June 26, 2013

Maine girl in infant death case not competent for trial

The 11-year-old is the youngest person to face manslaughter charges in Maine in 25 years.

By DOUG HARLOW Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN – Prosecutors in a case against an 11-year-old Fairfield girl charged with manslaughter in the death of an infant said Tuesday the girl remains not competent to stand trial.

click image to enlarge

Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway

Contributed photo

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Amanda Huard and attorney John Youney enter Skowhegan District Court in October for a hearing for her daughter Kelli Murphy, 11, who has been charged with manslaughter in the death of Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Kelli Murphy's case was discussed with Chief District Court Judge Charles LaVerdiere in a telephone conference call on Monday, according to Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson. An order from the judge is expected this week saying that the girl's detention and conditions of her release remain unchanged, pending future discussion about her ability to stand trial, he said.

"Until there is a finding of competence she is presumed to lack the skills associated with competence," Benson said.

Benson said a state forensics investigator has done a second psychological examination on Murphy, but he would not discuss the results.

The court has impounded the report of the forensics examiner. There were no recent court orders or filings in the case at Skowhegan District Court on Tuesday.

A status conference that had been scheduled for Thursday has been postponed, Benson said.

"Probably nothing substantive is going to happen for a couple more months," he said.

Benson said he could not comment on where Murphy is living or if she is still in the custody of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Messages left Monday and Tuesday with Murphy's attorney, John Martin, were not returned. Efforts to reach Martin's co-counsel, Edwin Chester of Portland, were unsuccessful Tuesday. Messages left for Murphy's mother, Amanda Huard, on Tuesday were not immediately returned.

William Stokes, chief of the criminal division at the Maine Attorney General's Office, said there have been recent forensic examinations on Murphy and the sense is that she will become competent over time.

"As she matures, there is greater likelihood that she'll be competent to participate with (the) proceedings," he said.

Stokes said there will be additional examinations over the next few months.

LaVerdiere ruled in March that Murphy was not competent at the time to face charges under the standard established by the Maine Juvenile Code, but could be in the future.

Murphy is charged with manslaughter in the July 8 death of 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway of Clinton, who died while staying overnight at Huard's home.

Benson said it is the state's responsibility by statute to show that a juvenile is competent to stand trial until the child turns 14.

After that, Benson said, it is the burden of the defense attorneys to show the court that the child is prepared or not prepared to faces charges.

Competence still has to be established, he said.

Stokes said the age cutoff may seem arbitrary but is in line with other state laws regarding age and criminal responsibility.

"The law treats someone below the age of 14 differently," Stokes said Tuesday. "A child, age 10 or 11, through the course of chronological age, matures. They draw the line just like they do at age 18 when you're considered to be an adult, which may seem arbitrary, but you have to draw the line somewhere."

Criminal proceedings in the juvenile case against Murphy have been suspended since late October, when the competence evaluation was ordered.

LaVerdiere said the reports' findings will remain sealed because they contain significant, confidential mental health information pertinent only to the question of the girl's competence to stand trial.

LaVerdiere's decision came after Murphy appeared in a two-hour closed hearing on March 15 in Skowhegan District Court to determine if she understood the severity and ramifications of the juvenile manslaughter charge against her. Murphy is the youngest person to be charged with manslaughter in Maine in at least 25 years, police have said.

 

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

dharlow@centralmaine.com

 

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