryland law, Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said at a press conference Monday.
“I can tell you, I don’t make the law,” Smith said. “I just prosecute people who break it.”
The 15-year-old was charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, and the 16-year-old was charged with second-degree assault in the death of John Weed, 59, of Mount Airy.
More charges, including a possible manslaughter charge for the 15-year-old, are pending, Smith said during the press conference following the hearing. Much of the conversation at the press conference centered on dispelling public outcry to Smith’s office on whether the boys should be charged as adults, charged with murder, or charged with a hate crime.
So why were the two brothers not charged as adults?Whether a person under 18 is charged as a juvenile or adult falls under the Maryland laws for criminal procedure. Under the laws, a child 14 or older would automatically be charged as an adult if they committed a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Those charges include first-degree murder and first-degree rape.
A child who is at least 16 can be automatically charged as an adult if they allegedly committed abduction, kidnapping, second-degree murder, manslaughter, second-degree rape, first-degree assault, among other charges with more specific qualifications.
As of right now, neither brother is charged with a crime that would automatically qualify them to be handled in the adult criminal justice system, as only the 15-year-old is charged with first-degree assault, which does not carry a life sentence.
Although the two brothers were named in court, the names are not included because the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s office did not confirm the spellings of their names.
If the 15-year-old is charged with manslaughter, it would not automatically transfer him from the juvenile system because he is too young, according to Maryland law.
Prosecutors can “waive” a person out of the juvenile system, which is an option the state’s attorney’s office might pursue, Smith said.
If people would want the two boys to be charged as an adult, a law would need to be changed, Smith said.
Changing the laws that define when a minor is charged as a juvenile or adult comes up every year during the legislative session, said Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll), who sits on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Last year, there was a push to add attempted carjacking to the charges that would charge a minor 16 and older as an adult.
It did not pass.
After the fair assault, he plans to bring up changing the law at the upcoming legislative session. He wants to look at adding second-degree murder and manslaughter to the list of charges that would automatically charge a 14-year-old person as an adult.
Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick), who sits on the Juvenile Justice Reform Council, was at the fair when the assault happened, although he was not near the fight.
It is up to the members of the General Assembly to update the “tools” in state law to help prosecutors and law enforcement, Pippy said.
“We don’t have all the facts ... the facts I’ve heard are very disturbing but I’d want to know what has happened over the last 10 years,” Pippy said about the case, and of examining juvenile sentencing laws. “We have to be objective, and listen to all sides.”
Pippy added that timeframe could be longer, depending on when current statutes were enacted concerning juvenile sentencing. He also said he’d want to know why those laws were enacted before considering any possible changes.
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins advocated for charging the teens with a hate crime. Is that possible?At this point, neither brother is charged with a hate crime, Smith said at the press conference.
Maryland law is specific about what can be charged as a hate crime, he said. Under Maryland law, a person cannot threaten to or commit a crime against someone because someone is homeless or because of their race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability or national origin.
“Spitting on someone is not a hate crime,” Smith said.
Why is a manslaughter charge being considered, but not murder?It comes down to intent, Smith said at the press conference. First- and second-degree murder require intent to kill.
As of Monday, the state’s attorney’s office does not have evidence that the two brothers intended to kill Weed.
During the hearing Monday, attorney Christopher Kalotra, who is representing both teenagers, said both brothers were upset when they found out Weed died Saturday. The 15-year-old was in “shock,” while the 16-year-old cried.
So what is the difference between first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter?A homicide is considered a first-degree murder if it is deliberate and premeditated, according to Maryland law.
A second-degree murder is a homicide that is not premeditated, but is still with “malice aforethought,” which means there was an intent to kill, according to Maryland charging language.
Manslaughter is the charge for when a homicide is committed without premeditation or intention to kill and is not deliberate.
The other major difference between the crimes is the maximum sentence for each if a person is convicted.
A person convicted of first-degree murder can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The minimum sentencing, according to Maryland sentencing guidelines, is life in prison.
A person found guilty of second-degree murder can be sentenced up to 40 years in prison. If a person is convicted of manslaughter, they face a maximum of 10 years in prison.