A Baltimore County judge sent back to juvenile court yesterday the case against two teenagers charged in the chemical burning of a toddler at a Middle River playground.
Hours later, another judge ordered the boys -- who had been free on bail after being charged as adults -- to wear an electronic monitor and be placed on home detention, a prosecutor said.
The boys, ages 16 and 17, had been charged as adults with first-degree assault in the burning of 3-year-old Payton Potochney of Essex. The youngster was severely burned April 14 when he went down a playground slide that had been doused with industrial-grade drain cleaner.
After Baltimore County Circuit Judge Mickey J. Norman issued his decision that the teenagers be tried as juveniles, the boys, dressed in khaki pants, white shirts and ties, sat quietly as the toddler's mother broke into tears and walked out of the courtroom.
"I hope you guys are happy," the mother, Carol Duschl, later yelled at the defendants as they walked down a hallway. "A slap on the wrist. It's OK."
The Sun is not identifying the boys because they are charged as juveniles.
The defendants, both 16 at the time of the burning, were initially charged as juveniles. But prosecutors decided to pursue adult charges against them after receiving reports that other playground equipment, including handlebars, had been lathered with the acid, a county prosecutor said. The teens were also charged with reckless endangerment, burglary, theft and malicious destruction of property.
The youths had been released on $250,000 bond.
Yesterday, their lawyer, Henry J. Wegrocki, argued that the teenagers never intended to hurt anyone. Instead, they discovered the drain cleaner after breaking into Victory Villa Elementary School and then poured the cleaner onto a slide to see if the plastic would melt, Wegrocki said.
"It was a malicious destruction gone very, very badly," Wegrocki said in court, adding that the teens were remorseful for the incident. "They were stupid 16-year-old kids who poured the chemical on plastic to see the effects."
Hours after the teens' actions, Payton showed up at the playground with his grandmother, went down the slide and screamed, court records show. He suffered second- and third-degree burns to the backs of both legs and his lower back.
County prosecutor Robin Coffin argued during yesterday's Circuit Court hearing that the boys intended to create a "lay-in-wait trap," pointing out that a dustbin brush doused in acid had been found at the scene.
"The using of a brush to paint these surfaces absolutely shows their intent," Coffin said.
Norman said he considered numerous factors, including the defendants' ages and an absence of prior convictions, and that he sided with Wegrocki's argument that the teenagers might benefit from a state juvenile justice program.
"Let's hope Juvenile Justice picks the right program," Norman said.
Relatives of Payton, who was not at the courthouse, said they were disappointed by the decision.
"He has no conscience," Duschl said of the judge. "Nothing's going to happen to them. This is going to send a message to any other criminal-minded individuals that they can get away with it."
She said that while Payton has progressed well, he endures weekly therapy sessions and has nightmares about his operations.
"My son's going to have burns on his legs for the rest of his life," she yelled at the defendants outside the courtroom.
At the teens' arraignment yesterday afternoon in juvenile court, a state Department of Juvenile Services official recommended that they be allowed to remain at home. She said the youths attend Kenwood High School, play sports and are enrolled in honors courses, and added that they would be "eaten alive" if sent to a juvenile detention center.
But Juvenile Master Robert J. Hanley ordered them confined to a detention facility until trial, saying, "They are a threat to public safety."
Wegrocki immediately appealed the decision. Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox placed the boys on "community detention," requiring both to wear an electronic monitor and allowing them to leave their homes only for limited purposes, Coffin said.