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Full Senate set to consider juvenile attempted murder waiver legislation

January 21, 2019

The full Indiana Senate on Tuesday will consider legislation that would waive Hoosier children as young as 12 into adult court if they are charged with attempted murder.

The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee last week unanimously endorsed Senate Bill 279, which would give judges discretion over whether to move attempted murder cases from juvenile court to adult court. Now the bill will face the Senate body Tuesday for further consideration.

Proponents of SB 279 contend that it simply adds the words “or attempted murder” to the existing law, subsection 1 of Indiana Code section 31-30-3-4.

Hamilton County prosecutor Lee Buckingham of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Counsel spoke favorably of the bill in committee, calling it a “simple, straightforward fix” that could help court’s better address heinous situations that just barely miss the threshold for adult court.

As the prosecutor involved in last year’s Noblesville West Middle School shooting, Buckingham said the bill could also help cover a narrow niche of juveniles who act with heinous intent but are too young to be tried as adults because no deaths occur. Prosecutors were unable to seek adult charges against the 13-year-old boy who shot classmate Ella Whistler and teacher Jason Seaman because no one died in the shooting, and the boy was younger than 14.

“He made those shots at people multiple times with the intent to kill them,” Buckingham said. “It was only because the doctors kept them alive that he was not sent to the adult system.”

Cory Whistler, Ella’s father, also spoke on behalf of his family and daughter at the committee hearing. Ella was shot seven times by the 13-year-old classmate in May, suffering life-altering injuries. Her father said he supports the bill, stating he doesn’t believe justice was served because the juvenile shooter wasn’t tried as an adult.

“The big thing for my daughter every now and then that she still talks about is, when he gets out, he’s going to come back after her,” Cory told the committee.

Seaman, who was shot three times while moving to tackle the juvenile shooter, also testified before the committee in favor of the measure. Seaman said he daily deals with 12- and 13-year-olds and is fully aware of their lapses in judgment and mistakes.

“I understand it’s a process for them to grow and mature, but I think it is personally reckless to think there is a difference between those minor slip-ups and lapses of judgment, and premeditated murder,” he said. “It was very well thought out, planned and documented. And to not have the prosecutor to make that distinction and ask for the judge to consider going to adult court seems very reckless in my opinion.”

Author of the bill, Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, told committee members it’s time to close the loophole to ensure weak sentences for such serious crimes never occur in the future. 

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