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No decision made on teen's status in 2005 stabbing death

Boy charged in December slaying might be tried as adult

Boy charged in December slaying might be tried as adult

May 05, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

No decision was made Thursday about whether 15-year-old Irving Atillio Benitez should remain charged as an adult in connection with a December 2005 stabbing death in Hagerstown after more than four hours of Washington County Circuit Court testimony from witnesses who analyzed his juvenile history.

Benitez, of Frederick, Md., and Angel Teodoro Villatoro, 36, also of Frederick, are charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, among other charges, in Eliezer Rodriguez's Dec. 10, 2005, stabbing death. Rodriguez, 22, was stabbed in the chest and abdomen during a fight in the 100 block of West North Avenue about 1 a.m., charging documents state.

Circuit Judge John H. McDowell called attorneys for both sides to a jury room after more than four hours of testimony from three witnesses - a psychologist and social worker for the defense and a Maryland Department of Juvenile Services caseworker for the prosecution - who testified about whether they believed Benitez, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, would better benefit from rehabilitation through the juvenile system if found guilty.

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After about 15 minutes in the jury room, the group returned to the courtroom. McDowell announced he would adjourn the Thursday hearing and "see if plea discussions" resolve the case.

According to court records, Benitez and Villatoro are scheduled to go to trial July 17 on the charges.

Under Maryland statute, since Benitez was 14 at the time he was charged with first-degree murder - a charge that carries a possible life sentence - he automatically was charged as an adult. Juveniles who are 14 or 15 and charged with such an offense have the opportunity to have a hearing to decide whether their case should be transferred to juvenile jurisdiction.

Robert Ehrhardt, a social worker in juvenile client services for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, testified for the defense that Benitez could be placed through juvenile services at a secured residential treatment program in Minnesota or Iowa, since no such facility exists in Maryland after the closure of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School last year.

Kevin Hoefs, a juvenile services caseworker, testified for the prosecution that the out-of-state placements are under contract with Maryland and have not only the discretion to take Benitez, but also the discretion - if behavioral problems arise - to release him from either facility before his 21st birthday, which he testified was concerning considering the seriousness of the offense.

"We only have 5 1/2 years to work with him," he testified.

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