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Daughter of slain man to be tried as adult

May 28, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

o Click here to see a copy of the affadavit detailing probable cause against Danielle Black

A 15-year-old girl who prosecutors allege asked a friend to kill her father will be tried as an adult, a judge ordered Thursday.

Danielle Black's defense argued during a hearing Tuesday the case should be handled in the juvenile system, considering the five factors a judge must weigh in determining jurisdiction.

Black was being held Thursday at the Washington County Detention Center, a deputy there said.

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.

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Initially charging Black as a juvenile had been a mistake by the state's attorney's office, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael said Thursday morning.

The office initially had charged Black as a juvenile due to an "initial misreading of the statute" because the solicitation charge is an unusual crime, Michael said following the hearing.

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, 2008, in a pool of blood behind a house at 210 James St. in Hagerstown's West End.

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

Eger is not the person prosecutors allege Black asked to kill her father.

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 Tuesday.

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.

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III said Thursday morning he weighed all five factors. He called the decision a "close call."

Most of the criteria the judge must consider weighed in Black's favor, Drawbaugh had argued Thursday before the judge announced his decision.

At 15 and because of Black's small stature -- she is 5 feet 5 inches tall and about 130 pounds -- the juvenile system would be safer, Drawbaugh argued. The prosecutor countered that Black's size is average, even for an adult woman. The court would have a duty to protect an underdeveloped, puny, handicapped or infirm person, but Black is none of those, Michael said.

Michael referred to Black as an "exceptionally bright, manipulative child."

In considering Black's mental condition, the girl had significant mental health issues that went untreated, but which could be treated by the juvenile system, Drawbaugh said.

As far as Black's amenability to treatment, she has been held in a juvenile facility for five months without incident and is taking advantage of counseling there, Drawbaugh said.

Nobody can prove amenable to treatment until treatment is provided. Black's only track record in terms of treatment was when her father attempted to discipline her for skipping school and "we know what happened," Michael said.

"She can't create her own mental health condition and have that bear on this court," Michael said, referring to Billy Black's death.

In arguing the factor involving the nature of the crime, Drawbaugh also said that, while solicitation for murder is a very significant crime, the alleged crime occurred during a conversation between high school children on a school bus, according to the police report. The person Black was talking to wasn't even the person the state alleges killed Black, Drawbaugh said.

Michael countered it was not just schoolchildren talking on a bus because her friend's response was, "what's in it for me," he said. When she said "nothing," and he said he wouldn't, Black said she would get Alec Eger and another person to help her, Michael alleged in court.

In arguing against the defense's case -- and the burden was on the defense to show Black should be waived to criminal court -- Michael argued the defense's witnesses contradicted each other. He also criticized both defense witnesses for speaking only with Black and her biological mother in preparing their evaluations of the girl.

He also referred to licensed clinical social worker Beate Zipperle's testimony Tuesday that most adolescents should be tried in juvenile court because of the neurobiology differences between their brains and adult brains as "mumbo jumbo."

Boone said he had "agonized" over the decision.

In considering public safety, another of the factors he had to weigh, Boone said, "probably she would be a walking bomb if someone else were to cross her path."

Boone ordered Black be held at the Washington County Detention Center, and set a $200,000 fully secured bond for the girl.

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