KSLA 12 Investigates: Youths charged with adult crimes

KSLA 12 Investigates: Youths charged with adult crimes
(Source: Eric Pointer/ KSLA News 12)
(Source: Eric Pointer/ KSLA News 12)

CADDO-BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Recently, young teens committing serious crimes has been an issue in the ArkLaTex.

And those teens are subject to be transferred to adult court.

Donzell Hogan recently was convicted of manslaughter for stabbing to death his 91-year-old aunt when he was 14 years old.

Bossier-Webster District Attorney Schuyler Marvin says he was charged as an adult.

"She sustained 33 stab wounds. Separate stab wounds, according to the coroner. So that factored heavily in my mind as to 'Do I wanna try this kid as an adult'?," Marvin said.

Louisiana law says only juveniles age 14 or older can be transferred to adult court, the district attorney said.

When they are 14, they have to have a special hearing to be transferred.

For those 15 years old or older, it is up to the district attorney to charge them as an adult.

Caddo Parish records indicate 28 teens have been transferred to adult court since 2011.

Bossier-Webster District Court officials say they have transferred 10 since 2010. Including Hogan, who will be sentenced next month.

State law also says teens can only be transferred to adult court for certain crimes.

Those include first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape and armed robbery.

"Those are the only ones we can even look at," Marvin said.

"But even those, you got to take a hard look at them and say what brought us to this point? What happened in this kid's life?"

To be transferred, the district attorney said, it has to be proved that the teen is incapable of being rehabilitated.

"Meaning he's already had a bite at the apple or been through the juvenile system and it didn't work."

Donna Woods says she and the rest of the staff at Caddo Parish Juvenile Center work tirelessly to change for the better the teens who come through there.

"It kind of tugs on your heart from time to time. But it is what it is," said Woods, detention manager at the juvenile center.

"They commit crimes, and we make sure they understand that there are always consequences for those negative choices."

Woods, who has been there for 20 years, said they work to find teens' interests in hopes of changing their behavior.

"We're consistent in our programming. We're consistent in how we communicate with them and how we talk to them," she said.

"This is a life. And they're really still trying to understand, and they're still developing, and they're really trying to understand what's happening and exactly how this process goes and what actually happens."

The juvenile center has a mental health counselor to help ensure the teens understand what's going on.

There also are public defenders who represent the teens and help explain things.

"There's a lot of fear, I think," Heather Courtney said. "And that can make it hard to help them understand what they're dealing with because they're just so scared."

Courtney is the supervising attorney in the juvenile division at the Caddo public defender's office.

She says the question her clients ask the most is about when they can go home.

"That can be very difficult because I don't think an 11-year-old, 12-year-old, 13-year-old and even, in some cases, 16-year-old don't necessarily realize that children can be held in a facility, held for that long," Courtney said.

In juvenile court, a teen can only be sentenced up until their 21st birthday.

If they're transferred to adult court, they can be held until their 31st birthday.

Those who commit crimes under age 13 can only be held until their 18th birthday.

Courtney says it's unusual for 11- and 12-year-olds to be charged with serious crimes.

But it does happen, like when Pamela Rochester was robbed at gunpoint by an 11-year-old.

At that young age, Woods said, a child probably doesn't understand what they're doing.

"Usually, in that case, it's going to be someone older who has talked to that kid and said some things and talked them into doing what they're doing.

"And so, basically, you got to get to that point and said basically you were informed incorrectly. And just actually tell them what actually happened and what could have possibly happened."

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that parental supervision and more social events like sports and other after-school activities go a long way in keeping youths out of trouble.

Copyright 2017 KSLA. All rights reserved.