Abandoned baby’s mother will be tried in extended juvenile jurisdiction scenario

By Gary Scott on November 13, 2014 at 1:23pm

A judge has decided to allow a Jacksonville girl to be tried as both an adult and a juvenile in an attempted murder case.

Circuit Judge Jeffery Tobin sided with Morgan County Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Turner this morning in allowing the case against the girl to be prosecuted as extended juvenile jurisdiction. The 17-year-old is accused of abandoning her newborn baby boy in a dumpster on August 30th.

Turner called two witnesses during the probable cause hearing in Morgan County Court.

One was Jacksonville Police Detective Scott Erthal, who testified that as part of his investigation after the baby was discovered, he checked the New Directions homeless shelter and Jacksonville High School to see if anyone had been recently pregnant at either location.

Erthal stated he was contacted by a JHS teacher who believed one of her students, who turned out to be the mother facing charges, had been pregnant.

The girl was interviewed and denied being pregnant. However, Erthal says he was contacted by a Passavant Hospital employee who said the teen was receiving treatment.

Erthal claimed the girl’s mother, who also was in court this morning, received a text message from the teen saying she didn’t want to go to jail. Erthal said the girl admitted the abandoned baby was hers in a follow-up interview.

He testified that she said she gave birth to the boy at her residence and thought the child had died. That’s when she apparently put the baby in the dumpster.

But, Erthal said in another follow-up interview that the girl admitted she knew the child was alive when she placed him in the dumpster. Erthal said the girl told him that she stayed at the dumpster for about five minutes, with the baby crying, and then left.

The JPD detective stated that the baby had no clothes on except for being inside a drawstring athletic bag. He says the umbilical cord was cut.

The second witness Turner called was Laura Bergman, a Morgan County juvenile probation officer.

She told the court that the girl has had no prior adjudication, or juvenile conviction, but noted she had been arrested for disorderly conduct in 2010 at Turner Junior High School and again in 2013 at the high school. She was also arrested for theft last year.

During a cross-examination by the girl’s attorney Anne Clough, Bergman said she believes the girl would comply with the terms of a juvenile sentence.

Bergman also stated that the girl has mental health issues stemming in part from her brother having been being fatally shot. She cited a mental health evaluation that diagnosed her as having depressive and anxiety disorders.

Turner stated in closing arguments the girl is at the highest age one can still be considered a juvenile, has a prior history of delinquency, and believes the child abandonment was pre-meditated.

He says he’s pleased with the judge’s decision.

“I think, to be honest, it wasn’t that difficult of a decision for the judge. The statute lines out the factors that are to be considered, and basically, all I had to prove was that she was over 13 years of age, the allegation would be considered a felony if committed as an adult, and there was probable cause to believe the allegations were true, and that’s a fairly low burden,” says Turner.

“It’s similar to what a preliminary hearing is in adult court.”

Clough argued trying the girl as both a juvenile and adult was unnecessary and re-iterated in her closing statement that the girl has significant mental health issues. Turner talks about that.

“I don’t know what the accused [girl’s] mental health status is, but yeah, I have anticipated that that’s certainly a possibility that that might be something that they raise, and I do think that’s certainly possible,” he says. “And if it is raised, then yeah, I think it would be to a large degree the focus of the defense in the case. But, that’s speculation.”

The girl has the right to a jury or bench trial in the extended juvenile jurisdiction case.

If she’s found guilty, she’d be given a juvenile court sentence and an adult sentence simultaneously. That means the adult sentence would be stayed while the juvie sentence is performed, and if the girl were to successfully complete it, the adult sentence would be vacated.

If the girl were sentenced as a juvenile and failed to satisfy the terms, she could face up to 30 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Pre-trial for the attempted murder case is set for December 2nd.

Prior to the delinquency case, Judge Tobin granted a motion to continue the other half of the court proceedings, which is the adjudication for abuse and neglect of a minor case. That will also take place on December 2nd.