Logan • One of the two 16-year-old boys accused in the shooting of Deserae Turner had problems even before birth, according to testimony Monday in a hearing to determine whether he will stand trial as an adult.
The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday. At its conclusion, 1st District Juvenile Court Judge Angela Fonnesbeck is expected to rule on whether the boy's case will remain in the juvenile system or be transferred to adult court.
The boy who was in court Monday is not accused of firing the bullet that struck 14-year-old Turner in the head, but he is charged with attempted murder and other crimes in connection with her shooting.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Shannon Demler called his client "the least culpable" of the two defendants.
"He did not arrange for her to come to the canal or anything such as this," Demler said, "and, in fact, there is no evidence that he was part of the planning or part of the scheme."
Demler also said his client has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is not physically mature and that juvenile court is the best place to rehabilitate him.
But Deputy Cache County Attorney Spencer Walsh, in his opening statement, said the defendant came up with a plan to slit Turner's throat. That plan didn't materialize.
After the boys lured Turner to a Smithfield canal Feb. 16, it was the defendant who gave a nod to signal the other boy to shoot Turner, Walsh said.
The defendant also kept the bullet casing and put it on his windowsill "like some kind of sadistic trophy," Walsh told Fonnesbeck.
The defense on Monday called the defendant's mother, who testified that her son is a twin and that it was a difficult pregnancy. She said the defendant was losing a heartbeat and that she gave birth to the twins about 12 weeks before full term.
Doctors warned her that the defendant may suffer from developmental disorders. When he was older, the mother testified, he was diagnosed with hearing loss, had trouble reading, would not complete homework and had poor grades.
The month before the shooting, the mother and defendant argued in a car about the boy going to live with his father, she testified, and the defendant threatened to jump out of the moving car.
The mother said she grabbed the boy's shirt collar to restrain him, and he responded by trying to break her arm.
"But that behavior was not normal for" her son, the mother testified.
The defendant listened to the testimony while wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue pants, orange sandals and shackles. His right heel bounced up and down throughout the hearing, shaking the shackle around his ankle.
Later Monday, Randal Oster, a clinical psychologist, testified about his interview with and examination of the defendant at a detention center in March. He pointed to the foot-bouncing habit as one sign of ADHD.
Oster found that the boy had normal intelligence but had trouble processing information. The ADHD, Oster said, would make him even more impulsive than the typical 16-year-old.
Oster said the defendant behaved like a "loner" and felt he didn't fit in well with other kids.
"He tends to be more of a follower than a leader," Oster said.
During cross-examination, Walsh focused on how Oster didn't ask the defendant about the shooting. Nor did Oster read the police reports, view the crime photos or probe whether the boy is a danger to the public. Oster said he didn't want to confuse the defendant's mental health with determining why he may have perpetrated the crimes.
"So you just want to focus on whether he can read very well and pay attention?" Walsh asked.
"Among other things, yes," Oster replied.
Another clinical psychologist, Ronald Houston, testified Monday on behalf of the defense about how teenagers' brains are not as developed as adults and do not have the ability to govern their behavior as well as adults.
"I believe that's why we have juvenile court systems or treat them differently than adults," Demler said.
"That's correct," Houston replied.
Houston told Fonnesbeck that brain maturity is a factor she should take into account when choosing the court in which the defendant should be tried.
As a rebuttal witness, prosecutors called Stephen Golding, a forensic psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Utah. He did not offer an opinion about any diagnosis for the defendant, and he said Oster and Houston shouldn't have either. They didn't spend enough time evaluating the defendant, Golding said.
Prosecutors want the cases of both boys to go to adult court. The teen accused of pulling the trigger is scheduled to have the same kind of hearing May 8.
If the cases remain in juvenile court, the maximum penalty the teens could receive is a stay in a secure juvenile care facility until they turn 21. In the adult system, they would face the same penalties as if they were adults.
Turner was reported missing Feb. 16 by her parents after she did not return home from school. Two women who knew her family decided to walk a trail near the canal that evening and spotted the girl, according to preliminary hearing testimony. They covered her with their coats, the women testified, and called 911.
Initially, first responders believed Turner was suffering from hypothermia. Later, medics found the gunshot wound in the back of her head.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juveniles who have been charged with crimes unless they have been certified to stand trial in adult court.