SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A judge ruled on Thursday that the 11-year-old girl charged with manslaughter in connection with a baby’s death in Fairfield last year is not competent to stand trial.
The judge left open the possibility that the girl will be competent in the future.
In a ruling released on Friday in Skowhegan District Court, Judge Charles LaVerdiere said he concluded that “at this time, the State has not met its burden of demonstrating that the Juvenile is competent to proceed under the standard established by the Maine Juvenile Code.”
LaVerdiere emphasized “at this time” in his ruling.
“Nevertheless, the Court further concludes that there is a substantial probability that the Juvenile will be competent in the foreseeable future,” LaVerdiere continued. “Accordingly, the Court orders that the proceedings on the juvenile petition shall remain suspended and the Court refers the Juvenile to the Commissioner of Health and Human Services for evaluation and treatment of the mental health and behavioral needs identified in the State Forensic Service examiner’s report.”
The State Forensic Service will examine the girl and send a report to the judge within 60 days for future proceedings, he said in the ruling.
The girl’s competency hearing was held on March 15 at the Skowhegan court at the request of her defense attorney, John Martin of Skowhegan. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson and Martin submitted their arguments in writing to the judge last week. Dr. Debra Baeder, the State Forensic Service’s Chief Forensic Psychologist, examined the juvenile and wrote a report, which was sealed by the judge. She was the only witness to testify at the competency hearing.
“I’m very pleased with the ruling,” Martin said Friday. “I think it’s appropriate.”
Benson declined to comment on the ruling, which he was informed of by reporters in Bangor where he has been prosecuting a murder trial.
The girl from Fairfield, who the Bangor Daily News is not naming because she is a juvenile, was charged with manslaughter last year in connection with the death of 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway. The baby was in the care of the mother of the accused girl on July 8, 2012, the day of the infant’s death.
The girl is charged with reckless or criminally negligent manslaughter.
Deputy Attorney General and Chief of the Criminal Division William Stokes said on Friday that the 11-year-old girl will remain in DHHS custody.
Stokes and Martin explained that the Juvenile Code calls for competency hearings done at 60, 180 and 365 days from the judge’s ruling. If by the end of March 2014 she is still not found competent to stand trial, Martin said it will be harder for the state to prosecute her.
“The state can still pursue it, but it’s easier at this point,” said Martin. “[After one year, it becomes] a clear and convincing standard, which is a step above. It’s a little more difficult to prove competency.”
Stokes explained that a competency hearing has to do with the girl understanding how the court process works, not if she knows right from wrong.
He said LaVerdiere’s decision was encouraging for the state.
“I think it’s important to point out that she’s very young. Presumably, as she matures with time, she’ll have a better understanding of the allegations against her and an understanding of the juvenile system,” said Stokes.
He said the state’s goal is not to put the girl behind bars.
“Our goal has never been to lock her up,” Stokes said. “Our goal has always been to treat her as a juvenile. We don’t want to treat her as an adult. We need to use the process to get her the treatment that we think she needs so that she can become a productive member of society. We’re eager for that process to take its course so she can become a law-abiding and productive member of society. She’s young so there’s no need to force the process.”
Nicole Greenaway of Waterville, the baby’s mother, 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 medicine prescribed to the 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.
“I’m angry and frustrated. I want it done now, but I understand that they need her to be fully competent in order to proceed,” said Greenaway on Friday.
The 11-year-old girl’s mother said on Friday she was unable to comment to the media.
The girl’s mother, who the Bangor Daily News is also not naming in order to protect the girl’s identity, will not be charged with a crime, said Stokes.
“We don’t have any plans [to charge the mother]. We made that decision many, many months ago,” he said Friday. “Several months ago, we saw there was insufficient evidence to proceed against the mother criminally.”