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Helmsburg murder
 
At 13, suspect causes juvenile, adult dilemma
Published on: 04.13.09

Last year, Blade Reed attended elementary school.

Now, at age 13, he spends his days at Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center, accused of murder.

In the early morning of Nov. 15, Blade Reed and his brother, Bennie, 17, rode their bicycles for less than a mile from their rural northwestern Brown County home to 8406 Lick Creek Road to steal alcohol, according to court documents.

Before morning broke, one of the home’s occupants, Richard “Dude” Voland, an 84-year-old Eli Lilly retiree, was dead from a gunshot wound to the head.

His wife, 77-year-old Mary Voland, had been shot in the abdomen, and her neck had been cut with a knife — but she was still alive.

Shortly after 5 a.m., Mary ran out the back door to the nearby home of her sister-in-law, Mary Jane Richards, who called 911.

Authorities allege that Bennie fired both shots, and that Blade cut Mary Voland’s neck.

Both have been charged with murdering Richard Voland and with attempting to murder Mary Voland.

Bennie’s case will be handled in adult court, because Indiana law requires that anyone older than 16 and charged with serious offenses, such as rape, kidnapping and murder, be charged as an adult.

But Blade’s case is causing some consternation among those involved in the justice system: What to do with a 13-year-old who is accused of murder and attempted murder?

Judge’s dilemma

In Indiana, the burden of proof as to whether a juvenile should be tried in juvenile or adult court rests sometimes with the prosecution — but also sometimes with the defense, depending on the offender’s age, the crime and other circumstances.

Sometimes the prosecutor has to prove, among other things, that “the child is beyond rehabilitation under the juvenile justice system.”

In other cases, the defense has to prove that “it would be in the best interests of the child and of the safety and welfare of the community for the child to remain within the juvenile justice system.”

In Blade’s case, the burden rests with the defense because of the charges’ severity.

Blade’s attorney, Jim Roberts of Nashville said that Blade’s case should be handled in juvenile court because it is in his best interest and because nothing in his history says that he poses a danger to society.

Brown County Prosecutor Jim Oliver said Reed should serve time in an adult prison because the penalties in the juvenile justice system are insufficient for the severity of the crime.

If Blade is found guilty he could:

Serve less than a year if the case remains in juvenile court. Though the judge could impose a longer sentence if the case remains in juvenile court, Blade would be released no later than his 18th birthday.

Face a sentence of at least 45 years in prison if the case remains in adult court.

“I don’t like either of the options here,” Brown Circuit Court Judge Judith Stewart said at a recent court hearing after she had listened to both sides.

Blade quietly sat next to Roberts during the hearing, often looking on the floor. He wore black slacks and shoes, a blue-grey camouflage jacket, a white shirt and a tie with diagonal blue and white stripes.

He wore thin metal-frame glasses. He had short, brown hair.

Roberts and Oliver agree on at least one thing: Blade’s case is unusual.

Oliver said in his 16 years prosecuting cases, he had never before charged a 13-year-old with murder.

Roberts said he has not handled a case like this in his 41 years in criminal law.

“This is probably the most difficult case the judge, the prosecutor and (I) will have participated in in our careers,” Roberts said.

Oliver said, “It’s a huge decision for the court, and it’s a tough decision.

“My decision to seek a waiver (to adult court) was not terribly difficult when I considered the crime,” he said.

Balance

Oliver said that in his career he did not recall a juvenile having committed a serious offense without any prior contact with juvenile probation.

Typically, when Oliver determines whether he wants to try to have a juvenile waived to adult court, he pays particular attention to community safety and the crime’s severity.

He said he looks at the juvenile’s prior involvement with the system, whether rehabilitation attempts have worked, whether the juvenile complied with the prescribed rehabilitation and whether other programs have not yet been tried.

In cases in which the prosecution carries the burden of proving that a juvenile is beyond rehabilitation, Oliver said he can think of few situations in which he would seek to have a juvenile offender waived to adult court if that offender has not had any prior contact with juvenile probation.

During the recent waiver hearing, Donna Bishop, professor at Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice, testified that juveniles whose cases remain in the juvenile system are less likely to commit crimes upon their release than juveniles whose cases are waived to adult court.

Bishop said that recidivism rates fell further if the juvenile was especially young and had not previously been in trouble with the law.

Oliver said that Bishop’s testimony does not change Indiana law, which says that the juvenile court “shall waive” Blade’s case “unless it would be in the best interests of the child and of the safety and welfare of the community for the child to remain within the juvenile justice system.”

If Bishop wants to change Indiana law, she should talk to the Legislature, Oliver said.

Roberts said that the Legislature typically reacts to shocking cases by taking away judges’ discretion, which he believes is a mistake.

The Legislature should not make blanket requirements in juvenile cases, he said.

Some 14-year-olds have a mental age of 19, while other 14-year-olds have a mental age of 12, Roberts said. Adolescents’ mental age is not consistent with calendar age.

“Every case is different,” he said.

When legislators enact inflexible rules, it shows that they look at the world through black-and-white lenses, Roberts said.

“But it’s a Technicolor world.”

Twist

In Blade’s case, the law may be even less flexible than Brown County officials initially thought.

Oliver said that the judge is researching whether the law requires that Blade be charged as an adult for the robbery and murder charges — and as a juvenile for the attempted murder charge.

“It’s an odd twist in the law,” Oliver said.

Stewart has ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Blade. A decision on the waiver is not expected until May.

Members of the Voland and Reed families declined to be interviewed.


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