Grand jury OKs prosecutors’ sentencing request in case of 16-year-old driver

Posted Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A Tarrant County grand jury approved a request by Tarrant County prosecutors on Thursday to let them seek “determinate sentencing” for a teenage driver charged with intoxication manslaughter in a multivehicle wreck in June that killed four people.

The teen, if convicted, faces up to 20 years behind bars. Under determinate sentencing, he would serve the first part of his sentence in a juvenile facility; after his 19th birthday, he could be moved to an adult prison, according to Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office.

The move is intended to make sure the teen, if convicted, serves sufficient prison time for four deaths, McDonald said.

Investigators believe the 16-year-old was driving a red Ford pickup that started a series of wrecks on June 15 on Burleson-Retta Road in southern Tarrant County. In addition to the four manslaughter charges, he was also charged with two cases of intoxication assault.

If prosecutors had not asked for determinate sentencing, the teen, if convicted, would have received the standard “indeterminate sentence” in which it is left up to authorities in the juvenile justice department to determine how long a young inmate serves.

Prosecutors also could have tried to have the youth certified as a adult and taken him to trial in the adult system.

“Many factors are considered when determining whether to seek certification, including their criminal history, intent, likelihood of rehabilitation and the protection of the public,” McDonald said.

Ultimately, she added, prosecutors decided that determinate sentencing in the juvenile system was best approach in this case, because it would “best protect the public in the long term and offer this juvenile a chance at rehabilitation while still exposing him to the full range of punishment.”

Under determinate sentencing, a defendant is eligible for parole, and probation for up to 10 years is another option, she said.

Riley Shaw, chief of the juvenile division of the DA’s office, said Tarrant County prosecutors don’t seek determinate sentencing often, but neither he nor McDonald had an exact number of recent cases on Thursday afternoon.

McDonald noted that a grand jury recently approved a determinate sentencing request for a 13-year-old boy who is accused in the fatal beating of 5-year-old neighbor Sida Osman near the southeast Fort Worth apartment complex where they lived. That is a capital murder case because of the age of the victim. The teen faces a possible sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted.

A trial date had not been set by Thursday for the defendant in the Burleson wreck case. The district attorney’s office formally charged the teen on Wednesday, after which he was released to the custody of his parents, but must wear an ankle monitor to allow officials to keep track of him.

The Star-Telegram usually does not identify juvenile defendants.

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST

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