Teen who accidentally shot nephew sent back to juvenile prison
URBANA — An Urbana teen who accidentally shot and killed his toddler nephew more than a year ago is headed back to juvenile prison.
On Monday, Champaign County Judge Heidi Ladd called the 16-year-old boy "manipulative" and "out of control" and said it was time for him to take responsibility for his behavior.
The youth admitted in early September that he violated the probation he received for the May 16, 2012, involuntary manslaughter of Mekhi Woods, 3, by missing four appointments with his probation officer in the summer.
The toddler was at his home of East Pennsylvania Avenue when his uncle aimed the gun at him and fired, unaware it was loaded. He was arrested that day.
Another teen who admitted bringing the gun to the home, Dequan Fenderson, 18, of Champaign, was sentenced in January to 18 months in prison for unlawful possession of a weapon.
Ladd had initially sentenced the younger teen to juvenile prison in March, and because he did well there, she allowed him in June to come home to his mother while continuing to serve a sentence of probation.
However, when he failed to report to his probation officer in June, July or August, and even missed a court date, the state's attorney's office filed the petition to revoke his probation.
Assistant State's Attorney Matt Banach argued that the teen should return to juvenile prison, citing his poor behavior in the juvenile detention center and a threat as recently as Friday to harm another juvenile in custody.
The teen's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Katie Jessup, asked the judge to consider more probation, saying that he needs specialized trauma counseling, not just substance abuse help.
The teen's grandmother, with whom the boy lived for six years while his mother tried to recover from an abusive marriage, begged the judge to realize that her grandson is a good boy who is emotionally disturbed because of the death of his nephew. Mekhi was also frequently in her home and the teen "loved the child and the child loved him," she said.
"He's devastated by this loss and the whole family is devastated. It is really hard for him to heal from this," she said, adding that the family has tried to let the teen know what happened was an accident in the face of judgmental comments from his peers and others in the community.
"Yes, he's been acting up, but I don't know anyone (in similar circumstances) who wouldn't. He's filled with self-hatred," she told the judge.
When it was his turn to talk to the judge, the teen said he was mainly concerned about his education.
"I'm 16. I'm supposed to be a junior. I'm still a freshman. That makes me feel like an irresponsible adolescent," he said, adding he realized he "was lazy with my appointments" and guilty of stealing and fighting.
When Ladd began to detail his indiscretions, including threatening another youth at the detention center and missing opportunities at counseling, the teen began to mutter aloud, even as his mother and grandmother urged him to keep quiet.
"You're irritating me," he told the judge, who said the courtroom behavior was indicative of the teen's "disconnect" between what he's done and what he needs to do to get on the right track. She then ordered him removed from the courtroom while she finished her remarks.
Ladd applauded the teen's family for trying to help him but noted that what he's going through "is not a license to go out and behave like he has."
"There's only so much of a pass you can give him regardless of the tragedy that brought him here," Ladd said.
The teen can be held in the Department of Juvenile Justice until he is 21.