School officials say a teenage girl accused of kidnapping an elderly woman was disciplined regularly for bad behavior and exhibited signs of depression.
Jackeline Perez, 15, is set to be tried as an adult for kidnapping 89-year-old Margaret Smith and locking her in the trunk of her own car for two days without food or water. Smith was found wandering in a cemetery March 20.
Three other defendants were also charged in the case – Junia McDonald, 14; Rondaiges Harper, 18; and Phillip Brewer, 17. Brewer pleaded guilty, Sept. 5, and agreed to testify against his co-defendants.
A reverse amenability hearing was held for Jackeline the same day to determine whether to keep her case in Sussex County Superior Court or move the case to Family Court, where it would be closed to the public.
Jackeline was present but did not speak during the hearing.
Jackeline’s attorney, Vincent Vickers, said Jackeline’s mother, Mercedes Herrera, speaks only Spanish and was difficult for school counselors and police to contact.
Garcia Walker, dean of students at Milford Central Academy – where Jackeline attended middle school – said Jackeline was disciplined for vandalism, stealing and possession of marijuana.
Walker said a student typically has 30 demerits before they are put on probation; Jackeline had 100. Jackeline was suspended from school at the time of Smith’s kidnapping, he said.
Vickers noted Jackeline was two grades behind for her age – she repeated 3rd grade because she had recently come to the United States from Mexico and was not yet fluent in English. Vickers said she repeated 7th grade for behavior problems.
Barry Connors, principal at Scope Alternative School in Bridgeville, testified Jackeline attended Scope from January 2012 to January 2013. Connors said Jackeline was regularly in trouble for bad behavior.
Jackeline’s social worker at Scope, Sandra Elder, testified Jackeline showed symptoms of depression and drug abuse. She said Jackeline told her she used marijuana daily and alcohol occasionally.
School counselor recommends outside help
Elder said she recommended family counseling for Jackeline and referred her to a professional psychologist, who was willing to work with Jackeline free of charge.
Elder said Jackeline’s mother was difficult to contact and never followed through with outside counseling. “I wanted to help her,” Elder said. “I felt she needed more intensive counseling than what we could provide at school.”
“If you had asked me if I would be sitting here, in this situation, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Elder said.
The results of a teen mental illness screening for Jackeline showed, “frustration, low self-esteem and feeling that no one cared about her,” Elder said.
Vickers asked if Elder had a low opinion of Jackeline’s mother.
“Definitely,” Elder said. She said she spoke with Jackeline’s mother twice; both times a family friend translated the conversation between Elder and Herrera.
“Getting Ms. Herrera in there was just an ordeal,” Elder said. She said she sometimes sensed Herrera understood her, but was dishonest about her English-speaking abilities.
Elder said she also sensed Herrera was afraid of Jackeline. “There would be periods where she could do well and periods where she was out of control,” Elder said.
Milford resident Tonia Mosley took the stand and said Jackeline used to live in her neighborhood and was friends with her daughter. Mosley said after the girls ended the friendship, Jackeline would harass her daughter. “There was times when she’d come up to my house with multiple people and try to fight my daughter,” Mosley testified.
Mosley said she never met Jackeline’s mother.
Milford Police Officer Joey Melvin, who is also a school resource officer for Milford Central Academy, said Jackeline was regularly sent to the disciplinary office. “She didn’t communicate much,” he said. “Never seemed remorseful of things she did.”
“She would just listen enough so I could leave,” Melvin testified.
Delaware State Police Cpl. Brian Thomson testified Emna Vasquez – an acquaintance of Jackeline and her mother – reported a stolen car to Troop 7 in Lewes on Feb. 26. Vasquez had attended a party Feb. 24 in Milford when her green Honda Accord was stolen from outside, Thomson said.
Vasquez had left her keys on a shelf in the bathroom of the house; Jackeline and Junia had both also attended the party, Thomson said.
Thomson also testified Jackeline’s mother gave Vasquez $500 cash to pay for the towing and storage bill for the car.
Thomson said an arrest warrant was issued for Jackeline for the theft of Vasquez’s car, May 7. Vickers said by then, Jackeline was already in jail for charges related to Smith’s kidnapping.
Judge Richard F. Stokes asked if the car was ever found and returned to Vasquez.
Prosecutor Melanie Withers said, “To this day, it’s never been recovered, your honor.”
Milford Police Officer Theresa Bloodsworth testified a dark blue Honda was stolen March 15 from a parking lot in Milford. Bloodsworth said the back window of the vehicle had been smashed out with a rat trap.
Delaware State Trooper Lloyd McCann said the blue Honda was spotted by police and the five individuals in the car were taken to Milford Police Department, including the four defendants in the kidnapping case and 20-year-old Jermane Roberts.
At a July 18 facts and circumstances hearing, Trooper Patrick Schlimer said he pulled over five teens on March 20 in Smith’s Buick LaSabre – the four defendants and Deniaya Smith, 15, of Bridgeville.
Stokes said testimony in the hearing would continue Wednesday, Oct. 2. A reverse amenability hearing for Junia is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 18.