In sentencing a 13-year-old to a juvenile facility until he is 21, Judge Robert Berger said that despite abuse the boy suffered as a child, it did not excuse shooting and killing his brother.
Berger decided not to designate the boy, who will turn 14 next month, a serious youthful offender, which would have meant breaking a set of conditions in youth prison could send him to an adult prison.
Berger said he believed the decision is in the teen’s best interest, noting that the boy had made huge strides while he was held in the Portage-Geauga Juvenile Detention Center in Shalersville, where he has been since he was arrested in April.
The Beacon Journal is not identifying the 13-year-old, because he wasn't eligible to be tried as an adult.
The teen was found delinquent, a finding similar to guilty in adult court, in October of shooting and killing his 11-year-old brother in Streetsboro in April. Police said the boy took a .357 Magnum from his grandparents’ home by dismantling part of a locked cabinet.
The teen was sentenced on one count of aggravated murder with a gun specification, which would have been an unclassified felony if he were sentenced as an adult. He was found delinquent on two counts of aggravated murder with gun specifications, but the charges were merged in the sentencing.
During a hearing last week to determine if he should be classified as a serious youthful offender, a psychologist said she diagnosed the teen with multiple psychological problems, including paranoia, reactive attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and conduct disorder. She testified that another psychologist diagnosed him with schizophrenia.
The problems were rooted in abuse he had suffered as a child, the psychologist said. Berger noted the extent of the abuse on Friday, which he said included being forced to kneel on rice, being locked in a dark garage, being neglected to the extent he got food for himself at 2 years old and being beaten.
Berger added the abuse did not excuse his actions.
Attempts had been made several times and with several different organizations to get the boy mental health treatment before April 2018, according to court testimony. He was sent to Akron Children’s Hospital twice in 2017 after he threatened suicide, Berger said Friday, and Streetsboro police took him to Coleman Services a few days before the shooting.
The boys were adopted when the boy was about 2 years old and his younger brother was a baby, according to the court.
Their birth mother was a teenager when they were born and their father, who was 20 at the time of the older son's birth, had mental health problems, the court said. They were taken away from their parents after their mother tested positive for cocaine following the younger child's birth.
The older boy told the court last week that he didn’t realize he loved his brother until he was gone.
He prayed for his brother when he realized his sibling may not make a recovery, Berger said Friday, though he had previously felt his brother was a “nuisance.”
The boy's guardian ad litem, Aaron Heavner, testified last week that the teen had made huge improvements while in the detention center.
“This is just a young guy who has been in a secure facility for over eight months and tells us that it’s the happiest and safest that he’s felt in his entire life, and I think that’s very telling, your honor,” Heavner told Berger last week.
Berger noted on Friday that the boy had barely made eye contact and spoke in very short sentences when he was first arrested. At a hearing last week to determine if he would be designated a serious youthful offender, the teen spoke for about three minutes and made eye contact with the judge, Berger said.
He also has been taking his medications, going to class at the detention facility and attending sessions with a social worker and Children’s Advantage, a mental health service, Berger noted.
The boy's “violent conduct appears to have stabilized while at the Portage-Geauga Juvenile detention facility,” Berger said Friday.
Berger said he hoped the community would take something from the case, which he said had affected himself, his staff and the entire community.
He said he hoped social workers, teachers and others who may notice a child has been abused, neglected or may be suffering from mental illness will report it to the authorities. If the authorities do not take action, those who noticed should report the issue again, he said.
“This is a case we will not forget,” he said.