Judge Rejects Plea For Teen In Murder Case

August 28, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

A Baltimore judge refused to accept a plea agreement Thursday that would have allowed the 17-year-old defendant, charged with murdering her grandmother, to transfer into the juvenile justice system.

After taking a day to consider it, Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory denied the state-proffered plea deal, apparently unable to countenance what he called the "judge shopping" aspect of the carefully crafted plan. It essentially would have overturned another judge's ruling in March that Jabreria Handy must be tried as an adult, in part because of a history of "behavioral problems" that include nine high school suspensions, throwing a textbook and threatening a teacher's cats.

"You're putting me in a position to sit in reconsideration [of another judge], and I do not like that aspect of it at all," Doory said Wednesday during a conference with attorneys held quietly at his bench (The Baltimore Sun reviewed a recording of the conversation).

"I wouldn't want that aspect being done to my [decisions] by one of my compatriots of equal power," Doory said.

The case highlights the luck of the draw when it comes to the justice system. Another judge might never have ordered Handy tried as an adult. And another system - the juvenile system - might have given her access to services not available to grown-ups, specifically an out-of-state residential anger-management program that has helped other teens, including a girl convicted last year of beating a woman on a city bus.

That was the hope of prosecutors Jennifer Rallo and Janet Hankin, who said they developed the agreement as "a second bite at the apple." It involved Handy, charged with second-degree murder, pleading guilty to a lesser manslaughter charge in Circuit Court and then transferring to juvenile court for sentencing.

"On balance, we thought this was the fairest thing all around to keep her from snapping again," one of the prosecutors told the judge, according to the recording.

"It's a very unique case," added Assistant Public Defender Amy Stone. "It has some very sensitive circumstances."

When Handy was still a little girl, she was placed with her grandparents through "Child in Need of Assistance" proceedings. Records explaining the move were not available, but such cases are usually initiated because of guardian neglect or abuse.

Family members have said she was close to her grandmother, Eunice Taylor, and quickly resolved squabbles as they flared. But last year, when Handy was 16 and a senior at Samuel L. Banks High School, a fight in October ended in violence.

Handy and her 69-year-old grandmother were arguing over pictures hanging in the girl's bedroom when the teen snapped, shoved Taylor onto a bed, then "got on top of the victim and pinned her arms down against the bed by holding her wrists," according to charging documents. Handy's younger brother pulled her off their grandmother, and Taylor called 911, but the older woman lost consciousness on her porch before officers arrived. Taylor later was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Three weeks later, a state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide: "The victim had suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of the assault," charging documents state. And four days after that, shortly after her 17th birthday, Handy turned herself in. She has been in a women's detention facility ever since.

On Wednesday, she wore a sunny yellow blouse to court and a hard expression. Her hands were cuffed in front of her slim body. About half a dozen family members showed up to support her, but there was little for them to hear. Most of the action took place out of earshot at the bench, though it was difficult to tell who was speaking on the recording; the attorneys' backs were to the camera.

They discussed how Handy, who has been diagnosed with a disorder characterized by hostility toward authority figures, has "anger issues that need to be treated." And how giving her a lenient sentence of probation before judgment wouldn't necessarily guarantee she would get help. The plea agreement, they said, served all and had worked twice before in other cases.

If the deal had been approved, Handy, who has no criminal record, would have been found delinquent; she would have had no adult conviction on her record.

Doory said he wanted to review records and confer with the other judge. The case was continued to Thursday morning, when he ultimately ruled that Handy would have to go to trial in adult court. Another judge set a Nov. 2 date.

In the meantime, attorneys said they will continue talking about possible plea agreements. They likely will get a new judge in November.

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