SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The attorney representing an 11-year-old Fairfield girl accused of killing a 3-month-old baby last summer has filed a motion in Skowhegan District Court to have the girl’s competency hearing closed to the public.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who is prosecuting the case, countered with a motion filed on Thursday to keep the hearing open to the public.
The girl’s competency hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28. Benson said on Thursday that he expects a judge to rule on the motions on Monday.
The girl, who the Bangor Daily News is not naming because she’s a juvenile, is charged with reckless or criminally negligent manslaughter in the death of Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway.
Brooklyn was in the care of the girl’s mother in Fairfield on the night of July 8, 2012. According to the baby’s mother, Nicole Greenaway of Waterville, her infant subsequently was left alone with the then-10-year-old girl.
Greenaway said in August that a toxicology report revealed that medicine for attention deficit disorder was found in Brooklyn’s system. She said it’s the same medication prescribed to the 11-year-old daughter of the baby sitter. There also were bruises on the baby’s face from when she was suffocated, allegedly by the girl, according to Greenaway.
The autopsy report has not yet been made available to the public.
Defense attorney John Martin of Skowhegan requested a competency hearing for the juvenile in October, which was granted.
A competency hearing is “to see if she … understands what lawyers do, what judges do, what court proceedings are for and so forth,” said Benson at the time.
The state forensic service would perform a competence evaluation of the girl in time for her next court appearance, Benson said in October.
In his motion filed on Tuesday in Skowhegan District Court, defense attorney Martin said the 11-year-old’s right to privacy outweighed that of the public’s interest to view the proceeding.
“Given the sensitive nature of the information presented at competency hearings and the inherent vulnerability of an 11 year old juvenile, it seems illogical to allow the public access to such private information when the Legislature presumes that such information will not be available to the public, and provides for the release of that information only under special circumstances as directed by the Court,” Martin wrote in his motion.
He cited the 2006 case of the United States v. Curran as precedent for why medical information is held to a higher standard of privacy.
In February 2006, George Leo Curran took nine people hostage at the National Labor Relations Boards in Phoenix, saying there was a government conspiracy against his wife who was terminated from the Transportation Security Administration. A judge ruled his competency hearing should be closed to the public.
“The Juvenile contends that the public right of access to the competency proceeding is outweighed by the juvenile’s right to privacy,” said Martin in the motion. “The evaluation report here describes the juvenile’s mental illness and cognitive defects, her academic record as a child, her social history, and the physical abuse she experienced, all of which are presumed to be expressly closed to the public.”
Benson stated in his motion that the defense’s argument was uncompelling.
“The open criminal proceeding has played an important role in the administration of justice for centuries,” Benson said in his motion.
He said there is a community therapeutic value in open criminal proceedings. Benson cited Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California (1985), where the court noted: “(C)riminal acts, especially violent crimes, often provoke public concern, even outrage and hostility; this in turn generates a community urge to retaliate and desire to have justice done…. When the public is aware that the law is being enforced and the criminal justice system is functioning, an outlet is provided for these understandable reactions and emotions. Proceedings held in secret would deny this outlet and frustrate the broad public interest; by contrast, public proceeding vindicate the concerns of the victims and the community… .”
It’s important to have the proceedings in public in order to ensure confidence in the judicial system, he said.
“In this case, the juvenile defendant has been charged with the juvenile offense of manslaughter, causing the death of an infant, and there is understandable and widespread public concern about each stage of the proceedings,” Benson said in the motion.
“In order for the public to be able to trust the criminal justice system, it has to be an open and transparent process, and this has to be an open and transparent process,” said Benson in a telephone interview on Thursday evening.
The 11-year-old entered a “no answer” plea to the manslaughter charge in October.
A “no answer” plea in juvenile court is “neither an admission nor denial. A ‘no answer’ comes into play when there are questions about skills associated with competence” by the defendant, said Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the attorney general.
Benson said Thursday he doesn’t intend to try the girl as an adult.
If convicted, the 11-year-old likely would remain in state custody until she’s 21 years old.
She is still being held in Department of Health and Human Services custody, according to Benson.