Judge doesn’t certify teen as adult in hammer death

01/10/2014 11:56 AM

11/12/2014 3:50 PM

A 16-year-old boy accused of bludgeoning a 17-year-old acquaintance to death with a hammer will not stand trial as an adult, state District Judge Jean Boyd ruled Friday, a decision that the victim’s family described as “unjust.”

“He took a life,” said Lyndia Thomas, grandmother of Nicholas Anderson, whose body was found May 15 hidden in bushes at a Fort Worth park.

“Not only that, before he took a life, he’s been in the juvenile system before this,” Thomas said. “… Taking everything into consideration, he should be tried as an adult because they’ve tried everything else they could in the juvenile system to try to give him several chances, and it didn’t work. So what makes you think this is going to work?”

The teen stands accused of capital murder, murder and tampering with evidence in Anderson’s death. The Star-Telegram generally doesn’t identify juveniles accused of crimes.

In Texas, defendants 17 and older are considered adults. Juvenile judges have the discretion to certify some younger defendants as adults.

Earlier Friday, over the protests of prosecutors, Boyd closed the hearing for the 16-year-old to everyone except relatives of the victim and the defendant out of concern that media coverage could taint potential jurors if the case remained in juvenile court.

Around 2 p.m., relatives of Anderson, some in tears, emerged from the courtroom and said Boyd had decided not to certify the teen as an adult.

Thomas said testimony in the hearing indicated that the 16-year-old had a juvenile record, including for arson and burglary.

He also faces another charge, attempted burglary of a habitation, which occurred June 18, a little more than a month after Anderson’s slaying.

“I don’t believe you should take every youth and try them as an adult, but you look at each case and, in this particular person’s case, he is incorrigible,” said Thomas, a former Forest Hill councilwoman. “He doesn’t seem as though he can change, so he should have been tried as an adult. I think her ruling was unjust.”

Tim Choy and Jim Lane, the 16-year-old’s attorneys, said Boyd made the correct decision.

“The juvenile system provides avenues for rehabilitation,” Choy said. “Our client has shown he has made strides in trying to rehabilitate himself.”

Choy provided no details about rehabilitation efforts.

Choy pointed out that prosecutors went to a Tarrant County grand jury and obtained approval to pursue determinate sentencing in the event the case remained in the juvenile system.

Under “determinate sentencing,” the teen, if convicted of murder or capital murder, could face up to 40 years behind bars, initially at a juvenile facility, with possible transfer to an adult prison.

“There are ways to protect the public from our client in the event that he is found guilty,” Choy said. “The judge [was] weighing the protection of the public and also the ability to rehabilitate our client. I think that the juvenile system is the appropriate avenue for that to occur, and I agree completely with the judge’s decision.”

Had the teen been certified as an adult, he could have faced up to a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Because of his age, he would not have been subject to the death penalty.

National spotlight

Boyd, a longtime juvenile court judge in Tarrant County, made national news in December when she sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years’ probation and intensive therapy after he admitted responsibility for a drunken-driving crash that left four people dead and others injured.

The horrific crash occurred June 15 in southern Tarrant County, near Burleson. Couch had a blood-alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult.

The Star-Telegram identified Couch because of the high-profile nature of the case.

Couch was described in testimony as being from a rich, dysfunctional family, and a psychologist said he was a victim of “affluenza,” a mental state of reckless or irresponsible behavior brought on by wealth.

Relatives of those involved in the fatal crash have filed six lawsuits against Couch and his family. Five have been combined into one.

Friday’s certification hearing, the first high-profile hearing since Boyd’s ruling in the Couch case, was about to begin when she called attorneys to the bench, then announced that she was considering closing the hearing to the public.

Although such a decision is rare, Boyd has closed hearings in previous cases, generally after a motion by attorneys.

Prosecutor Brock Groom argued that, under the Texas Constitution, hearings are presumed to be open. He told the judge that nothing was presented that made the matter different from other juvenile cases or that proved a fair trial could not be conducted.

Boyd declined to change her mind and closed the hearing, which went on as scheduled. Reporters from the Star-Telegram and KDFW/Channel 4 were forced to leave the courtroom.

Though defense attorneys had not requested a closed hearing, both said it was within the judge’s discretion.

“It’s kind of like the whole [Couch] controversy,” Lane said. “If people don’t like discretion that’s given to judges, they need to talk to the legislators that create the laws.

“I think she had grounds to do exactly what she did.”

Young father killed

Anderson’s body was discovered at the park in the 900 block of Riverside Drive. Hours earlier, relatives say, he had told his girlfriend that he was going to meet a friend but would be right back.

Anderson died from massive blunt-force trauma to his head, the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office determined.

Police have said the 16-year-old suspect was apparently the friend Anderson was meeting.

A female teen was also arrested, accused of helping conceal Anderson’s body. Esmeralda Gutierrez, 17, was indicted in September on a charge of tampering with evidence.

She is free on $5,000 bond awaiting trial, according to court records.

Anderson was a young father who was raising a baby with his girlfriend, relatives have said.

After dropping out of Fort Worth Polytechnic High School, he earned his diploma online and worked at a fast-food restaurant.

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