District attorney’s office defends decision to charge teen as adult
October 31, 2005
Some supporters of the effort to recall District Attorney Colleen Truden say her decision to charge a 14-year-old with first-degree murder is a political move to prove she is tough on crime. Assistant District Attorney Vince Felletter believes the move is in the interest of seeing justice done.Eric Stoneman is charged with shooting and killing 9-year-old Taylor DeMarco on July 20 at a home in Battlement Mesa. If convicted of first-degree murder, Stoneman would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.There are those who believe Stoneman’s case does not warrant such a serious charge.The Pendulum Foundation, which advocates for juvenile offenders, believes justice is not being served by charging Stoneman as an adult.”We believe it was an accident of kids playing with guns,” said Mary Ellen Johnson, executive director of the foundation. “I think this child should be in juvenile court and not have to face life in prison.”Johnson said Truden has a political motive for charging Stoneman as an adult.”I believe there is a political bent to this prosecution from a DA who wants to appear tough on crime rather than focus on her own problems when her own office is in disarray,” Johnson said.Felletter said that is far from the truth.”I recognize in the Stoneman case, as in every other case we prosecute, there is the need for justice to be done,” he said. The media and recall supporters have “portrayed Colleen and I as having a knee-jerk reaction. They say we want to put [him] in prison for the rest of his life.” But Felletter maintains the case was carefully analyzed before arriving at a decision to charge the boy with first-degree murder. Before coming to the 9th Judicial District, Felletter worked as a felony prosecutor in the Mesa County district attorney’s office for 11 years and handled a number of murder cases with former District Attorney Frank Daniels.Colorado law allows anyone 14 and older who is accused of a violent crime to be charged as an adult.Although he would not speak directly about the Stoneman case, Felletter said it is the obligation of the prosecutor’s office to follow the law.”The Legislature has said a juvenile can be charged as an adult because the crime is so serious or their record is so serious they should be charged as an adult,” he said.Felletter pointed out that such an adult charge carries a range of options for a plea bargain.”Accusing anyone, juvenile or adult, is the most serious charge that can be brought against [an offender]. … It is tragic for everyone concerned. But is it appropriate? Yes, it is,” Felletter said. In the Stoneman case the seriousness of the crime “certainly was a factor” in his being charged as an adult.The majority of felony cases that come across the district attorney’s desk are resolved without going to trial, and in many cases the offender agrees to plead guilty with a reduced charge, he said.”In deciding to charge any juvenile as an adult [there is a] whole range of adult possibilities open,” Felletter said, including “prison, probation and anything in between.”Also important to the district attorney, he said, is the fact that an adult conviction stays on a person’s record for the rest of his or her life, while “a juvenile charge can be cleared and sealed so there is no record.”A judge can also consider a range of sentencing options in a plea-bargain situation. For example, a juvenile can be convicted as an adult and serve time in a youth offender facility, Felletter said.Stoneman is due back in court on Thursday.