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'It was his idea' prosecutors say, asking judge to send teen to adult court in girl's shooting

By McKenzie Romero | Posted - May 2, 2017 at 8:22 p.m.


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LOGAN — Prosecutors asked a judge Tuesday to send a 16-year-old boy to the adult court system on charges of attempting to kill a 14-year-old girl, claiming the plot was his idea from the beginning.

"He's the one who hatched the plan," Cache County Attorney James Swink said. "It was his idea."

The teen is charged alongside his friend, another 16-year-old boy, of conspiring to lure 14-year-old Deserae Turner to a remote spot on a dry canal after school, saying he would give the other boy a signal when it was time to kill the girl.

The alleged gunman, who faces a similar hearing Monday, told police he became annoyed by Deserae's frequent Snapchat messages, leading his friend to suggest they get rid of her.

Deserae, who has since turned 15, survived the shooting, but her mother testified Tuesday that permanent damage to her brain and body has left her needing the constant supervision and a lifetime of treatment.

At the end of the two-day retention hearing for the accused accomplice, 1st District Juvenile Judge Angela Fonnesbeck said she won't render a decision until Monday, giving her time to carefully consider the case. Fonnesbeck said she knows families on both sides are anxious for a decision, but a hasty determination would be a disservice to the teenage defendant.

In closing arguments Tuesday, defense attorney Shannon Demler asked Fonnesbeck to keep the case in the juvenile system, emphasizing the lack of physical evidence linking the teen to the deeply tragic crime.

"As hard as they've tried, the state hasn't put a gun in my client's hand," Demler said.

Instead, prosecutors are relying on the confession of the alleged gunman, calling the boy "an attempted murderer and a liar," the defense attorney said.

Demler's client has said he went to the canal that day at his friend's request and arrived in time to see the other boy shoot Deserae in the head. Stunned at what had just happened and fearing for his own safety, he ran but then didn't tell anyone about the shooting as he continued to hang out with the alleged gunman that evening.

But Swink argued that while the teen may not have held the smoking gun, he did end up with evidence of the shooting: a shell casing suspected to be from the shot that struck Deserae, displayed prominently on the teen's windowsill. Prosecutors say the boy asked the alleged shooter for the casing as "a memento."

"All the evidence points to his equal culpability," Swink said.

While prosecutors say state crime lab testing shows the shell casing has signs consistent with the .22-caliber revolver the alleged gunman says he used to shoot Deserae, Demler countered that the findings were ultimately inconclusive.

Text messages

Prosecutors read text messages believed to have been sent between the two boys a week earlier, when the alleged gunman told police he had Deserae meet him at the canal alone but couldn't go through with killing her.

When the alleged shooter texted his friend referencing "the plan," prosecutors said he was concerned he was left out.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, without me? You've gotta let me know how it goes," the teen allegedly texted, going on to ask, "Is the deed done with you know who?"

Both 16-year-old boys have been charged as juveniles and ordered to stand trial for attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; and four counts of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.

Juvenile or adult system?

Demler argued that considering the boy's young age and concerns about his cognitive development, the case is better suited for the juvenile system, where if convicted he can remain in secure custody among others his age and receive treatment.

In prison, Demler said, the boy would be mixed into a mature criminal population, putting him at risk of being preyed upon by violent adults and gang members.

Prosecutors say that, if found guilty, the boy could remain in juvenile custody until age 18 and then move to an adult facility. Under the juvenile court's jurisdiction, he could only be kept in custody until age 21.

"Figuring out the 'why' (of the crime) is going to take more time than the defendant has in the juvenile system," Swink said, asserting that the boy can receive better and longer-term treatment, as well as supervision upon release, through Adult Probation and Parole.

Demler disagreed, adding that the court shouldn't consider how long the boy could be kept in custody as part of the decision.

"They want him to go to the adult system clearly and only so he can get more time," Demler said.

Monday's hearing

On Monday, witnesses for the defense cited possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and its impact on the boy and his adolescent mind, while an expert witness for the state sought to undercut and discredit their assessments. In closing arguments, Swink called the ADHD argument a "red herring," noting that the boy hasn't actually been diagnosed.

But Demler accused the state of using the tragic details of Deserae's injuries as its own red herring, telling the judge it was meant to "throw you off the trail."

Teen's injuries

Following a remarkable recovery, Deserae spoke to media as she was released from the hospital April 20, expressing her gratitude for the countless strangers who supported her and prayed for her recovery. The girl said she is "tougher than a bullet," noting that the .22-caliber bullet is irretrievably lodged in her skull.

On the stand Tuesday, Deserae's mother, April Turner, wept as she described the weeks since the shooting.

"That's my girl," Turner said as she was shown a picture of Deserae in a hospital bed. "That's how we saw her when we went into ICU to see her that first morning."

Surgeons explained that the .22-caliber bullet and fragments couldn't be removed from Deserae's head for fear of doing more damage. The traumatic injury has already rendered the left side of the girl's body paralyzed, she said, with no movement in her arm or hand.

While Deserae competed in horseback competitions last summer and had a goal to win some of them this year, Turner said, "now her goal is just to be able to open her fingers."

Turner said her daughter is struggling to understand her body's limits, needing the same kind of supervision a toddler does. Deserae must even be watched as she eats out of concern that limited muscle use in her throat might lead her to choke.

Stephanie Adams, assistant principal at North Cache Middle School, testified Tuesday it's still unknown when Deserae could return to school, and what she would be able to do there if she did.

If Deserae managed to go back to school next year, it would likely be on a very limited schedule with full-time assistance, Adams said.

Lingering fear

Adams also spoke of the fear that has lingered among parents and students at the school since Deserae was shot, as children ask her regularly if they should be worried. Several students remained home in the days after the shooting, she said. At least one hasn't returned.

"They do question their safety, if that's what you're asking," Adams told Swink. "It does have an impact."

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McKenzie Romero

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