16-year-old charged in fatal high school bathroom fight won’t be tried as adult

An image taken from a cellphone video shows Amy Joyner-Francis, right, being punched during a fight shortly before she died (CBS News)

DOVER, Del. (CBS News) – A Delaware judge has rejected a request from prosecutors to try a 16-year-old girl as an adult after a fatal fight in a high school bathroom.

The judge announced Friday that the defendant will instead be tried in Family Court on charges of criminally negligent homicide and conspiracy.

RELATED: 16-year-old girl dead after fight in high school bathroom, police say

The girl is accused of repeatedly hitting 16-year-old Amy Joyner-Francis in a premeditated attack April 21 at Wilmington’s Howard High School of Technology. Two other girls are charged with conspiracy. The fight was captured on cellphone video. The Associated Press is not naming the defendants because they are juveniles.

A medical examiner said Joyner-Francis had a pre-existing heart condition, and the physical and emotional stress from the assault contributed to the sudden cardiac arrest that caused her death.

If the 16-year-old charged with criminally negligent homicide is ruled delinquent in family court, she would likely face community supervision and treatment until she is 19, reports Delaware Online. Had she been tried in adult court and convicted, she reportedly could have faced a sentence of up to eight years.

“While this is [the teen’s] first contact with the justice system, it is a tragic one with a horrific outcome, an outcome that will have a longstanding impact on a family, a school and a community for many years,” Delaware Family Court Judge Robert B. Coonin wrote in his decision. “Whether [the teen] is tried in the Family Court or in the Superior Court, that outcome will not change; the senseless loss of a young girl’s life cannot be undone nor will the pain inflicted upon her family ever be extinguished.”

However, the judge ruled that the state hadn’t proved that an adult correctional facility would be “the only available remedy in order to protect the public and make the child a useful member of society,” and found the girl to be amenable to rehabilitation under the family court system.

The judge noted she comes from a supportive home with no history of intervention by Family Services officials, and that she has no history of prior criminal behavior or aggression.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

Defense attorney John Deckers said the girl’s family is grateful for the decision.

“They’re very mindful that this is a tragic ordeal for Amy’s family and friends, and the community,” he added.

In arguing that the girl accused of hitting Joyner-Francis should be tried as an adult, prosecutors cited the planned nature of the attack, prior threats of violence, the victim’s injuries, and the defendant’s alleged lack of remorse.

Deputy attorney general Theresa Sedivec told the judge last week that after learning of Joyner-Francis’ death, the girl responded by saying: “Somebody else must have kicked her…. They’re not going to put this on me.”

But Coonin said there was no evidence the girl knew Joyner-Francis had died when she made the comments.

The judge also suggested that the prosecution had exaggerated when saying the victim’s fingernails had been “ripped” or “torn” off. According to the medical examiner, Joyner-Francis had long, artificial nails, some of which were broken during the struggle, partially exposing the underlying nail bed.

The cellphone video shows Joyner-Francis on the ground, struggling to fight back and escape as she is held by her hair and repeatedly hit and kicked in the head.

Wilmington police detective Thomas Curley testified that in an online group chat the day before the attack, Joyner-Francis had offered advice to one of her friends about a problem involving a boy. “Just be careful,” she warned.

Curley said the defendants were later brought into the chat, and that the alleged attacker thought Joyner-Francis had been talking about her.

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