A judge ordered Tuesday that the 11-year-old York boy accused of attempted murder in the Dec. 23 stabbing of a teen must remain in juvenile custody, saying the continued confinement of the child is for his own safety, as well as the safety of the victim and the community.
The victim, 15, was stabbed in the back with a steak knife and spent a week in the hospital. The defendant is believed to be the youngest person ever charged with attempted murder in York County – possibly the youngest in South Carolina.
Testimony showed the boy has been treated for mental health problems, but both he and his family failed to complete court-ordered treatment last year.
The continued confinement of the suspect came as a relief to the family of the victim, who underwent emergency surgery and for a time could not feel his legs. The family said they were concerned that if released, the suspect might attack again.
Before the stabbing, testimony showed, the 11-year-old already was facing two charges in Family Court for malicious damage to property and disturbing schools and has been in trouble since age 5. His mother said in court she even had called police several times to try to get the child just to attend school.
“That child is 11 years old, but he stabbed my brother and tried to kill him,” said Erica Hughes, sister of the victim, said after the detention hearing. “He needs to stay in jail and he needs to held accountable for what he did.”
The names of the suspect and the victim have not been released because of their ages. The victim was not in court Tuesday. The suspect was in court, handcuffed and facing one of the most serious charges there is. He did not speak.
Police reports from the incident show at least two other juveniles witnessed the suspect’s attacking the victim, and the suspect’s sister told police that the suspect said he was “going to get him.” The suspect and victim had been together earlier that day, testimony showed, when the victim allegedly hit the suspect with a hat and refused to stop, causing a fight.
The suspect was taken home after the fight was broken up, came back to the victim and savagely stabbed him as the victim was walking home, prosecutors said. The suspect also has been in several fights at a juvenile jail in the two weeks he has been held since his arrest, prosecutors said.
“Age 11 is very young, but this case is so serious,” said juvenile prosecutor Whitney Payne. “For him to be released, there are potentially so many bad outcomes. It is safer for society if he stays in detention.”
The suspect was treated for cuts to his face, arms, back and head after he was arrested Dec. 23. York Police Department reports show that Joanne Pressley, the suspect’s mother, had reported her son had been jumped and beaten by other children in previous incidents. One report showed injuries to the suspect’s head.
Family Court Judge Tony Jones was visibly upset when told that the suspect had been bullied before the stabbing, ordering police and prosecutors to “vigorously pursue” the bullying allegations and report back to him what caused the fight and subsequent stabbing that has left one child close to death and another facing serious criminal charges.
“Everybody has a right to walk free in our schools, our parks, our community, and be free from bullying,” Jones said. “That does not justify commission of a violent crime.”
Jones told Pressley that the purpose of the Family Court proceedings was to “save your son,” and “not just cast him into the system of adulthood.”
Still, Jones said the suspect is “clearly a troubled young man.” No determination of guilt has been made in the case, but juveniles found guilty of violent crimes can be held in custody until age 21.
In 2012, when the suspect was 10, he was arrested for stealing and smashing a cellphone belonging to a York woman, police reports show. That case was handled by alternative prosecution that required the child to “accomplish 10 good deeds” and pay restitution.
Lavonne Hanna, the victim in that case, also reported to police that the suspect had threatened to shoot another child.
“I was worried then that boy would end up killing somebody – and now look what happened,” Hanna told The Herald. Pressley is unemployed and under court order to make sure her child attends school, but that didn’t happen, testimony showed. Police reports show several incidents during which the suspect would not comply with directions at school or refused to go to school.
“I tried everything I can,” Pressley told Judge Jones. “The person in the fight came and got him. They had been together all day. My son, he wasn’t in his right mind I don’t think his intention was to hurt his friend.”
Jones refused to let the child go home, telling Pressley, “The problem is greater than you can currently fix.”
The lawyer for the accused child, assistant public defender Stacey Coleman, said her client is a special needs student who already has been diagnosed with an emotional disability. She said an 11-year-old child’s brain is not developed and asked for him to be released until his trial.
Jones balked at that, citing the severity of the crime, the boy’s home life, and the history he has with police and the courts.
The judge did agree to Coleman’s request to have the child undergo mental competency testing and to determine whether he can even understand criminal responsibility. Jones also ordered a Department of Social Services investigation into the home where the child lived with his mother. Coleman can ask for another detention hearing after those evaluations are complete in the coming weeks.
The suspect’s father was in court but did not speak and declined to comment afterward.
Jones called the case a “terrible situation,” ordering juvenile justice officials to work with the child on his problems even as the criminal case moves forward.
“This child has been in the system since age 9,” Jones said. “If we don’t fix it now, I don’t know that we will ever get it fixed.”
What the courts are going to try to fix is an 11-year-old child who stands about 5 feet tall and weighs maybe 100 pounds – facing an attempted murder charge.
The boy cried uncontrollably at the end of the half-hour hearing, after hearing he would not be going home. He looked at his mother and tried to walk toward her.
But a deputy steered him away, and the boy walked back to the juvenile jail where he could end up for the next 10 years.