CARIBOU, Maine — A decision over whether to try a Limestone teenager as a juvenile or an adult in connection with the death of his 3-month-old daughter last year is now in the hands of an Aroostook County judge.
District Court Judge Ronald Daigle said he hopes to render a decision on the nature of the trial in the manslaughter case against Nicklas Jones, 18, later this week.
Jones was 17 when he was charged in connection with the April 27, 2009, death of his daughter Joselyn Jones. He pleaded not guilty to a charge of manslaughter in Caribou District Court last May. He has been held at the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston ever since.
According to testimony in the case, Jones told police that he threw his daughter into her crib on April 23 to stop her from crying and that she hit her head during the incident. Jones was arrested on May 1, 2009. Maine State Police investigators said the baby died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Jones’ attorney, Anthony Trask of Presque Isle, is seeking to have his client tried as a juvenile so that if convicted he would have to be released by the time he is 21 years old. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson wants Jones tried as an adult, where if convicted he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
Monday’s session was the second day of the hearing, and two witnesses, including Jones’ mother, took the stand.
While questioning Jones’ mother, Jerene Rosenbrook of Old Town, Benson brought up the defendant’s juvenile record. As a juvenile, Jones was charged with assaulting his mother in 2005, refusing to submit to arrest and various probation violations, including refusing to participate in counseling, drinking, and engaging in new criminal behavior. He spent 20 days in Mountain View as punishment.
On the stand, Rosenbrook spoke about the assault, which she said happened after she and her son got into a heated argument. She called the police after he opened the refrigerator door and hit her on the arm. She said she had gone to police a short time before the assault to seek help for her son’s substance abuse problem. She said police told her they couldn’t help unless he committed a crime. When he struck her with the refrigerator door, she saw it as an opportunity to get her son help, she said.
The assault charge later was dropped, and Jones was adjudicated on the charge of refusing to submit to arrest.
Rosenbrook denied that she told the responding officer she had been assaulted by her son 15 or 20 times before.
Rosenbrook also denied saying she had suffered bruises and scratches as a result of being hit by the refrigerator door and said she believed the charge of refusing to submit to arrest was a result of a miscommunication between her son and the officer.
She said she had never known her son to be violent before that night, but acknowledged she had talked to mental health workers about getting anger management counseling for her son after the assault.
Official records indicate Jones’ juvenile probation worker later made a reference to Jones assaulting his mother multiple times.
Rosenbrook admitted that her son had been expelled from a Job Corps program for what Benson said was an incident in which Jones whipped another participant with a wire and spit in his face.
She said her son was extremely upset over his daughter’s death and sought the help of a counselor and was on suicide watch at Mountain View shortly after her death.
While Trask said in his closing arguments that Jones had been an “immature” and “extremely mouthy kid” with substance abuse problems, he also said Jones had never caused significant injury to anyone. He called the baby’s death a “tragedy” but said Jones has “no past history of violence.” The attorney argued that Jones should be tried as a juvenile and, if convicted, remain at Mountain View to receive the services he needs to succeed as an adult.
Benson took issue with calling Joselyn Jones’ death a tragedy. He characterized it as “an atrocity,” saying there are few offenses more serious than taking a life. He argued that when his daughter died, Jones was about five months away from turning 18 and was “chronologically almost an adult.” He and the child’s mother were living in their own apartment as adults, Benson added, not juveniles.
Pointing out the discrepancy in Rosenbrook’s testimony on the night of the 2005 assault and on the stand, Benson said Rosenbrook “wants to minimize as much as she can about that assault now.” He also wondered why Rosenbrook would want her son to get anger management counseling if he had not shown violence before.
Benson said Jones already has been offered services and probation through the juvenile justice program, but they had not changed his behavior. He said that Jones “consistently” has not followed through on treatment and has had 16 discipline reports in his file since he arrived at Mountain View. Benson said that even after his daughter died, Jones did not change his aggressive behavior toward others.
“He is an adult criminal in the making,” Benson told the judge, adding that there is not much the juvenile justice system can do for Jones that hasn’t been tried.
Jones remains at the Charleston juvenile facility.