WINCHESTER — The defendant often fidgeted and pulled his shirt up over his face, which only reached a foot above the defense table at his trial in Frederick County Circuit Court on Tuesday.

The defendant — a 15-year-old boy diagnosed with an emotional disability — was convicted as an adult in the non-life-threatening beating of another emotionally disabled 15-year-old boy on a school bus on Sept. 3. When the beating occurred, both boys were students at Northwestern Regional Educational Programs, which serves area children with emotional, mental or physical disabilities. The Winchester Star isn't naming the boy because he is a minor and the incident did not involve death or serious injury.

The victim and the boy had been feuding before the fight, according to testimony. Earlier in the day, the boy made a sound similar to scratching fingernails on a chalkboard by scratching a card against the gym floor and the two had words. On the bus, the boy scratched the card against a window.

The approximately three-minute attack that followed was captured on the bus surveillance video. The victim, who outweighs the boy by at least 50 pounds, screamed at the boy to stop scratching the window, then cursed and spat at him and gave him the middle finger.

Resisting a school bus attendant who tried to restrain him, the boy responded by standing on a seat behind the victim's seat. The boy, who was wearing a soft, Velcro cast on his right arm which had been fractured, punched the victim 60 to 75 times as the victim cowered and held a hardcover book to shield himself from the blows. The boy, who knocked the book away, then elbowed the victim with his right arm about 60 times and kicked him a few times.

"I don't want to die! I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" the victim screamed as the boy returned to his seat.

"I'm not trying to kill you bro," the boy responded.

The victim, who was bloodied in the attack, had dizziness and headaches the next day. Pediatrician Dr. Paul Joseph Russell testified that the victim sustained a moderate concussion.

Louis Campola, a county assistant commonwealth's attorney, told the six-man, six-woman jury that the assault fit the definition of the malicious wounding statute, which says the perpetrator intends to "maim, disfigure, disable or kill." He said the decision to charge the boy as an adult was based on the severity of the beating. 

"It's pure luck that the victim didn't get killed or permanently injured or maimed," Campola said during closing arguments. "It's not because the defendant wasn't trying."

Defense Attorney Michael William Helm told the jury he was extremely frustrated by the commonwealth attorney's office's decision to hold a child to adult standards. If they chose to convict the boy, Helm asked the jury that it be for lesser charges such as unlawful wounding or assault and battery.

"He's 15 and they're saying he formed the intent to kill? He's fighting another kid on a school bus who spit at him," Helm said. "He wasn't trying to kill anyone or maim anyone. He was just reacting to a stupid provocation."

The jury deliberated about 90 minutes before reaching a verdict. Deliberations included whether to convict the boy for assault and battery, according to one of the jurors who spoke on the condition of anonymity after the trial. He said a couple of jurors were considering convicting on the lesser charges but were swayed by the video. It was played three times during the trial and the jury was allowed to watch it again during deliberations.

"I just watched the video and I saw what he was doing to that other boy and he knew what he was doing," the juror said. "Most of them were for it [convicting for malicious wounding]. A couple of them weren't, but they looked at the video again and everybody agreed."

However, jurors were not allowed to hear about the boy's mental diagnosis, despite the case hinging on his ability to think like an adult. Judge Alexander R. Iden forbid the defense from allowing Ralph Reese, the school's administrator, from testifying as well as the boy's father.

School records provided to The Star by the father on Wednesday said boy was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and bipolar disorder in 2012. The bipolar disorder causes him to become violent. According to the records, the boy has a history of aggressive behavior dating back to the third grade, including 10 "disruptive demonstrations" plus three incidents of fighting with staff and one with a student.

A Frederick County Public Schools' "disciplinary manifestation determination" done after the attack said the beating had a "direct and substantial relationship" to the boy's disability. The determination also said the assault was "a direct result of the school district's failure to implement the Individual Education Plan." The determination also references the failure of having someone on the bus trained to restrain a child with emotional disabilities.

The father, who is not being named because it would identify his son, said in an interview that what his son did was wrong and he deserved to be convicted of assault and battery in a juvenile court. But he said prosecuting his son as an adult was unfair because of his age and his emotional disabilities, which include frequent mood swings.

"He doesn't know how to process emotions. He doesn't understand them," the father said. "He can be happy and not even know why. He can be sad and crying and doesn't know why."

The jury was not allowed to hear that Deputy Angel M. Ruiz of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, NREP's school resource officer, also planned charge the victim with assault for spitting at the boy. Campola said he overruled him.

The father said the victim taunted his son in Facebook messages the weekend before the assault, which he said his son deleted. However, the father provided The Star with two Facebook messages, one containing obscenities, in which the victim taunts the boy about being jailed after the incident.

Records from the Northwestern Regional Juvenile Detention Center, which were not introduced in the trial, show the boy was disciplined for cursing at staff and then flooded the toilet in his cell last month. In another incident, he tried to throw a desk before being restrained.

The father said the boy, who is scheduled to be sentenced at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1, has been devastated by his incarceration and prosecution. The boy remains incarcerated.

"This is extremely blown out of proportion," the father said. "If they'd left it at assault and charged him as a juvenile, OK."

— Contact Evan Goodenow at egoodenow@winchesterstar.com

(16) comments

SnappyTurtle01

This is a heartbreaking story; it sounds like this kid was not given a fair chance; it is one-sided. Both kids went to a school for children with disabilities, the school determined the fight had a “direct and substantial relationship” to the boy’s disability and the assault was “a direct result of the school district’s failure to implement the Individual Education Plan”. It was also determined staff on the bus were not trained. He was diagnosed with an emotional disability and the jury was not allowed to know about this? This is relevant information that was blocked. How can he be convicted as an adult when he (a) is 15 years old and (b) cannot process his emotions? He obviously cannot think like and adult! I agree, this should have stayed in the juvenile system. I cannot imagine the emotional trauma this is causing. This kid was reacting to a provocation, the other kid spit on or at him. Children cannot think like adults and shouldn’t be prosecuted in adult courts, especially children with an emotional disability. Prayers for this young juvenile and his family!

*mental health awareness

The victim taunted the defendant earlier in the day then spit in defendants face taunted him on social media

The victim had 60lbs on defendant

The defendant was convicted by a jury of NOT his peers

The jury wasnt given all the information on this case before sentencing this child. If I was jury member I would be livid being deceived

A child with mental health issues was railroaded and someone has to want to stand up for this child what if this was your kid

The parent didnt want victim off scott free

Charge as juvenile which he is.

Both boys go to school for kids with disabilities and no aide on bus to prevent this and why didnt the school notify parents of alteracation so they could have picked up the boys.

Charging the defendant as adult is not going to be helpful this is sad that this trial went this way.

The defendant was wrong he's a child with mental health issues that are being ignored

He's not a adult does he vote does he pay Bill's live on own, have a job. No a child that is being made an example

This is heartbreaking

Conservative

"woke-unicorn"...What the heck does skin color have to do with any of this? Quit being an idiot.

woke-unicorn

Everything according to the legion of ethnic identity groups these days. All except one. Now lets all guess the race of the victim...and the perpetrator.

SRose1

woke-unicorn you sound like you trying to insert a race argument around this.. the sad part is they were both the same age, sex, and race.. so your concern is completely misplaced and shows that you are the kind of person that would push a fight then claim to be the victim. You are just as low as the prosecutor in the case.. grow up...

woke-unicorn

So many of these people are diagnosed mentally Ill it begs the question..WHY ARE OUR KIDS EXPOSED TO THEM THEN. Its a PRIVILEGE to be able to assault and harm others and then use the Diagnoses a a consequence mitigater. Enough

davism412

Wow...you clearly don't have a child with a mental illness, and you're lucky for that. But please educate yourself about mental illness before demonizing kids with mental health diagnoses. The "us vs. them" attitude does nothing to eliminate the stigma around mental illness or to encourage the compassion and understanding needed to deal with this country's mental health crisis.

SRose1

Did you not notice that the "victim" here is the one that started this..

*mental health awareness

These kids went to school for kids with disabilities

They are not privileged mental illness is very real

CDavis

As a parent of a teen with a mental disability, who cannot control his actions when he is in an aggravated state, the actions of the judge in this case terrify me. He/she apparently has no idea how the mental status of this boy impacts his ability to think. The boy can’t think like a 15 year old, let alone think like an adult. The judge handled the case wrong from the start.

jake277

I'm sorry but if the child is harming another person than that child shall be punished for it. It says the child has ADHD and bipolar, why are they not treated with meds? Why are they not supervised when it comes to these situstions? If that person is so out of control they should be supervised at all times and controlled when needed. If my child was harmed by him, I would sue the pants off of all involved and want max punishment for them. Sorry, control your kid and make sure he stays on his meds!! As a BSA leader, we had a child with issues as a member. He was very well "trained" at home as to how to handle situations and because of the "training" handled them well. His parents were at every event and trip till we all knew what his issues were with the boys and how to handle them. It sounds to me like the parents want to let him free to give them time off and let the world deal with him while he goes nuts and hurts people. I fell he should be penalized for his actions and punished accordingly. I, raising a stepson with a lot of issues also had my hands full but we controlled him and taught him how to behave and kept the raines on him. If you let him, he would do what he wanted with disreguard to health and wellness of others. he learned there were consiquenses for his actions and learned from the punishments and became a much better person for it.

SRose1

Understand your thoughts but what you missed is that the "Victim" in this case started the physical confrontation by spitting on the other kid and that is what set him off. From your response you would allow another kid to bully your kid, spit on him and that is alright. You should also note that the parents said he should be punished as a juvenile, just not as an adult for his response. You should also notice that the deputy tried to charge them both but the Common Wealth refused. There are several pieces of this article that you have ignored in your comment.

woke-unicorn

Race of victims? Why isnt that mentioned.

woke-unicorn

Why did he spit and what was his race? WHy are they covering up the racial nature of this horrific attack?

SRose1

woke-unicorn he spit to start a fight.. it's what this victim does. He instigates fights any way he can.. spitting on someone is almost always a guarantee of getting a response. The sad part is that the kid he spit on overreacted and is now suffering this horrible fate. You care so much about race but look past the actual facts...

woke-unicorn

Well said. THe actions of a child or adult are the same for the victim.

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