There are thousands of children currently serving out life sentences without the possibility of parole. For most people, the disturbing reality of children serving hard-time in federal and state prisons might come as a surprise to many who never knew such a thing was a reality to begin with.
The Campaign for Youth Justice is dedicated entirely to "ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system" The majority of states allow children charged with any number of crimes to be tried as adults. Controversy and the criminal justice system might as well be synonyms considering how often the two terms are inevitably associated with one another. For each child that gets convicted of a crime there is a family, a network of people including friends, classmates, and neighborhood members, who must also endure the unfolding misery.
Perhaps being guilty of a committing a crime should be the only consideration when it comes to the resulting sentencing, yet it’s hard to overlook the seeming injustice of a life sentence being so much longer in the case of someone under the age of 18.
Some states, including Texas, are trying to pass legislation that would forbid children under the age of 18 being tried as adults, but with well over 40 states without such initiatives in place, the matter of kids in prison will almost certainly exist for the foreseeable future.
15 Teen Charged As Adult In Murder Of Grandfather
Back in February of this year, a 16-year-old was charged as an adult for a number of crimes, including murder. The victim, 72-year-old Kenneth Spalter, was shot down in a struggle, according to officers in St. Louis, Missouri.
Spalter had made a trip from his hometown of New York City to visit his grandchildren. Richard Donaldson, the 16-year-old suspect, has been held in a juvenile detention facility following his arrest.
Donaldson is being tried as an adult for a number of charges including second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of armed criminal action, stealing, leaving the scene of an accident, and resisting arrest.
The 72-year-old victim was a retired school psychologist who was on his way to celebrate the birth of a grandson. Police are still searching for the other suspect involved in the deadly carjacking.
14 10-Year-Old Murders 90-Year-Old
Number 8 on our list involves an age difference between perpetrator and victim of more than 79 years!
Just 4 years ago in 2014, Tristen Kurilla, 10 years old at the time, was arrested for the killing of a 90-year old woman. After being arrested for murdering the senior citizen after she apparently yelled and scolded him, the minor was held in adult jail for 2 months.
If someone at Kurilla’s age were actually tried as an adult for murder, it would be the first case of anyone under 12 years old being convicted of such a crime. The young boy's mother turned in her child to police barracks after he confessed his crime to her. He stated to police that he didn’t try to kill the victim but only sought to injure her.
In Kurilla’s grandfather’s care, the 90-year-old victim by the name of Helen Novak had been injured after the attack but refused to go to the hospital and eventually died of her injuries.
13 11 and 15-Year-Old Siblings Charged With Murder
Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter stated that "This is the stuff nightmares are made of” referring to what he called "really, really a sad case.”
Nicole Kornegay and Misty "Ariel" Kornegay are charged in the killing of their 16-year-old brother while their parents were out of the house. The youngest of all the siblings is a 3-year-old girl who was present during the murder. Both of the parents have been arrested on child neglect charges for leaving their children unsupervised during their trip out of the small town of White Springs.
According to police reports, the suspects left the scene after the murder of their 16-year-old brother. Due to being in Florida, a juvenile over the age of 14 may be prosecuted as an adult. In January of 2015, prosecutors had not yet decided on whether to try the eldest sibling in adult court.
Ultimately, the girls were not tried as adults in a decision that the presiding judge said was due to the extreme conditions they suffered, including being locked in a closet for up to 3 weeks.
12 2 Minors Tried As Adults In Fatal Stabbing
Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser were accused of stabbing a classmate in 2014. The victim as well a both suspects were all 12 at the time of the killing. The 2 girls who were arrested over 2 years ago are to be tried as adults for attempted 1st degree intentional homicide.
Since their arrest, however, the former classmates have had their charges dropped to less serious ones. According to the Journey Sentinal, much of the delay in the girls being given a court hearing was due to their defenses attempts to have their cases switched to juvenile court.
Both girls, who have been staying between juvenile detention centers and mental health institutions, have a $500,000 bond. Weier and Geyser are set to appear before a jury in September and October, respectively.
The girls, one of whom was diagnosed with schizophrenia since their arrest, claimed to have killed following concern for their safety and instructions from supernatural character "Slender Man."
11 16-Year-Old Denied Release
This month hasn’t been good at all for at least one juvenile being tried as an adult. Jamie Silvonek, who at only 14, was the youngest person to be tried as an adult for homicide in her county, found out last week that the decision to try her as an adult would not be overturned.
In the event that she would have been given a different ruling (when it comes to which court would decide her sentence), her release would have culminated before her turning 21 years old, as she would have been released the very same day.
This was certainly a horrible outcome for Silvonek, who was given the decision made by a 3 judge panel on August 9th. Their opinion states: "Our comprehensive review of the certified record in this matter confirms that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Silvonek’s motion to transfer to juvenile court.”
10 Detained In Adult Jail After Crime Spree
16-year-old Darius Higuera was arrested after being knocked-out by a baseball bat while running from police. According to reports, Higuera, a Las Vegas, Nevada resident, was on a crime spree that resulted in the following charges: Two counts of Burglary while in Possession of a Firearm, Attempted Burglary, Burglary while in Possession of a Gun, two counts of Home Invasion with a Deadly Weapon, Conspiracy to commit Burglary, and two counts of Grand Larceny with a Gun.
After being intercepted by police, who shot at Higuera when it appeared he was holding a long gun but missed, the suspect continued to run. Higuera’s escape was thwarted after he jumped into a fenced yard and got knocked-out by its bat yielding resident.
According to Las Vegas Metro police, the suspect is in Clark County Detention Center following his March 30th, 2017 arrest.
9 Charged For Murdering 2-Year-Old Brother
Cristian Fernendez was the youngest person ever charged as an adult for murder in Jacksonville, Florida. Fernendez was charged with the murder of his 2-year-old brother in 2011.
The mother of both children was held on charges of child neglect and was eligible for a 30 year prison sentence for manslaughter. As one would guess the debate over such a complex case ignited a firestorm of passion on many fronts. Controversy is sure to follow a case that had no precedent in its jurisdiction.
Despite the abuse the suspect had suffered his entire life, the crime he was accused of was no-less the tragedy that was the situation as a whole. Fernendez was sentenced to 7 years after being convicted of manslaughter and battery in a juvenile court. He will be on probation for 8 years once released to fulfill the agreement for the aggravated battery charge.
8 16-Year-Old Tried As Adult in Murder Case
In Adams County, Colorado, a 16-year-old was arrested for murdering another child earlier this summer. The prosecution had made it clear that trying the juvenile as an adult would be on the table and even pursued in this case.
A recent case of a young person acting alone in an act of murder against a fellow minor, the suspect has been condemned to the same fate as many others his age. There are many examples of children being tried as adults in Colorado, especially before the Supreme Court’s decision which took into consideration the development of children's brains.
“The heinousness of the crime is one thing that should be taken into account in deciding how to charge. But ultimately the Supreme Court said we can’t run after him with pitch forks. The Supreme Court has taken into consideration the fact that regardless of what he did, his brain is not fully developed,” said Defense Attorney David Beller.
7 15-Year-Old Californian Charged As Adult
For murdering an 8-year-old girl, 15-year-old Adrian Jerry Gonzalez is facing life in prison. Arrested back in July of 2015, Gonzalez plead not guilty to charges of rape, kidnapping, and murder.
The term "tried as an adult" implies that one was convicted, while being "charged" doesn’t imply an individual has yet been convicted. The turmoil of such a brutal crime will always create agony for the families of both victims and the accused, and when it comes kids being involved, communities at-large feel the impact.
As it would turn out, nearly a year after his arrest, Gonzalez and his defense team, who have been in the juvenile courts so far, are set to receive word as to whether he will face adult court and thusly a life sentence during a transfer hearing on Aug. 21st, 2017.
The 8 year old victim's name was Maddyson Middleton.
6 16-Year-Old Charged As Adult For Attempted Murder
Staffon Spencer, 16, was charged as an adult for the May 10th, 2017 murder attempt of a 19-year-old. According to Baltimore police, the incident occurred after Spencer and the victim had a fight that afternoon.
Spencer was arrested a day after the May 8th shooting by Warrant Apprehension officers. Since his arrest, the 16-year-old suspect has been held in Central Booking and according to reports is to be tried as an adult for attempted 1st degree murder.
The 19-year-old victim has not been named in this case. Spencer is of the 300 block of Town Green Way in Reistertown, MD, and the shooting took place in Upton, according to police.
5 Two 12-Year-Olds Accused Of Murder
Last year, two 12 year old boys were charged with the killing of Jose Angel Chegue Mendoza. While this case was dropped and both 12-year-old suspects acquitted, there was a significant chance that they would have been tried as adults had it not been for North Carolina’s law to limit ages for suspects tried as adults to 13 and up.
The two attorney’s for the boys, Jones Byrd and Kelly Gondring, expressed their sympathy for the Mendoza family in a statement to the Winston-Salem Journal. Byrd also acknowledged the tragic nature of the circumstance for the Mendoza family: "I can tell you that my heart goes out to the family,” Byrd said, referring to the Mendoza family. “No matter how we got to where we are now, it’s incredibly tragic for them. I’m sorry for their loss."
Yazlin Mendoza, sister of the victim, stated that the July 29th incident was fueled by previous fights.
4 13 and 14-Year-Old Murder Suspects Convicted
A 13 and 14-year-old girl were arrested in 2014 for the deadly beating of a 39-year-old woman in her suburban home on December 8th, 2014. Prior to the murder, police reports state that the two suspects were friends with the victim, Angela Wrightson. Wrightson had reportedly purchased food and alcohol for the minors before the murder.
In 2016, both girls were found guilty of 1st degree murder in the case. During the ominous conviction hearing, each of the two minors were in tears as the verdict was read. They had not plead guilty. The jury deliberation lasted 3 hour and 6 minutes after a more than 8 week trial at the Leeds crown court in Pennsylvania. The guilty verdict was reported by the BBC on April 5th, 2016. The victims family released a statement shortly after that stating: "Angie was attacked and brutally murdered in her own home, a place where we all have the right to feel safe."
3 The Infamous Menendez Brothers
Rounding out the top 3 cases of kids being tried as adults are the famous Menendez Brothers who are still in prison to this day for killing both of their parents in 1989. This case of a double murder by two brothers against their own super rich parents has garnered a well-spring of media attention. The brothers were convicted of murder in 1994.
A film titled Menendez: Blood Brothers aired on the Lifetime network in June of this year. According to IMDb, the film "explores the inner lives and motivation behind the murders of entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife Kitty at the hands of their sons Lyle and Erik in 1989.”
After 20 years behind bars, the Menendez Brothers are infamous killers whose most fateful act connects them together - for better or worse - for the rest of their lives.
2 Hate-Filled Murder: Adult Trial?
At number 2 is a case of a 16 and 17-year-old who were charged as adults in the brutal murder of a college student. The victim, Xinran Ji, was beaten to death by 4 teenagers including one woman and 3 males.
According to police reports, Ji was killed at his off-campus apartment after returning home on the night of July 23rd, 2014. Police found the victim beaten to death on the ground of his apartment on the morning of Thursday, July 24, 2014.
One of the two minors charged with the killing, Alejandra Guerrero, was ultimately convicted of murder in the 1st degree. The horrendous murder involved a baseball bat and a wrench.
Neither of the minors involved, however, will be eligible for the death penalty. This chilling murder is definitely deserving of the 2nd spot on our list. A premeditated and orchestrated killing, the victim was apparently targeted based on his race, and was robbed.
1 Youngest Case: Murderous Duo
The youngest children charged as adults were ages 12 and 13 when they were arrested for murder. Since the conviction, Catherine and Curtis Jones have led their lives in custody.
From Florida, the siblings were caught in circle after circle of hell (not even including the 100+ degree temperatures). Having struggled day to day, they had also been abused and claim to have been molested by a man visiting their house. The visitor wasn’t charged with rape due to a lack of evidence and the children, who showed signs of abuse, plotted to kill him. Instead, they ended up killing their father's girlfriend. The duo plead guilty to the murder.
At 30 and 29 years old, the sister and brother were released from prison in 2015.