An 18-year-old Taneytown-area youth accused of raping several former friends and acquaintances will be treated as a juvenile, a Carroll County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday.
The decision arose from serious injuries defendant Nathaniel Jared Yinger sustained in an auto accident March 8. Yinger was on home detention but reportedly playing golf before the accident that left him at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in a coma for weeks. He is struggling to regain his physical and mental abilities, lawyer and psychiatric reports said.
Yinger was supposed to leave his parents' home in the 2800 block of Basehores Mills Road only to see lawyers or counselors as a condition of being placed on home detention Nov. 2 to await trial on charges of rape and assault against four women.
Yinger withdrew as a senior from Francis Scott Key High School about a month before the first charges were filed Oct. 30.
Three of the four alleged victims said they were attacked at small, unsupervised teen drinking parties, according to charging documents. A fourth was an acquaintance who told investigators she let Yinger into her home after school to shoot a game of pool. He is accused of assaulting the girls in 2000 and last year, when he was age 16 and 17.
Yinger said yesterday that he doesn't remember his accident - or whether he was drinking - when he testified on the defense motion to have him treated as a juvenile. The former athlete at Key walked and talked slowly as he took the witness stand and answered questions from his attorney, Fred S. Hecker, and Assistant State's Attorney Natasha M. Byus.
"I guess it takes me a little while for my brain to find out what you're asking and then to find out what I'm going to say," he told his lawyer in one of his longer answers.
Yinger denied the rape and assault allegations in answer to a question by his attorney. He initially was charged with multiple counts of rape, sodomy, sexual assault and assault, and a county grand jury later added five counts of second-degree rape or sexual offenses upon incapacitated victims.
In arguing for the case to be handled through juvenile proceedings, Hecker said, "Since the accident, Nathaniel is not the same person."
In a ruling from the bench, Judge Michael M. Galloway commented that he had seen Yinger as a high school wrestler several times and was struck by the change in him.
"I don't think that there's any question here that the Nathaniel Yinger who stands before the court today is not the same person," the judge said several times.
Yinger would be a target in jail because of his physical and cognitive difficulties, the judge said.
The test for treating a defendant as a juvenile includes age, the nature of the crime, risk to the public, whether the defendant is likely to benefit from juvenile treatment programs, and physical and mental condition, the lawyers said.
"This is a tragic case for a lot of reasons," Hecker said after the hearing. Byus said she was not surprised, but declined further comment on the ruling.
None of the alleged attack victims - two of them 16 and two 18 when they said they were assaulted - was in the courtroom. Byus said one young woman's parents attended a portion of the hearing.
Mathew Fonseca, a senior counselor for the Department of Juvenile Justice in Carroll, said he had previously recommended that Yinger be treated as a juvenile on a malicious destruction of property case. This time, however, Fonseca said Yinger should be tried as an adult - in part because he is too old for the department's program and would only be under its control until age 21.
Psychologist Lawrence J. Raifman said Yinger has been cooperative in therapy, and would be at risk in prison.
Before his accident, Yinger used to get drunk several times a week to mask his lack of social skills, Raifman said, and has been diagnosed with mild depression and a nonspecific sexual disorder.
"He now understands that substance abuse and sex can have nothing to do with each another," Raifman said.