Leg shackles bound their thin ankles as the two teen-age girls stood in a Baltimore juvenile courtroom yesterday and admitted to participating in a near-fatal group beating of a 12-year-old at a birthday party this year.
The 14-year-old bowed her head, and the 13-year-old sobbed as prosecutors described a free-for-all attack in which the girls punched, hit and stomped Nicole Ashley Townes until her body was limp.
Townes, who was a guest at the party, was in a coma for three weeks after the beating. Authorities believe she sustained severe, permanent brain damage. She remains hospitalized.
The teens, whose names are being withheld because they are juveniles, each pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault in exchange for prosecutors' dropping charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and reckless endangerment. Their sentencing is scheduled for May 26.
"My client struck the victim and stomped her," Roland Walker, who represented the 14-year-old, told the judge. Walker then denied that his client kicked Nicole in the face, as was suggested by Assistant State's Attorney Carrie Bland.
Juvenile Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon said the case left him "speechless."
"There is so much I want to say," he told the young defendants. "I don't need to tell you two how serious this is."
According to a statement of facts read by Bland, the incident began Feb. 28 when a young boy at the party kissed Nicole.
According to the statement, that enraged the party host, Monique Baldwin, who told her 14-year-old niece to "handle your business," at which point the girl and Monique Baldwin's daughter began to slap, punch and kick Nicole and her sister Brenda. Brenda sustained minor injuries.
Monique Baldwin, 36, repeatedly ordered her relatives and party guests, including her 7-year-old son, to beat and stomp Nicole until she was limp, Bland said.
The two teens in court yesterday complied with the orders, Bland said.
Seven people have been charged in the incident. They include three adults: Monique Baldwin; her cousin Erin Baldwin, 20; and Kenya Keene, 24, who lived with Nicole. Two teen-agers were charged as adults: Temprest Baldwin, 14, who is Monique Baldwin's niece, and Seletta Broaddus, 15, another guest at the party.
Juveniles 13 or younger who are charged with attempted first-degree murder in Maryland are sent to the juvenile system, while those 14 years old and older are charged as adults. The 14-year-old who pleaded guilty yesterday was 13 when the attack occurred. She turned 14 as she awaited trial in a juvenile detention center.
Hargadon sent the teens home yesterday with family members and told them they would be electronically monitored and on home detention until their sentencing next month.
Walker, the 14-year-old's attorney, said the judge was "considerate" in sending them home.
"The case had some horrific aspects," Walker said. "These two were less involved than some of the others."
He then said his client has an "impeccable" background other than the beating, and produced a letter written on her behalf from the Mayor's Office For Children, Youth and Families, where she used to volunteer answering phones.
The letter, dated this month, was addressed "to whom it may concern" and signed Jamaal Moses, executive director of Children, Youth and Families.
She "was a joy to be around. She was extremely helpful," the letter reads. "She brought exuberance to the office with her youthfulness."