In a case that prompted criticism of the courts and galvanized a community, a 16-year-old convicted of nearly beating to death a Hereford Middle School teacher was committed yesterday to secure juvenile detention.
Franklin J. Medina of Cockeysville, whom prosecutors called the "most culpable" of the four charged, apologized for a June 18 attack that sent Jason Barnett to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for 11 days, shattered his face and left him unable to eat and speak for several weeks.
"I really am very sorry," Medina said in a barely audible voice, hanging his head in Baltimore County Juvenile Court.
Medina was found delinquent of first-degree assault by a juvenile court master, who told a packed courtroom that he thought the attack was serious enough for the case to have been handled by the adult Circuit Court.
"Personally, I don't think this case even belongs here," Master Richard J. Gilbert told Barnett.
The case has prompted intense criticism of the courts and has been followed closely by county teachers, particularly in the Hereford area. About 30 teachers from Hereford Middle were in Gilbert's courtroom yesterday.
When Judge J. Norris Byrnes transferred criminal charges against Medina to juvenile court Sept. 21, he was widely criticized, because the decision meant the defendant would likely receive more lenient treatment.
"There's no way this case should be juvenile court, no way," said Catherine P. Walrod, an assistant principal at Hereford Middle, who went to Byrnes' Towson chambers to complain.
Barnett, who teaches agricultural science, has returned to work and his appearance at a PTA forum at Hereford Middle last month prompted a standing ovation from teachers and parents.
"He's just a terrific teacher," Faith Hermann, Hereford's principal, said after the hearing.
Gilbert sentenced Medina to "a long-term commitment in a secure facility" and ordered his parents to pay up to $10,000 in restitution to Barnett for medical costs not covered by insurance.
Assistant State's Attorney James O. Gentry, who fought in Circuit Court to have Medina be tried as an adult, said that under state law, the juvenile sentence means he can be incarcerated only until he turns 21. The exact length of his sentence will be determined by the Juvenile Services Administration, Gentry said.
`Best we could hope for'
"Under the circumstances, this was the best we could hope for," Gentry said after the sentencing.
Barnett, 25, was thrown to the ground, beaten unconscious and repeatedly kicked and punched during an assault near the Cockeysville apartment into which he had moved 10 days before.
Barnett was flown to Shock Trauma, where he underwent surgery to reconstruct his jaw and several other bones in his face.
In a courtroom filled with 30 teachers and administrators from Hereford Middle, Barnett yesterday tried to describe how the beating has affected him.
"These four men took my life in their hands and changed the course of it forever," Barnett said.
He said that he will have titanium plates and screws in his face for the rest of his life. For several weeks after the attack, he said, he couldn't shower or bathe without assistance, couldn't talk and had to take nourishment through a syringe, a condition that caused him to drop 25 pounds from his 150-pound frame.
Barnett, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., and is in his third year of teaching at Hereford Middle, said the attack has shattered his easy confidence with people and makes him more wary of strangers.
"It will be very difficult to learn to trust anyone who was not already close to me," he said.
Gentry said that Barnett and two friends were walking near Barnett's apartment when four men who were standing nearby asked him if they had any cigarettes.
Barnett said no and kept walking, Gentry said.
Gentry said the four suspects attacked Barnett and Jeffrey David Gilbert, one of his companions.
Gilbert managed to escape, but the group pounced on Barnett, pounding him even as he lay bleeding and unconscious on the ground, Gentry said.
Medina was the "most culpable" of the four assailants, Gentry said.
"He caused someone a lifetime of pain and the most horrific memories imaginable," Gentry told the court yesterday.
Medina admitted that the attack was unprovoked and told a county police detective that "these people were not looking for any trouble," Gentry said.
Craig Gendler, Medina's lawyer, said that for six months before the attack, the youth had been drinking and using marijuana almost daily. He said that in the hours before the attack, Medina had consumed three 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor.
Act of machismo
Gendler acknowledged that the attack was "brutal, unprovoked and inexcusable," but said that it was an act of machismo for Medina, who wanted to prove himself to his older friends.
"This gives young Mr. Medina the opportunity to prove that he's bad and that he's cool," Gendler told the court.
Trials for the other defendants are pending.
Jimmy W. Zentz, 20, of no fixed address is scheduled to be tried Dec. 5 in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Daniel John Leksen, of Cockeysville, who was 17 at the time of the attack and has since turned 18, is scheduled to argue in Circuit Court Nov. 21 that his case should be transferred to juvenile court.
Roy G. Higgs of Owings Mills, who was 17 at the time of the offense and has since turned 18, also has filed motions seeking to have his case transferred to juvenile court.