A judge on Monday ordered a competency hearing to determine if a 12-year-old Sunbury-area boy accused of murdering his mother’s fiance can understand the court proceedings against him.
The boy, whom the Gazette is not naming because he is being charged as a minor, signed a green piece of paper in court that says he denies murdering 38-year-old Jeffrey Reece on April 23. That is the equivalent of entering a not guilty plea in the adult court system.
Juvenile/Probate Judge Kenneth J. Spicer on Monday said there will be a hearing scheduled within the next month to rule on whether the boy can understand concepts like his right to remain silent and his right to legal counsel.
If the court determines he can’t, then prosecutors can’t charge him.
Louis Herzog, the boy’s court-appointed guardian ad larticle, requested the hearing. The prosecutor and the defense will have to agree on which person ends up performing the evaluation. Herzog said Central Ohio Mental Health has recommended an expert, but that person lives out of town.
Deputies allege the boy shot Reece in the head with a .22-caliber revolver, killing him. The boy told a 911 dispatcher he shot Reece after he threatened the boy and his mother with a shotgun. He shot Reece a second time while he was lying on the ground to make sure he was dead, the 33-year-old mother told the dispatcher later in the call.
The boy and his mother, who attended Monday’s court hearing and cried softly throughout, lived in a barn and a nearby RV with Reece at 12010 Stockwell Road in Trenton Township. The two moved there from Mississippi about six months ago after the mother met Reece on the Internet.
Spicer explained some court terminology to the boy at times on Monday, and asked him if he went over the green paper with his attorneys, and if they explained to him what it meant.
“Yes your honor, at the juvenile facility,” the boy responded in a low voice. He remains at the Central Ohio Youth Center in Marysville, where he has been detained since the shooting.
Spicer on Monday also granted a request from the boy’s defense attorney, Chad Heald, to spend up to $2,500 hire a private investigator. Heald said he may ask to spend more money in the future.
“This is a case that will likely necessitate some extensive hours for that individual to assist in the defense of this case,” Heald said.
And, he later added, “I would expect in a case of this nature that we would be coming back with some additional expert fees after we get into the meat of the discovery.”
Jill Beeler, the chief attorney of the Ohio Public Defender’s juvenile division, told the Gazette there is another set of issues besides competency any time a juvenile is charged with a serious crime.
There are some U.S. Supreme Court precedents that suggest young children shouldn’t be held to the same standards as adults, she said.
Ohio criminal law frequently cites what a “reasonable person” would or should do in any given circumstance.
“Any time you’re talking about a reasonable person standard, it can be argued that the reasonable person standard should be altered to the reasonable adolescent or the reasonable 12-year-old,” Beeler said.
New standards of “reasonableness” making a distinction for minors are being developed and have been proposed to the Ohio legislature, but have not yet been adopted, she said.