A teenage boy says he was joyriding in a stolen car with its elderly owner in the trunk when two teen girls proposed burning the car with the woman still locked inside.
Phillip Brewer, 17, took the stand during a reverse amenability hearing for Junia McDonald, 14, at Sussex County Superior Courthouse in Georgetown. Phillip and Junia were arrested in March, along with Jackeline Perez, 15, and Rondaiges Harper, 18, for the kidnapping of Margaret Smith, 89.
Police say Junia and Jackeline hitched a ride with Smith from the Chicken Man gas station in Milford, but then forced Smith into the trunk of her tan Buick LaSabre and left her there for two days without food or water.
Police say with Smith in the trunk, the girls picked up Phillip and Harper, and the four teens spent the night in a hotel, later dumping Smith in a secluded graveyard.
Phillip pleaded guilty to second-degree carjacking, second-degree kidnapping and second-degree conspiracy Sept. 5. His sentence was deferred pending his cooperation with the state during hearings and trials for the other three defendants.
Junia’s Sept. 18 hearing was scheduled to determine whether her case should remain in Superior Court – where she will be tried and sentenced as an adult – or moved to Sussex County Family Court – where she would be tried and sentenced as a minor. During the hearing, Phillip, who is incarcerated at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution – an adult facility in Wilmington – testified about the kidnapping.
He said he met Junia and Jackeline less than one week before his March 20 arrest through Harper, who had been his friend all his life. Phillip said he and Harper lived in Coverdale Crossroads, an unincorporated community west of Georgetown.
Phillip said he met Junia and Jackeline when they were riding through Coverdale with Harper in a car with a smashed back window. The girls gave Phillip a ride to Seaford and back.
“We were supposed to go to a party, but we didn’t go that night, so they hit me up the next day,” he said. Phillip said Junia contacted him through Facebook and asked if he would like to meet again. “She came the next day. She picked me up,” he testified.
Phillip said Junia drove to Coverdale with Jackeline in a different car, a tan one, which she said belonged to her aunt. The girls picked up Phillip and Harper and all four teens went to a community park in Coverdale, where Phillip said they were “just chilling,” with the radio turned up loud until the car battery died.
“The car went dead,” Phillip testified. He said he and Harper walked to Phillip’s mother’s house, where the boys got in her car and drove it back to the park, hoping to use it to jump the tan car.
“They couldn’t find the battery in the front,” Phillip said. He said he and Harper tried to look in the trunk of the car for the battery, but Junia and Jackeline refused to pop the trunk.
Then, Jackeline and Harper stayed in the tan car while Junia and Phillip got into Phillip’s mother’s car, where they had sex, Phillip testified.
After a time, Harper went over to Phillip and said, “Yo, there’s somebody in the trunk,” Phillip testified.
Phillip said Junia and Jackeline then popped the trunk, where he saw an elderly dark-skinned woman. “She was like, ‘This is my car,’” he said. “I was shocked.”
Phillip said he and Harper helped the woman out of the trunk; Junia and Jackeline told him they traded the woman liquor in exchange for the use of her car, and that she was in the trunk because she did not want to sit in the backseat. “They didn’t say they put her in the trunk; they said she got in the trunk,” Phillip testified.
Phillip said he and Harper then put Smith back into the trunk. “She didn’t refuse or nothing. She got in the trunk,” he said. When prosecutor Melanie Withers asked him why the boys put Smith back in the trunk, Phillip said, “I don’t know.”
During his testimony, Phillip leaned back in his chair and frequently mumbled. Withers and Judge Richard F. Stokes repeatedly asked Phillip to sit up and speak into the microphone.
Phillip said the four teens left the tan car at the park with the woman locked inside while they all got into his mother’s car and drove to his grandmother’s house, where they had internet access, and stayed overnight.
The four teens went back to the park in the early morning hours, and Harper again helped Smith out of the trunk so he could look for the car battery, but he could not find it, Phillip said. “Ms. Smith, I guess she got back in the trunk,” he said.
Eventually, Phillip said, his uncle came and jumped the car; no one told the uncle Smith was in the trunk.
Phillip said he then returned his mother’s car and drove the tan car to a hotel. He said Harper pulled out a $100 bill and told Phillip that Smith had given him money for the car battery.
The teens tried to rent a hotel room, but none had identification, so then picked up Harper’s cousin, who rented a room for them at Days Inn in Seaford, Phillip said. Junia and Jackeline paid for the room in cash, he said.
Phillip said he fell asleep in the hotel room. “Jackie and Junia went to Walmart to get some clothes,” he said.
After the girls returned, all four teens got back in the car – with Smith still in the trunk – and drove back to Coverdale. “We were going to go grab some weed,” Phillip testified.
Harper paid for the marijuana in cash; he bought three or four nickel bags – about 0.5 grams each, Phillip said.
The four teens smoked six or seven blunts during the two-day excursion, Phillip said.
Phillip said they did not drink alcohol. At some point, they drove to McDonald’s to buy food. Junia yelled to Smith through the armrest in the backseat, which opened into the trunk, asking her if she was hungry, Phillip testified.
“She said she wanted to go home,” he said.
Phillip: They didn’t want her to be found
As they were driving, a conversation began about what to do with Smith. Phillip said Junia and Jackeline proposed burning the car with Smith inside. “They was like, ‘We should burn her, burn the car,’” Phillip testified. “They was going to go back to Milford and burn the car with her in it.”
“I was like, ‘No,’ and Rondaiges agreed with me,” he testified.
“I wasn’t burning a car,” Phillip said. “I just wasn’t doing that.”
“That’s when we were going past the graveyard,” he said. The teens drove past Calvary Lane, a dirt road four miles east of Seaford. Harper said they should leave Smith at the cemetery at the end of the road, Phillip testified. He said Harper knew about the cemetery because his sister is buried there.
“I was against it at first,” Phillip said. He said he drove past Calvary Lane, but the other three teens coaxed him to turn around. “So I pulled in,” he said.
“Junia, Jackie, Rondaiges hopped out of the car,” Phillip said. He said he remained in the driver’s seat while the others took Smith out of the trunk and put her on the ground. “She looked like she couldn’t walk,” Phillip testified. “She was just laying there.”
Phillip also said he heard Smith crying.
“You heard her say she can’t walk?” Stokes asked.
“Yes,” Phillip said. “She wasn’t hysterical; I’d say she was whining.”
Withers asked Phillip why the teens chose to drop Smith off at a secluded graveyard.
“That’s just what they picked,” he said. “I guess they didn’t want her to be found.”
Phillip said the teens then went back to the hotel, and they checked out the next day. Junia and Jackeline then got their nails done in Seaford, and all four teens drove to Coverdale where they picked up 15-year-old Deniaya Smith, he said.
On the way to get gas from Royal Farms, the teens were stopped by police, Phillip testified. “That’s when the cop stopped us, at the light,” he said.
Doctor: Juveniles fed off each other
Susan Rushing, a psychiatrist a University of Pennsylvania was called by the defense to advocate moving Junia’s case to family court. Rushing said the crime was heinous, but the behavior of the four defendants was characteristic of teenagers. “Adolescents are particularly influenced by peers,” she said. “Children will feed off each other on a one-on-one basis.”
Rushing said the areas of the brain that govern primitive drives, such as sleep, food and sex, are fully developed in teenagers, but the areas that govern judgment often are not fully developed until the person is 18 to 25 years old.
“The motivators and drivers here were incredibly juvenile,” Rushing said. “Some of the things that drove this crime to happen aren’t the case with most adults.”
Rushing said Junia wanted to see her boyfriend and did not fully understand the danger she caused Smith. “The goal when they started out was get a car, get to the boyfriend,” she said. “Ms. Smith won’t hand over her keys, and they still want to get to see the boyfriend.”
Rushing said she interviewed Junia for three hours in July, and Junia told her she had been heavily intoxicated at the time of the crime. “I do think a fair amount of it is impulsive,” she said. “I think the intoxication piece is important too.”
Junia’s father was an addict who physically abused her mother in Junia’s presence, Rushing said. Junia’s father died when she was 12, and her mother moved the family to Milford, where Junia started hanging out with a new group of friends, Rushing said.
Junia was introduced to alcohol and became a heavy marijuana user, Rushing said. “Not just smoking a joint, but smoking much of the day,” Rushing said. “She many times did not attend school.”
Junia’s mother worked nights and never followed through with recommendations that Junia attend counseling, Rushing said. “A 14-year-old can’t make these things happen for herself,” Rushing said. “I saw so many times where counseling was recommended,” she testified.
“She completely lacked adult supervision,” Rushing said.
Rushing said she screened Junia for mood disorders, such as depression and found none. Junia does show signs of untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Rushing testified. “She’s needing to be constantly refocused,” she said.
Rushing said untreated ADHD often affects a person’s mental maturity. “Junia’s incredibly immature, even for a 14-year-old,” she said.
“On my assessment, she wasn’t at a point where I would recommend her being released to society,” Rushing said.
Rushing said Junia is competent enough to proceed with the trial, but she does not appear to understand the penalties she faces if she were tried as an adult. “Her insight and judgment were poor,” Rushing said.
Rushing said she would not recommend putting Junia in a facility surrounded by adults where she would be exposed to physical and sexual abuse. “You’re not going to have a fully-developed brain at age 14,” she said.
Junia’s hearing was scheduled to continue Sept. 19. Stokes said he would rule on reverse amenability hearings for Junia, Jackeline and Harper after they were all complete.