Jean Sanchez, who was 13 when he was accused of sexually assaulting and killing another 13-year-old boy last May in Buffalo’s Black Rock neighborhood, has lost his bid to get his murder case thrown out of adult court.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio on Wednesday rejected motions by defense attorney Paul G. Dell to transfer the case to Family Court and to overturn the state laws that allow the prosecution of 13-year-old juvenile offenders in adult court on murder charges.
The judge said that transferring the case to Family Court is neiSther warranted nor appropriate.
“The court does not subscribe to the notion that all juvenile offenders, without exception and in every instance, must be prosecuted in criminal court,” she said.
“To be sure, there are instances where removal to Family Court is the only appropriate course, and the best interest of the juvenile offender would be well served by such removal. Such is not the case here.”
The judge said Sanchez has “repeatedly engaged in acts of violence and aggression” at the East Ferry Detention Center where he has been held since his arrest in the May 2 death of Ameer Al-Shammari.
She said he assaulted another resident at the center while they were watching television and that the center’s staff found a piece of metal hidden in his clothing that appeared to be “shaped like a key to release handcuffs.” She said they also found a broken toothbrush, sharpened to function like a “shank,” hidden in a hole in his mattress.
The judge rejected the defense motion challenging the constitutionality of the state’s juvenile offender laws.
The defense contended the laws violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions by treating 13-year-old murder defendants differently than 13-year-olds who commit non-serious offenses.
DiTullio said the state appellate courts have ruled that the difference in treatment of juvenile offenders and juvenile delinquents does not violate the due process and equal protection clauses.
She also dismissed the defense contention “that increased knowledge of the adolescent brain compels a finding of unconstitutionality.”
Dell cited scientific research that he said shows that the brains of 13-year-olds are not sufficiently developed to control impulses and make judgments about the consequences of their actions.
DiTullio scheduled a hearing for June 2 on whether the defendant’s statements to police were voluntarily given and can be used at trial. No trial date has been set.
Sanchez, who is now 14, has been charged as a juvenile offender with second-degree murder, first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree criminal sexual act.
The defendant, a native of Puerto Rico, is accused of sexually attacking Ameer, an Iraqi immigrant who lived on Peter Street, while strangling him in a field off Amherst Street.
He also is charged with misdemeanor petit larceny for allegedly stealing Ameer’s cellphone earlier that day.
Because of his age, Sanchez could face a minimum prison sentence of five years to life and a maximum of nine years to life, instead of a minimum of 15 to life and a maximum of 25 to life for an adult.
If the case had been transferred to Family Court, he would have been placed in a secure facility if convicted and could have been released at age 21.
In refusing to transfer the case to Family Court, DiTullio cited the opposition to the move from District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and Ameer’s family.
The judge noted that in his sworn statement to police May 6, Sanchez admitted that he stole Ameer’s cellphone and that when Ameer came to his house demanding that he return it, he persuaded him to accompany him to a park.
He said he led Ameer to a nearby field, where he hit him, then sodomized him while strangling him. Afterward, he told police, he threw away the victim’s phone because he “knew it could be tracked,” then went home, watched TV and fell asleep. He later went to his uncle’s house and ate pizza.
In her decision, DiTullio noted the importance of trying the case in adult court, where it will be open to the public, unlike Family Court, where prosecutors said the case “would be shrouded in secrecy.”