A 17-year-old charged with killing an Egg Harbor Township teen last month is free on an ankle bracelet, BreakingAC has confirmed.
But officials have been quiet about the move since it happened weeks ago, muted by the restraints of the juvenile system.
Minors charged with crimes — even violent ones — are protected under the law. Officials are not allowed to comment, regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Only if they are successfully waived up to adult court does anything become public.
In this case, the teen is charged with aggravated manslaughter in the Jan. 27 killing of Alejandro Gonzalez-Santos Jr., and was taken to the Harborfields Juvenile Detention Center in Egg Harbor City. That much was released to the public.
What happened next remains within the confines of the Atlantic County Superior Court’s Family Division.
“The prosecutor cannot comment on any matters within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court-Chancery Division, Family Part,” said Donna Weaver, spokeswoman for Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner.
Under the law, Tyner has 60 days from the arrest to file a waiver to have the juvenile tried as an adult. Tyner would not comment on whether he plans to do that by, in this case, March 27.
“You’ll have enough information within those 60 days to begin an adequate defense and start your own investigation,” said defense attorney Joseph Swift, who successfully fought the waiver of an Atlantic City teen charged with murder in 2014.
Jerome Ford was just 14 when he killed 13-year-old Angel Mercado-Santiago as the victim walked home from Pennsylvania Avenue School.
Swift was able to keep the case in the juvenile court, although Ford’s name was released when a reporter obtained a law enforcement-only flier seeking the teen for the crime.
Ford is serving a sentence in the New Jersey Training School for Boys.
Even when juvenile offenders are waived up, they still will serve their have some additional protections under changes to the Juvenile Waiver Law put in place in 2016.
Many in the public learned that with the case of Michael Huggins.
He was among four inmates who escaped from Harborfields in November. He was being held there even though he was charged as an adult in the Oct. 7, 2016, killing of 21-year-old Davonte Lee in Bridgeton.
Huggins was 17 at the time of the killing, and no motion was made to move him to another facility. That information did not become public until his escape.
Since the escape was made after he turned 18, Huggins is now in the Atlantic County Justice Facility on those charges, which include possession of a weapon.
Isaiah Newsome was 17 when he allegedly killed Dr. Steven Davion Garrett, also 17, in Pleasantville, on Aug. 7, 2015. He has since been waived up to adult court, and was indicted for murder in May. He remains at Harborfields.
Teen accused of murder now charged as adult – BreakingAC
A Sicklerville man who was 17 when he allegedly shot and killed a teen last year in Pleasantville has been waived up to adult court. Isaiah Newsome was 17 when he allegedly shot Dr. Steven Davion Garrett, 17, in Pleasantville. Garrett’s body was found in Max Manning Park at about 12:50 p.m. Aug. 7, 2015. … Read more
Under the new law, even a minor convicted in adult court will serve the sentence in a juvenile facility without a successful motion to have the defendant sent to prison.
The juvenile system is meant to rehabilitate rather than punish, experts say.
“I do think it’s fair because, again, the focus is to help the juvenile get some proper training, schooling and education to come out a better persona and learn from their mistakes,” Swift said.
He also noted that, while the information is sealed, victims or surviving family members are kept informed.
“They’re notified and they are welcome to attend every court hearing,” Swift said.
Meanwhile, the status of Gonzalez-Santos’ killer remains confidential, even if where he is being kept has changed.
Assignment Judge Julio Mendez, who oversees the Atlantic and Cape May county superior courts did not return calls seeking comment.
“How a juvenile is charged, waived and released pre-dispositionally is not something that the (Juvenile Justice Commission) can comment on,” said spokeswoman Sharon Lauchaire. “Those areas fall with the prosecutor and the judge/court.”
There are cases when the public is told of juvenile offenders, including the release of the names and pictures of all four teens who escaped from Harborfields last year.
(NOTE: This story was first published Feb. 24, 2017. It has been updated to reflect confirmation of the teen’s release.)
EHT teen indicted in fatal shooting of 16-year-old friend
EHT teen indicted in fatal shooting of 16-year-old friend – BreakingAC
A teenager waived up to adult court in the fatal shooting of his friend inside an Egg Harbor Township home has been indicted. Ernesto Contreras Jimenez, now 18, was indicted on charges of aggravated manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner announced … Read more