The 15-year-old charged in the death of a Mount Airy man at last year's The Great Frederick Fair pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single count of involuntary manslaughter.
Aside from manslaughter, the teen faced a charge of first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault, but those charges were dropped Wednesday per an agreement reached between the teen's defense attorney, Jason Shoemaker, and Frederick County Assistant State's Attorneys Rebecca Clinton and Laura Wilt.
The 15-year-old was accused of having landed the final blow in the assault that led to the death of 59-year-old John Weed, while the teen's 16-year-old brother was charged with assault for allegedly striking Weed twice in the back of his head earlier in the altercation, according to previous reports.
Along with the attorneys and judge in the courtroom, the teen himself, his father, a Department of Juvenile Services employee and an attorney representing Weed's family also appeared via video chat.
After consultation with both parties, Circuit Court Judge William R. Nicklas Jr. set a disposition hearing for May 15 where the judge will ultimately determine an appropriate sentence for the teen.
The teen could face a term of detention up until he turns 21. Prosecutors plan to ask the court to place the juvenile in a hardware secure behavior modification facility until DJS determines the youth has completed the necessary programs in order to qualify for release, according to Frederick County State's Attorney Charlie Smith.
"Since the judge made the decision to keep him in the juvenile system, that means the judge and juvenile services will focus on his rehabilitation, not punishment like the adult system," Smith wrote in a statement following Wednesday's hearing. "That’s a reality that we have to deal with, and one the [Weed] family understands as well."
Shoemaker, expressing his satisfaction with the agreement reached in an interview outside the courthouse, indicated that he would be arguing in favor of the boy's release at the disposition hearing May 15.
"In this case, really [the teen's] worst-case scenario is finishing that [DJS] program while at the detention center, which, for someone who is doing it right, takes about six months, and for someone who messes it up a little bit, it takes about eight months," Shoemaker said. "... I am thrilled with the work we did with the state's attorney's office and I think this is one of those cases that, from a standpoint of where we are right now, pending a sentencing hearing, it's a very appropriate plea."
Shoemaker also argued in favor of releasing the teen from Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice custody at the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing, a request Nicklas also denied. In his decision, the judge specifically cited reports from a doctor indicating the teen needed to be on medication for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which he had stopped taking.
"[The doctor] said counseling can help, but [the teen] really needed medication and he hasn't been on medication for two months," Nicklas said.
While Shoemaker argued that the teen was taken off of the medication due to bad side effects and suggested the teen be given non-stimulant medication, Nicklas refused to agree to the boy's release absent a plan in place for medication.
Before the judge ruled on the manslaughter charge, Wilt read an overview of the facts the state would have relied on if the case went to trial. In the outline, Wilt described the assault and accounted for multiple different versions of events provided by two people with Weed at the time and all four youth, including the brothers and two of their friends, present when the altercation happened.
The accounts differed, but the brothers changed their stories multiple times when interviewed by sheriff's deputies several hours after the assault. Meanwhile, the accounts provided by the people with Weed were generally consistent, Wilt said. For example, both brothers initially told detectives Weed was drunk and had spit on the 15-year-old after the teen and a friend approached Weed to ask him for a dollar. The boys ultimately walked back the claim about Weed spitting and a toxicology analysis of Weed showed no signs of alcohol in his system, Wilt said.
The 16-year-old also denied spitting on Weed after Weed fell to the ground, despite the fact that that part of the assault was recorded.
Wilt also addressed rumors that Weed used a racial slur when talking to the teens. Weed is white while the youth are black. A handful of people interviewed after the homicide reported hearing Weed use a slur, but neither the brothers nor their two friends who were present said any such language was used, Wilt said.
Reached for comment after the hearing, Christopher C. Quasebarth, a staff attorney with the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center who was representing Weed's family, said the homicide was a tragedy for both Weed's family and the family of the teens before speaking on behalf of Weed's relatives.
"Certainly they are still grieving and missing their brother, uncle and son. They all miss him with this wholly unexpected and violent taking of his life, but they think that it’s a positive sign that this juvenile has accepted his role and responsibility in the killing of Mr. Weed," Quasebarth said. "I think that they feel that this was the appropriate acceptance for the charges that were filed, [the teen] pleaded to manslaughter and that was the major charge filed against him."