Teen averts adult charges

Arundel grand jury decides against murder indictment

June 12, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun Reporter

A 15-year-old Glen Burnie boy accused of killing a man with one blow from a baseball bat is facing juvenile charges after a grand jury decided not to indict him as an adult on allegations of first-degree murder.

Anne Arundel County prosecutors filed second-degree charges in juvenile court yesterday against Christian J. Schellenschlager Jr. after the grand jury's surprising move Friday, which will greatly reduce the penalties that the Glen Burnie High School sophomore could face.

Under Maryland law, a child older than 14 can be charged as an adult with first-degree murder and face a maximum penalty of life in prison. A defendant must be at least 16 years old to be charged as an adult with second-degree murder.

If Schellenschlager is found guilty - or delinquent - in juvenile court, he will be held in a juvenile facility or remain on probation until he turns 21. He would have no criminal record upon his release."It's unusual for this to happen," said Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, "but we will move forward now on the charges that we are able to take to trial."

Schellenschlager's defense attorney, Peter S. O'Neill, called the development a "substantial victory" and said the case shows that a grand jury is not a "rubber stamp" for prosecutors.

"The jury was given a chance to review evidence in a light most favorable to the state, and they concluded that there was not sufficient probable cause," O'Neill said.

One former state's attorney said the grand jury's move was rare, particularly because Schellenschlager had been charged with first-degree murder in District Court in the death of Brian Michael Myers, 49.

In grand jury proceedings, jurors get a one-sided account of the crime from prosecutors, and 12 of the 23 members are needed to secure an indictment. Former Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle said an indictment is typically a foregone conclusion if it is requested by prosecutors or based on charges that have been filed previously.

"There's an old adage that you can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, and that's not true. But it is highly unusual for a grand jury to reject that serious a charge," said Rolle, now a defense attorney in private practice. "In the legal system, it's probably the most one-sided proceeding that we have."

A hearing will be held today in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to decide whether Schellenschlager should be held at the Cheltenham Juvenile Detention Facility, where he was transferred Friday.

Prosecutors have the option of pursuing a waiver that would transfer the case back to adult court, where Schellenschlager would face a maximum of 30 years in prison.

For O'Neill, the turning point in the grand jury's rejection of the indictment might have been the decision to have Schellenschlager's younger brother testify before the panel.

The brother described being among a group of youths who felt threatened after getting into an argument with Myers on April 29 in Glen Burnie, O'Neill said. Myers allegedly was intoxicated and swung a liquor bottle at his client.

Schellenschlager is accused of leaving the scene and returning with an aluminum Louisville Slugger, approaching Myers from behind and striking him in the head.

"These young men are walking down the street, and for no apparent reason, he elected to pick them out and begin harassing them," O'Neill said. "The intent clearly was not to harm this man, but rather to stop him from harming someone else."

According to charging documents, Schellenschlager's mother told police that her son had come home and said he struck a man with a baseball bat, which police seized from the living room. Rolle said Schellenschlager's leaving the scene and returning with the bat was strong evidence of premeditation - a key aspect of first-degree murder - at least in the indictment phase. "That sounds pretty cut and dry to me," he said.

Myers, a laborer described by family and friends as a caring man who had no fixed address and struggled with alcoholism, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and slipped into a coma the next day.

He died two weeks later. Schellenschlager was arrested two days after that, on May 16. Anne Arundel County police did not disclose the initial attack, Myers' death or the arrest until May 19. Sgt. John Gilmer, a police spokesman, said that until the man's death the incident was not considered a "public safety issue" and that investigators had been monitoring the case.

Police and prosecutors have not detailed what the argument was about. In a television interview after her son's arrest, Brandy Schellenschlager said her son told her that Myers had threatened to kill him. The teenager told his mother that he thought Myers had a knife in his pocket, though it is not clear whether a weapon was recovered.

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