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State v. McDonald

Superior Court of Delaware, Sussex

March 31, 2014


Submitted: January 6, 2014

Upon Defendant's Motion to Be Transferred Back to the Family Court of Delaware. Denied.

John P. Daniello, Esq. Office of the Public Defender, Attorney for Defendant

Melanie C. Withers, Esq. and Casey L. Ewart, Esq., Attorneys for the State



Defendant Junia McDonald ("McDonald"), who was 14-years-old at the time of the charged crimes, will be tried as an adult in this Court. Her application to transfer her case from this Court to the Family Court pursuant to 10 Del.C. § 1011(b) is DENIED.

In April 2013, McDonald was charged with Kidnapping in the First Degree, a class B felony, Carjacking in the First Degree, a class B felony, Robbery in the First Degree, a class B felony, and three counts of Conspiracy in the Second Degree, class G felonies. These charges stemmed from McDonald's alleged involvement in a criminal episode inflicted by McDonald and her co-defendants upon Margaret Smith ("Mrs. Smith"), who, at the time of her encounter with the defendants, was 89-years-old.

Facts Facts and Circumstances Hearing

A Facts and Circumstances hearing was held in this Court on July 18, 2013. The evidence presented pertained to the involvement of Defendants Rondaiges Harper ("Harper"), [2] Phillip Brewer ("Brewer"), [3] Jackeline Perez ("Perez")[4] and McDonald[5] in the charged crimes.[6] Harper, Perez, and McDonald were all present at this hearing. The following facts were taken from that hearing and are common to all three defendants.

Margaret Smith ("Mrs. Smith") is an 89-year-old widow living in her own home in Milford, Delaware. At the fact hearing, Mrs. Smith gave a full rendition of the criminal incident. Although she was sometimes forgetful or confused about incidentals, she provided a consistent version of the material facts.

On March 18, 2013, at about 2:00 p.m., Mrs. Smith left her home to get an ice cream cone and buy a gift for her sister. Mrs. Smith carried some money in her purse, and a larger amount rolled up and pinned to the strap of her brasier. As she sat in her 2001 tan Buick Le Sabre at a convenience store called the Chicken Man, two female juveniles, later identified as Perez and McDonald, approached her car. They tapped on the driver's side window and asked Mrs. Smith if she would take them home. At the fact hearing, Mrs. Smith referred to the girls as "teenagers, " stating that one was white and one was black, and that one was shorter and stockier than the other. Mrs. Smith did not observe any other physical traits.

At first Mrs. Smith hesitated, but then agreed to give the girls a ride home. One juvenile got in the front passenger seat, and the other in the back. Mrs. Smith assumed that the juveniles lived in Milford; but they directed her to a residence farther away. Upon arriving at that residence, Mrs. Smith was told that the mother was not home and was asked to go to a second residence. Once there, Mrs. Smith was told that the aunt was not home.

The juveniles directed Mrs. Smith to a third residence where they asked for her keys. Mrs. Smith adamantly refused. Both juveniles then grabbed her while she struggled to remain in the car. Mrs. Smith was yanked out of the car, resisting until the three were at the rear of the Buick. The shorter juvenile wrestled the keys from Mrs. Smith and the trunk door was opened. Mrs. Smith was then shoved inside the trunk, and the trunk door slammed. The juveniles then got back in the car and, with the shorter juvenile driving, took off at a fast pace. Mrs. Smith hollered and knocked on the back of the trunk but received no response. Perhaps this could have been, in part, because the car's radio was playing at full volume. According to Mrs. Smith, while in the trunk, she received no food or water and was given no bathroom breaks. She also was not given the medication she took for high blood pressure or arthritis, which she carried with her.

During this episode, the two juveniles also took $500 in cash from Mrs. Smith. They went to the Seaford Walmart to buy clothes and may have given some of the money to two male juveniles to buy a new battery for the car. That evening, the juveniles used stolen money to book a room at the Days Inn in Seaford, Delaware. Mrs. Smith spent the night in the trunk of her car. In the morning, she was taken to a cemetery and dumped out, along with her cane and a black Ace Hardware bag of prescription medications.

Having wet herself in the trunk, Mrs. Smith apparently removed her pants and left them on the ground. She crawled around the cemetery looking for a road. The surface of the cemetery being part dirt and part grass, Mrs. Smith scraped her knees, but attained no other observable injuries. The cold temperatures caused numbness in her hands and feet, which is not yet resolved.

At approximately 9:00 p.m. on March 19, 2013, Trooper John Wilson ("Trooper Wilson"), a member of the Delaware State Police Department ("DSPD"), received a missing person call. A woman who identified herself as Sabrina Carol ("Ms. Carol") said that she had not seen her elderly aunt, Margaret Smith, since 2:00 p.m. the previous day. Ms. Carol went to her aunt's house, but neither she nor her purse were there. The family was concerned because Mrs. Smith showed early signs of either Alzheimer's Disease or some form of dementia. The previous day, a neighbor saw Mrs. Smith putting things in her car at approximately 11:00 a.m., and drive away about an hour later. Mrs. Smith's sister spoke to her on the phone at about 2:00 p.m. the previous day. Mrs. Smith was thought to be driving her tan 2001 Buick Le Sabre. Ms. Carol stated that her aunt often went to Milford to shop and to Rehoboth Beach to visit her sister.

Trooper Wilson entered Mrs. Smith's identification information into the national data base for missing persons and issued a Gold Alert which lists missing persons with mental conditions. He also filed a DSPD report.

On March 20, 2013, Corp. James Gooch, Jr. ("Corp. Gooch") received a call from a woman named Betty Edwards ("Ms. Edwards"). Ms. Edwards said that when she came to visit her son's tombstone at Mount Calvary Methodist Cemetery ("the cemetary") east of Seaford, she found a half-clothed, apparently disoriented elderly woman crawling on the ground. Corp. Gooch stated that the cemetery is not visible from King Road and is surrounded by trees. When Corp. Gooch arrived at the cemetery, Ms. Edwards told him that the elderly woman had initially tried to run from her, but Ms. Edwards reached her and convinced her to sit on one of the tombstones. Mrs. Smith was wearing brown spandex shorts and a coat, but no pants or shoes. Her hands were dirty and her knees were scratched.

Mrs. Smith initially told Corp. Gooch that she had walked from her home to the cemetery, but upon questioning, said that two girls in Milford asked her for a ride, and then took her money and keys and put her in the trunk of her car. She remained in the trunk for two days, without food, water, or medication. Mrs. Smith was also forced to urinate on herself because her requests to use a bathroom were ignored. When she was left in the cemetery she was not familiar with her surroundings. Hence, she got on her hands and knees and crawled around looking for an opening to get to a road. The night was cold. Ms. Edwards told Corp. Gooch that Mrs. Smith had money rolled up and pinned to the strap of her brasier.

Corp. Gooch drove Mrs. Smith to Nanticoke Hospital where Ms. Carol met them. Mrs. Smith was able to give her name, date of birth, and age, although she was still somewhat confused. When Corp. Gooch ran her information in the police system, he found the Gold Alert with a photograph and a reference to possibly being armed. Corp. Gooch gave Mrs. Smith a light pat down and found no weapon. A nurse, having found money pinned to the strap of Mrs. Smith's brasier, put the money in a hospital safe. Mrs. Smith then told Corp. Gooch the rest of the details of the incident. Mrs. Smith was treated and then released to the care of Ms. Carol.

Corp. Gooch returned to the cemetery to look for Mrs. Smith's car because Mrs. Smith told him that at one point, the two juveniles drove her car up to the top of a hill and let it slide down so that she would meet her death. Corp. Gooch also hoped to find the wig that Mrs. Smith apparently wore in the Gold Alert photograph. Neither the car nor the wig was found. Corp. Gooch, however, found what looked like the tracks of someone crawling in the sand over a recent grave site. He also saw tire tracks indicating that a vehicle had made a U-turn in an area of soft sand. Even with the aid of a DSPD helicopter, the car was not found. Later that day, Corp. Gooch removed Mrs. Smith's name, but not her missing car, from the Gold Alert.

At approximately 7:00 p.m. on March 20, 2013, Trooper Patrick Schlimer ("Trooper Schlimer") of the DSPD was sitting at one of his routine patrol sites at the intersection of Coverdale Road and Seashore Highway when a tan Buick with five passengers passed him. Trooper Schlimer ran the car's tag number and found a flag to stop the vehicle. He then followed the car, stopping it on Chapel Chapman's Road. None of the vehicle's occupants had any form of identification. Two of the three female occupants each stated that the vehicle belonged to the other's grandmother. The occupants were identified as McDonald in the driver's seat, Brewer in the front passenger seat, Harper in the rear left passenger seat, Perez in the rear right passenger seat, and Deniaya Smith ("Deniaya")[7] in the center rear passenger seat.

Trooper Schlimer learned from police dispatch that the car had been involved in a carjacking. When his back-up arrived, the officers took the individuals and the car to Troop 4 in Georgetown, Delaware. Trooper Schlimer had no further discussion with any of the suspects.

After a search warrant for the car was obtained, Det. Michael Maher ("Det. Maher") from the Evidence Detection Unit photographed the vehicle as well as the contents of the trunk. Among other things, the trunk contained seven bags of clothing, an Ipod lamp, three jackets, five cans of unopened ginger ale, and a so-called egg crate mattress. These items were left in the trunk, which measured 3 feet by 9 inches from front to back, 5 feet wide but 3 feet by 6 inches in the area where the tires were located, and 1 foot by 6 inches high.

On March 29, 2012, Det. Maher and Det. Robert Truitt, Jr. ("Det. Truitt"), the chief investigating officer, went to the cemetery. A residence is located on each side of King Road at the turn onto Calvary Road; but there is no signpost indicating the presence of the cemetery. The distance from King Road to the cemetery at the end of Calvary Road is 133 yards. The area is heavily wooded. Trash and debris are found all along the unpaved road, which is in a wretched condition. A chain link gate leads into the cemetery; and a chain link fence runs its perimeter. The area is surrounded by large trees, allowing for little light.

Det. Maher and Det. Truitt observed the tracks seen by Corp. Gooch indicating that someone had crawled over the sand. They did not observe shoe prints. To the right of the entrance, the detectives found a black metal cane, a black bag from Ace Hardware containing prescriptions, and a pair of urine-soaked blue jeans on the ground near the fence.

On March 20, 2012, after being released from the hosptial, Mrs. Smith and Ms. Carol went to the authorities to report her stolen car. Mrs. Smith was interviewed by Det. Truitt. She had been without her medication and was somewhat confused in her thinking. Ms. Carol stated that her aunt was in the early stages of dementia. During the interview, Mrs. Smith described the incident with the two girls stealing her keys and money and keeping her in the trunk of her car for two days without food, water, or bathroom stops. She stated that she had been dropped off in a cemetery, and then crawled around, in the cold, trying to find a road. After Mrs. Smith's car was located, Det. Truitt returned it to her.

Harper, McDonald, Brewer, and Perez were all interviewed about the incident. The interviews of Harper and Perez are addressed in their respective opinions. McDonald's statement is addressed below.

On April 4, 2013, Det. Truitt interviewed Mrs. Smith at her home. She showed him bruises and scrapes on her knees from crawling around the cemetery. She also stated that her hands and lower extremities were still numb from exposure to cold temperatures while in the trunk. She said that she had tried to talk to the kidnappers but was told to "shut up, " and that one of the girls said they would kill her if she reported the incident to the police.

At the hearing, Det. Truitt testified that he found a receipt for clothing from the Walmart in Seaford. He reported that the temperature on the night of the kidnapping ranged from the mid-to-upper 30's to the mid-to-lower 40's. Det. Truitt stated that the girls blamed one another for the car theft, and that Brewer told him the Buick was stolen.

McDonald's Interview

Upon being arrested, McDonald was interviewed by Det. Truitt, who summarized her interview at the fact hearing. Det. Truitt testified that McDonald was with Perez when the car was taken from Mrs. Smith, and that they did this approximately two days prior to her interview, which would have been on a Monday. She stated that they were in Milford at the Chicken Man convenience store when they came into contact with Mrs. Smith. Det. Truitt stated that McDonald initially claimed that Mrs. Smith gave them the keys to her car. When confronted with whether Mrs. Smith was left in the trunk of her car for two days, McDonald nodded and said "I guess so." When asked who dropped Mrs. Smith off in the cemetery, McDonald stated that she did not know because she was not in the car. McDonald also stated that Perez dropped Mrs. Smith off. When asked if anyone else was with Perez, McDonald responded in the negative. When asked why she placed Mrs. Smith in the trunk in the first place, McDonald responded that she did not know and that she was "tripping."

At a later reverse amenability hearing, the Court watched McDonald's videotaped interview with Det. Truitt. First McDonald stated that she thought the car belonged to Deniaya's grandmother. She then stated that she and Perez got a ride from Mrs. Smith at the Chicken Man convenience store in Milford. According to McDonald, Mrs. Smith gave them the keys upon request. She then stated that she did not know how they got the keys to the car that McDonald was driving. McDonald denied knowing Mrs. Smith was in the trunk, but then stated that Mrs. Smith wanted to be in trunk. Regarding the location of where Mrs. Smith was left, McDonald first stated that Mrs. Smith was dropped off on a dark back road. She then stated that she did not know where and when Mrs. Smith was abandoned because Perez performed that action alone. McDonald, however, admitted to leaving Mrs. Smith in the trunk of her car for two days.

Brewer's September 18, 2013 Testimony[8]

After being arrested, Brewer gave a statement to the police in which he claimed that he did not know that during this criminal episode the youths were driving a stolen car with its owner locked in the trunk. As part of his agreement with the State, Brewer testified at one of McDonald's subsequent reverse amenability hearings. At this hearing, he gave a much different account of events. The Court summarizes Brewer's testimony below because Brewer essentially provided a play-by-play account, albeit alleged, of what happened during the two days that Mrs. Smith was held captive by the defendants.

Brewer testified that he had known Harper all of his life. He had not met the girls, however, until a few days before his arrest. Brewer met them because they were driving around with Harper in a black car with a smashed back window. McDonald, who told Brewer the car was her mother's, was driving. That day, the girls gave Brewer a ride to Seaford and back, [9] with Harper staying behind.

After meeting Brewer, McDonald texted him stating that she wanted to hang out with him. McDonald also contacted Brewer on Facebook.[10] Brewer asked her how she would get to him, and, according to Brewer, McDonald said that she was going to get "her aunt's car."[11] The next day, the girls, with McDonald driving, went to pick up Brewer and then Harper. According to Brewer, they drove "[a] tan Mercury."[12]

Brewer stated that once all four youths were in the tan car, they went to a park in Coverdale. They then went to a Royal Farms, where the girls paid for gas, and then returned to the park.[13] The car's battery then died, apparently because it had been running all night. Harper and Brewer, who did not have a driver's license, left on foot to get his mother's car in order to jump start the tan car. Brewer stated that once the tan car died, he left to get his mother's car quickly because the girls rushed both he and Harper out of the car. Once he had his mother's car, Brewer drove it back to the park, having tried unsuccessfully to find someone in the area to render assistance. The tan car's battery could not be located under its hood; and according to Brewer, both girls told Harper and him not to check the back of the tan car. One girl then stated that her uncle would come and jump the car.[14]

Brewer and McDonald then got into Brewer's mother's car and had sex.[15]Perez and Harper were in the tan car. A little later, Harper came over to Brewer's mother's car and asked if he could use Brewer's cell phone to play some music. Brewer said no. Harper went back to the tan car. Harper then returned to Brewer's mother's car, telling Brewer that he had just heard someone in the trunk of the tan car. Brewer then got out of his mother's car. Harper popped open the trunk, and Brewer saw an old, African American woman awake in the trunk. According to Brewer, the girls told him that the woman was an alcoholic, and that they had paid her in liquor for use of her car.[16] The girls further told Brewer that the woman did not want to get into the backseat, and wanted to be placed in the trunk. Brewer stated that he was shocked to see this woman. He and Harper helped her climb out of the trunk. The woman stated that the car was hers. Harper and Brewer then put the woman back into the trunk.[17] The four then got into Brewer's mother's car and, with Brewer as the driver, drove to Brewer's grandmother's house. At this time, it was evening. They left the tan car and the woman inside, who was Mrs. Smith, behind.

At Brewer's grandmother's house, the four "sat there and chilled."[18] They stayed overnight, eventually noticing that it was almost daytime. Then, the four drove back to the tan car to see if they could jump start the car's battery. Harper helped Mrs. Smith out of the trunk in order to look for the battery. After discovering that the jumper cables would not work, Mrs. Smith got back in the trunk[19] and the four left again, back to Brewer's grandmother's house. At some point, they picked up Brewer's uncle in Brewer's mother's car and brought him to the tan car in order to jump start it, which he did.[20] Brewer, McDonald, and Brewer's uncle then drove Brewer's mother's car back to Brewer's house, with Harper and Perez following in the tan car. Brewer and McDonald then got into the tan car, with Brewer taking over as the driver. Harper produced a $100 dollar bill and said "Yo, she gave me a hundred dollars."[21] Brewer "asked him why she gave it. [Harper] said, '[s]he give it to me for the battery.' We left it at that."[22]

The four then drove to the Days Inn in Seaford. Because none of them had identification, they could not rent a room. Therefore, they went and picked up Harper's cousin, bringing him to the hotel in the tan car. Harper's cousin assisted them in attaining a room. McDonald and Perez paid for the room in cash. Harper's cousin was then transported back to his house. All this time, Mrs. Smith was still in the trunk of the car.

After the group settled into their hotel room, McDonald and Perez took the tan car to the Walmart to buy some clothes. Harper and Brewer stayed behind. Brewer fell asleep. The four then stayed in the room for a few hours, and then left to go to Coverdale. Harper and Brewer believed it was "crazy" that a woman was in the trunk of the car that they were driving; but at no time did either say to the girls that the the woman needed to be released.

The group went to Coverdale in order purchase marijuana, for which Harper paid in cash. In his testimony, Brewer affirmed that a fair amount of marijuana smoking occurred during this incident, including in the Days Inn hotel room. The group did not, however, consume any alcohol. At some point, the four made an additional trip to Coverdale to buy more marijuana. They were at the hotel all night.

After buying the marijuana, the four drove around, discussing what they should do with Mrs. Smith. According to Brewer, both girls discussed driving the car back to Milford and burning it with Mrs. Smith in the trunk.[23] Brewer and Harper disagreed with that plan. Harper then suggested leaving Mrs. Smith in the cemetery where his sister was buried. Brewer also knew of this cemetery, and knew it was rather isolated and not well lit at night. The road going into the cemetery is dirt, with trees around it.[24] At this point, it was roughly 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

The cemetery was oval-shaped, with a road going through the center, and a loop that came around. Brewer drove the car through the center road to the back of the cemetery. He remained inside the car while the other three hopped out and "helped" Mrs. Smith out of the trunk.[25] With all four back in the car, Brewer then drove down the loop to exit the cemetery. On the way out, Brewer saw, but could not hear Mrs. Smith.[26] He stated that she "was, like, there. I mean, she couldn't walk. You know what I mean? She was just, like, sitting there, laying there."[27] Mrs. Smith was left in the very back of the cemetery, away from the entrance. When asked how her cane, bag, and some clothes were left with her, Brewer answered "[t]hey probably threw it out."[28]

Brewer had a cell phone, but no one called 911 or anyone else. They also did not discuss taking Mrs. Smith to a different place. When asked why the cemetery was picked, Brewer answered "I guess they didn't want her to be found."[29]

The group then went back to the hotel room, spent the night, and checked out the next day, March 20, 2013. Then, at the girls' request, they went to a nail salon. Deniaya then joined the group.[30]

Throughout the time Mrs. Smith was in the car, Brewer never saw anyone give her food, water, or take her out to use the bathroom. Nor did he hear her in the trunk because loud music was playing in the car. At some point in the two days in which Mrs. Smith was in the trunk, the four ate food from a McDonald's restaurant. Around the time they ate this food, which was during the daytime, Brewer stated that "they" yelled from the interior of the car into the trunk, asking Mrs. Smith if she wanted food. Brewer clarified that the idea of offering Mrs. Smith food came up while the four were in the Days Inn hotel room. In the car, McDonald opened the backseat arm rest, which connected to the trunk, and through it, asked Mrs. Smith if she wanted anything to eat. Mrs. Smith was not offered an opportunity to use the bathroom, however. To the offer of food, Mrs. Smith replied that she wanted to go home.

Discussion Reverse Amenability

Juvenile crimes are usually a matter for the Family Court.[31] This Court, however, maintains original jurisdiction over a juvenile who commits specifically enumerated crimes.[32] But this Court's jurisdiction is not absolute.[33] Under 10 Del. C.§ 1011, ("Section 1011")[34] this Court may transfer the original jurisdiction it maintains over a juvenile offender to the Family Court if this Court finds such a transfer to be in the interests of justice.[35] Before making this transfer, the Court must conduct what is known as a "reverse amenability hearing, " in which it considers evidence of statutorily specified factors.[36] The Court may consider other relevant factors as well.[37] The purpose of this Court's determining a juvenile's amenability is to place a judicial check on the prosecutorial charging of juveniles.[38] Ultimately, though, "[s]ince a juvenile charged with a designated felony in the Superior Court has lost the benefit of ...

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