A 10-year-old girl was formally charged by the state earlier this week with killing 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway at a home in Fairfield in July.
She may be the youngest person in Maine to be charged with manslaughter.
If she is convicted, she would likely remain in state custody until she is at least 21. Is Maine equipped to handle such a young offender?
First, it is highly unlikely the girl will grow up in one of the state’s two juvenile prisons even if she is convicted of the crime, according to experts on Maine’s juvenile justice system.
That is because the goals of Maine’s juvenile and adult justice systems are different. The primary mission of the juvenile system is rehabilitation while punishment is the focus of the adult system.
Statistics for juvenile crimes in Maine are difficult to find. But, female offenders under the age of 13 are at least rare enough that the youth center in Cumberland County, where female juveniles convicted of crimes serve their sentences, is not set up to meet the needs of a preteen, according to Bartlett H. Stoodley, associate commissioner for juvenile services at the Department of Corrections.
The vast majority of the 250 juveniles currently at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and Mountain View in Charleston are between the ages of 15 and 17, although both facilities were designed to handle children between the ages of 11 and 17, he said. There are just two or three children at each facility under the age of 13. None is sentenced to remain there until he or she becomes an adult, according to Stoodley.
If convicted of manslaughter, the girl probably would be sent to a residential treatment facility or group home under the direction of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services where she could be with children her own age, according to Stoodley.
Since her arrest last month the girl has been under the care of DHHS, according to earlier reports.
The Maine girl, who the Bangor Daily News is not naming because of her age, is charged with causing the death of Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway of Clinton, who died on July 8 while under the care of a baby sitter in Fairfield. Maine State Police declared the death a homicide on Aug 29.
The infant’s mother, Nicole Greenaway, told the Bangor Daily News last month that a toxicology report stated that medication found in her infant’s system was the same as the medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder taken by the 10-year-old girl, who is the daughter of the baby sitter.
“She [also] suffocated her by putting her hands over her face,” Greenaway said last month. “There are bruises all over her face.”
The mother of the 10-year-old declined to comment after her daughter was charged, referring inquiries to her attorney, John Martin of Skowhegan.
The mother of the 10-year-old has not been charged.
It was the second time the girl had been implicated in an incident involving a baby. An 8-month-old was hospitalized in June after overdosing on medication while in the care of the 10-year-old and her mother.
Ashley Tenney, mother of the 8-month-old, said earlier this month that doctors told her they found amphetamines in her daughter’s system that matched medication prescribed to the 10-year-old for ADHD.
Under Maine law, a child of any age can be charged with a crime and a prosecutor can seek to have a child of any age tried as an adult.
Assistant Attorney General William Stokes, head of the criminal division in the Maine Attorney General’s Office, has said he would not seek to have the girl tried as an adult.
An adult convicted of manslaughter would face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Convicted as a juvenile, she could be sentenced to the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections until she turns 21.
When it comes to offenders under the age of 13, prosecutors, defense attorneys, caseworkers and judges work together to keep children from being incarcerated, Stoodley said. Eighty percent of the juveniles who appear in court are not sentenced to incarceration, Stoodley said.
If they are sentenced to such a facility, far more services are offered to jailed juveniles than to incarcerated adults. At Long Creek and Mountain View there are an array of educational and vocational programs along with psychological and family counseling, he said.
Despite the attention paid to high-profile cases that involve violence, just 1 percent of Maine’s juvenile population between the ages of 11 and 17 was convicted of a crime between 2006 and 2008, according to an annual report on juvenile recidivism rates prepared by the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.
The court system gathers the number of juvenile case filed statewide each fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. The Maine Department of Public Safety compiles the number of juveniles arrested and breaks down the kinds of crimes they are charged with for each calendar year. The Juvenile Division of the DOC keeps track of the number of petitions filed in district courts around the state in each calendar year.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, the judiciary’s annual report said that 3,622 cases were handled in juvenile courts excluding traffic violations. The annual Uniform Crime Report stated that for the calendar year that ended Dec. 31, 2010, 6,492 juveniles — 1,940 girls and 4,552 boys — were arrested. Just 32 were 10 years old or younger while 275 were between the ages of 10 and 12.
According to Stoodley, about 3,200 petitions were filed in calendar year 2010. Of those, 614 or 19.2 percent were felonies, 1,889 or 59 percent were misdemeanors and 697 or 21.8 percent were civil violations, all crime classifications used in adult but not juvenile court. Civil violations would include possession of a usable amount of marijuana, consumption of alcohol and other minor crimes.
The youngest defendant retired District Court Judge Jessie Gunther dealt with in her 32 years on the bench was an 8-year-old girl accused of arson.
“Nobody was interested in pursuing it as a criminal prosecution,” she said earlier this month from her home in Castine. “We wanted to figure out where the kid needed to be to receive the proper treatment. It never really became a court case and the charges were dismissed, if they were ever actually filed.”
Gunther said that she rarely saw children 13 years old and younger in her courtroom. Those charged with serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter or arson, all felonies, were even rarer.
The vast majority of juveniles who appeared before Gunther were between 15 and 17. They most often were charged with crimes involving shoplifting, underage drinking and drug use, she said. Probation and-or community service were the sentences the judge imposed most often.
Juveniles sentenced to Long Creek or Mountain View often are repeat offenders or have been convicted of felonies, according to Stoodley.
The procedures used in Maine juvenile courts are very similar to those in the adult criminal justice system, with the biggest difference being that juveniles do not have the right to a trial by jury, according to Gunther. Their cases are handled by a district court judge.
Technically, charges aren’t filed against juveniles the way they are lodged against adults. A prosecutor files a petition with the court. The judge then acts on that petition. This is where the case of the 10-year-old now stands.
Competency could be an issue raised in the case of the 10-year-old girl facing a manslaughter charge.
The legal standards for whether an adult or juvenile is competent to stand trial are fairly similar, but the standard is slightly lower for children, according to Christopher Northrop, director of the University of Maine School of Law’s Juvenile Justice Clinic in Portland.
“For an adult, the standard is the ability to assist counsel,” he said earlier this month. “For juveniles, it’s the comparison of what would be typical of a child the same age.”
The system allows judges to consider more information from juvenile than adult defendants, according to psychologist Kathryn Thomas, formerly of Brunswick. She recently retired after many years in private practice that included evaluating the competency of juveniles and adults.
She was hired by defense attorneys for Patrick Armstrong. Then 15, the Fayette youth pleaded guilty in 2006 in adult court to manslaughter in connection with the 2005 death of 14-year-old Marlee Johnston, a neighbor. He was sentenced to 25 years with all but 16 years suspended. Armstrong was the first juvenile in Maine to be ordered to serve part of his sentence at a juvenile facility before being transferred to an adult prison after he turned 21.
“In essence, we want to know what [juveniles] actually understand about the process, the charges against them, the potential penalties, their feelings about the judicial system and, particularly, their own lawyer,” Thomas said in an email earlier this month. “We want to know what they understand about expected decorum in the courtroom. We want to know what words and terms they understand, like what a sentence is, what an appeal is, what the purposes of the judge and various courtroom players are, etc. We try to assess their problem-solving skills, divergent thinking abilities, and ability to think independently.”
Thomas said that standardized tests along with school and medical records, family and work histories often are admitted as evidence in juvenile cases.
“We try to obtain as much information on the child’s behavior prior to the commission of the crime as possible,” she said. “In that regard, there is probably a much more intense attempt at getting collateral and background information than with adults.”
Juveniles found competent receive the services they need through the system, according to Northrup. Those found not competent often do not.
According to Stoodley, Long Creek and Mountain View can meet the needs of all juveniles except those with a serious psychosis. They sometimes must be moved out of the facilities for hospital-based care. If in-state treatment is not possible, children can be sent out of state for treatment, he said.
In her 2003 book, “Why Children Kill,” British author Carol Anne Davis argued that most children who kill have suffered from some form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
“Moreover, the children who commit violent crimes have invariably been victimized by violent adults,” she wrote. “A recent study of 200 serious juvenile offenders found that over 90 percent of them had suffered childhood trauma. Seventy-four percent of the total sample had been physically, sexually and-or emotionally abused and over 30 percent had lost a significant person in their life to whom they were emotionally attached.”
Stoodley said that while he has no statistics, he has seen a similar pattern with the juveniles committed to the DOC.
“There’s a strong relationship between juvenile crime and physical and sexual abuse, neglect and-or deprivation,” he said. “Add to that the difficulty of connecting with social services and problems in school, then, one thing tends to impact on the other and kids wind up in the juvenile justice system.”
Stoodley said that in his years with DOC, he has seen more Maine children turn to crime as a result of poverty and neglect than abuse.
More recently, he has seen an increase in the number of children on prescribed medication in the system.
“About 80 percent of the kids we see come into the system already on psychotropic meds,” he said. “Almost all have some serious challenges around behavior and/or substance abuse issues.”
The 10-year-old is scheduled to make her first court appearance Oct. 22 in Skowhegan District Court. By then, she will be 11.