Legislators question trying juveniles as adults after Noblesville shooting


Indiana leaders are questioning current state law that prevents juveniles from being charged as adults one day after a prosecutor said a 13-year-old Noblesville school shooting suspect would not be tried because of his age.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said in a statement Wednesday lawmakers plan to review current state law concerning juveniles not being tried as adults.

“Given the heinous acts that led to a teacher and student being seriously harmed, I think it’s important for us to take a thoughtful look at our criminal code and whether changes to the law are appropriate,” Bosma said.

Hamilton County Prosecutor D. Lee Buckingham said the boy accused of shooting and severely wounding 13-year-old Ella Whistler and injuring science teacher Jason Seaman at Noblesville West Middle School would have faced 11 counts in adult court, including attempted murder and aggravated battery.

Whistler’s family said Monday that she remains hospitalized and faces a lengthy recovery after being shot seven times, including in her face, neck and upper chest. She also suffered collapsed lungs, significant nerve damage and several broken bones.

A delinquency petition prosecutors filed Tuesday against the suspect shows he allegedly used a .22-caliber handgun in the shooting and also had a .45-caliber handgun and a knife in his possession.

Buckingham said the teen’s case cannot be heard in adult court under current Indiana law because his alleged attempt to commit murder wasn’t successful. The prosecutor also said someone as young as 12 can be tried for murder as an adult, but the statute has been interpreted to not include attempted murder.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said reviewing current criminal code regarding the issue is open for discussion.

“Obviously in this case, the law is the law. But I do want to talk to some prosecutors and those on the frontlines to take a look at this,” Holcomb said in a statement Wednesday. “So I concur with the speaker on this that coming up in the next session, we’re going to take a look at it.”

The alleged shooter is scheduled to appear in court June 11.

If he’s adjudicated delinquent in the Noblesville shooting case, the boy could be held at the state’s detention center for juveniles until he’s 21, although typically juveniles are released when they turn 18, said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

The boy could also be ordered to spend time in a mental health treatment center, Landis said, adding that he’s frustrated when people demand tough sentences for juveniles when the full story behind their actions is not known.

“When a high-profile and horrendous act like this happens people are rushing to judgment about punishment — what's the appropriate sanction — instead of asking the questions of: Why would a 13-year-old boy do what this kid allegedly did? What do we know about him? What do we know about his history? What do we know about his mental state, his emotional state? Is there any drug use involved?” he said.

“Let’s try to understand before we seek to punish.”

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