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Defense wants murder case in juvenile court

May 26, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- The defense for a 15-year-old girl accused of asking one of her friends to kill her father argued Tuesday that the girl's case should be handled in juvenile court, not in the adult system.

Danielle Black had been charged as a juvenile with solicitation of first-degree murder in connection with her father's death, but on Dec. 19, 2008, Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong filed an information charging her with the same crime as an adult.

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III is expected to make a ruling Thursday morning.

Black, who was being held in a juvenile facility in Rockville, Md., will be held at the Washington County Detention Center, the judge ordered Tuesday afternoon.

Conviction on a solicitation of first-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Billy Lee Black's body was found the morning of Oct. 31 in a pool of blood behind a house at 210 James St. in Hagerstown's West End.

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Alec Scott Eger, 20, of 15 Berner Ave., is charged with first-degree murder and felony murder in Black's death.

Danielle Black has a history of trying to kill herself on an overdose of prescription medication, and of cutting herself, according to a licensed clinical social worker who testified Tuesday for the defense.

Beate Zipperle, who is employed by the Office of the Public Defender, said she believes Danielle Black's case should be handled in juvenile court.

Five factors are weighed in determining whether a case should be handled in juvenile court or the adult system, defense attorney Mary Drawbaugh said during her opening statement. Drawbaugh is representing Black through the Office of the Public Defender.

The five factors weighed include the person's age, mental and physical condition, amenability to rehabilitative treatment offered in the juvenile system, the nature of the alleged offense and public safety, Drawbaugh said.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael argued that the defense's case was weak because the information they relied on was incomplete, as their experts failed to speak to school officials or Billy Black's wife, who lived with the girl for several years.

Helen Mency, who works for the Department of Juvenile Services, completed a court-ordered report on Danielle Black for the reverse-waiver hearing. She spoke with Danielle Black and her mother, Susan Black, for the report, Mency testified.

Susan Black stayed involved in her daughter's life, even though she didn't live with her, Mency testified.

Danielle Black's parents separated and divorced when she was 2, according to testimony.

At one point during Mency's testimony, Michael questioned her about some writings allegedly produced by Danielle Black.

At one point, she wrote to an unidentified person that "cops got called Thursday so my Dad wasn't taken care of," according to Michael.

Zipperle, the licensed clinical social worker, met with Danielle Black six times, she testified. Danielle has been successful while being held at the juvenile facility -- doing well in the school, not showing aggressive behavior and taking advantage of therapy, Zipperle said.

There are juvenile facilities in Maryland and outside the state that could effectively address Danielle Black's needs, she testified.

Having reviewed the writings, it appears that "Danielle was very troubled" and that a therapist would want to rule out the possibility of past sexual abuse, Zipperle said.

In December 2007, Danielle Black's mother discovered the girl was cutting herself and in February 2008, the girl overdosed by taking 40 prescription medication pills, Zipperle testified. Danielle Black told her the overdose was an accident, but she did not believe the girl, Zipperle said.

Zipperle was critical of Danielle Black's parents for not getting their daughter some sort of psychological help, even after it was recommended by an emergency room doctor who treated her after the overdose.

The state presented several witnesses, including a South Hagerstown High School vice principal.

Sherry Hamilton, who knows Danielle Black through the school, called her an "exceptional" student taking a full load of honors classes. In the month preceding Billy Black's death, however, and in the prior year, Danielle Black was often truant. Billy Black and his wife, Andrea, often worked with the school to try and help the girl, Hamilton testified.

Danielle Black's stepmother, Andrea Black, also testified.

While she and her stepdaughter had had a good relationship, "for some reason, her and her dad just didn't get along," she testified. The stepmother found the writings in Danielle Black's old room as they were moving her out following her father's death. She also found pictures on a memory card. The photographs, according to testimony, showed Danielle Black smoking, making gang signs and pictured with alcohol.

The attorneys will argue their cases before Boone makes his decision Thursday morning.

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