Appeals court upholds teen’s 55-year sentence for murder

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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the 55-year sentence imposed on a juvenile waived into adult court for the murder of a friend. The teen claimed he should have been sentenced under the alternative sentencing scheme available for juveniles.

Then 16-year-old Donta Legg and an unidentified person went to the home of Darren Kirk, who was a friend of Legg. Kirk went on the porch with Legg and the other person and got into a physical altercation with the man. The unidentified person pulled a gun out of his waistband, gave it to Legg and told him to shoot Kirk. Legg shot Kirk once, who stumbled inside and died.

Kirk was shot in front of his 17-year-old brother and while his 2-year-old brother was home.

Legg was waived into adult court and convicted of felony murder and Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license. The trial court denied his request to issue a sentence under the alternative sentencing scheme for juvenile offenders, finding the nature of the offense and that Legg’s character rendered sentencing under that scheme unsuitable.

“This appears to be a case of first impression, as we have been unable to find other cases interpreting the alternative sentencing statute. The statute itself offers no guidance regarding when the alternative sentencing
scheme should be implemented. It is well established that the purpose of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation so that the juvenile will not become a criminal as an adult,” Judge John Baker wrote in Donta Legg v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1404-CR-279.

The alternative sentencing scheme under I.C. 31-30-4-2 provides that a court may impose an alternative sentence for the juvenile based on certain conditions, but imposition is not mandatory.

“When the alternative sentencing statute applies, as it does here, a trial court may choose to apply it, the necessary corollary being that it may also choose not to apply it,” Baker wrote. The judges found the factors outlined as to when the juvenile court may waive jurisdiction over a juvenile offender to be instructive, although trial courts are not required to consider those factors nor is the state required to prove those factors in order to warrant the implementation of the alternative sentencing scheme.

“We acknowledge that Legg is a young offender. We also acknowledge that Legg has been faced with many obstacles in his short life. But we must also consider the nature of the crime he committed here. He took the life of another person — a friend — in the presence of that person’s family. He has already shown a propensity for skipping school and breaking the law. Under these circumstances, we do not think that the advisory term of fifty-five years is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and Legg’s character.”


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