By David J. Bruno, Esq.
On February 28, 2017, I appeared on HLN’s Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield to provide legal analysis about a 14-year-old girl who called 911 after allegedly murdering her father. I also weighed in on an ex-wife who allegedly murdered her husband by ramming his vehicle with her vehicle and stabbing him in front of their children.
In the first story, a 14-year-old Ohio girl made a chilling 911 call telling a dispatcher she shot her elderly father and asked to send someone over to put her in handcuffs. The high school freshman was charged with aggravated murder in the shooting death of 71-year-old James Allen Ponder.
As discussed during the appearance, the next question for prosecutors is whether they should prosecute this juvenile as an adult. Under Ohio Law, the decision to prosecute her as an adult is not mandatory because she is only 14 years old. While not mandatory, the decision is discretionary and the prosecutors need to better understand the circumstances of the murder to make that decision. Did this juvenile have mental issues? Was she provoked? Is she a cold-blooded killer? These are important questions for prosecutors to answer and I can appreciate the importance of the investigation at this critical stage.
In the second story, a woman from Maine is charged with murdering her ex-husband after she allegedly flew into a rage after losing custody of their two children. Kandee Weyland was arrested on charges of murder and violating a protective order in the slaying of 42-year-old Scott Weyland. It has been reported that the children, ages 7 and 11, witnessed their mother stabbing their father to death.
Clearly, there is no disputing who the actor is. The defendant allegedly murdered the victim in front of their two children. Much like the previous case, a thorough investigation is critical to pin down motive and the circumstances of the killing. When I was a practicing homicide prosecutor, I’d always try to give our detectives guidance on asking the defendant questions about mental state. This is important to get out in front of possible defenses such as insanity, diminished capacity, self-defense, and passion provocation before the defendant has an opportunity to fabricate or malinger a defense. Often times, detectives will narrowly focus on obtaining a confession to the crime and lose sight of the real issues that may play out in the courtroom at the time of trial.