Youngest sus­pect re­moved from trial

Youth who al­legedly stabbed bi­cy­clist had his case sent to ju­ve­nile court

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Justin Fen­ton jfen­ton@balt­sun.com

The trial of a group of sus­pects charged in a fa­tal at­tack on a bi­cy­clist be­gan Mon­day with­out a key fig­ure at the de­fense ta­ble: the youngest sus­pect, who al­legedly stabbed the vic­tim to death.

A judge sent his case to ju­ve­nile court two months ago. He was15 at the time of the at­tack; if found guilty in the ju­ve­nile sys­tem, he would be re­leased be­fore his 21st birth­day.

His ju­ve­nile co-de­fen­dants, mean­while, are be­ing tried as adults — and face charges that could bring mul­ti­ple life sen­tences. State law does not al­low for Daquan Mid­dle­ton, now 17, and An­toine Eldridge, now 18, to have their cases sent to ju­ve­nile court be­cause they were 16 or older at the time of the crime.

Mid­dle­ton and Eldridge elected bench tri­als Mon­day in front of Cir­cuit Judge Stephen J. Sfekas.

Po­lice have said Mid­dle­ton was him­self stabbed dur­ing the at­tack and was the one who took the vic­tim’s bi­cy­cle.

Robert Ponsi, 29, was rid­ing his bike through Waverly on his way home from a restau­rant job in Har­bor East on Jan. 10 when he was knocked to the ground, po­lice said. Wit­nesses told po­lice Ponsi was kicked and punched as at­tack­ers yelled, “Get his wal­let!” He was stabbed 11 times.

Po­lice said the youngest sus­pect told po­lice that he was the one who brought the knife and stabbed Ponsi. The Bal­ti­more Sun does not iden­tify ju­ve­nile sus­pects.

Judge Robert B. Ker­shaw, the judge in charge of Bal­ti­more’s ju­ve­nile court, said dur­ing a Sept. 1 hear­ing that he de­cided “by the nar­row­est of mar­gins” to send the case to ju­ve­nile court, where the fo­cus is on treat­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion over pun­ish­ment.

The youth was a City Col­lege stu­dent who had ex­celled on de­bate teams since el­e­men­tary school. He at­tended the pri­vate Loy­ola Blake­field school, wrote a win­ning pro­posal for a small grant to fund a pro­gram for youths in his area, and acted on a lo­cal tele­vi­sion show.

Ron­ald Means, a child foren­sic psy­chi­a­trist, tes­ti­fied at the Septem­ber hear­ing that the youth grew up with­out a fa­ther. For all his achieve­ments cel­e­brated by adults, Means said, the youth felt iso­lated from his peers. They picked on him. Twice, he was beaten up as cam­eras rolled, and the footage was put on­line and widely cir­cu­lated.

Means said the boy latched on to a group of trou­bled youths in the area who said they would stand up for him, and they re­tal­i­ated against those who had beaten him up.

The youth’s de­fense at­tor­ney, Charles N. Curlett Jr., told Ker­shaw that the law re­quired him to fo­cus on “the ac­tor, not the ac­tions he may have com­mit­ted.”

Curlett said the youth would be sub­jected to a “litany of hor­rors” in the adult prison sys­tem.

“Our sys­tem can en­sure this boy’s life is not wasted,” he said.

But then-As­sis­tant State’s At­tor­ney Pa­trick Mo­ran ar­gued that the youth needed to be pun­ished. He noted Means’ tes­ti­mony that the boy had no men­tal dis­or­ders or sub­stance-abuse prob­lems. In ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion await­ing trial, he had re­ceived stel­lar re­views from the staff.

“What be­hav­ior are we try­ing to mod­ify?” Mo­ran asked Ker­shaw. “This young man doesn’t have be­hav­ioral is­sues.”

Mo­ran has since left the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice af­ter be­ing charged with dis­tribut­ing child pornog­ra­phy.

Ponsi’s mother and one of his sis­ters also spoke at the hear­ing, say­ing the youth was mak­ing ex­cuses for a ter­ri­ble choice he had made.

“We just sat here and lis­tened to ev­ery cop-out on the face of the earth,” said Dawn Ponsi, the vic­tim’s mother, who said her own fam­ily had over­come ad­dic­tion.

Ker­shaw said the praise from adults and taunt­ing from peers was a “disconnect of cat­a­strophic pro­por­tions.”

He said treat­ment in the ju­ve­nile sys­tem was not a slap on the wrist, but a “safe in­sti­tu­tional place­ment” that was likely to con­tinue un­til his 21st birth­day.

The youth was 15 years and 6 months old at the time of the crime. He is now16.

In Mary­land, the cut­off for those charged with mur­der to be el­i­gi­ble to be waived to ju­ve­nile court is 16.

Mid­dle­ton was16 years and11 months old at the time; Eldridge was 17 years and 7 months old.

They are charged with first-de­gree mur­der, con­spir­acy to com­mit first-de­gree mur­der, armed rob­bery, rob­bery, theft be­tween $1,000 and $10,000, and car­ry­ing a deadly weapon with in­tent to in­jure.

Ju­ve­nile pro­ceed­ings in Mary­land are sealed. Curlett de­clined Mon­day to com­ment on the sta­tus of the 16-year-old’s case.

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