State officials say Delaware has no place to house two teenage girls charged with kidnapping if their cases are moved to Family Court and they are convicted. One of the girls will be deported back to Mexico if she is found guilty in Superior Court, an immigration attorney says.
Four teens – Jackeline Perez, 16; Junia McDonald, 14; Rondaiges Harper, 18; and Phillip Brewer, 17 – were arrested March 20 for kidnapping, carjacking and conspiracy.
Police say Jackeline and Junia forced 89-year-old Margaret Smith in to the trunk of her own car and left her there without food or water for two days.
Phillip – who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Junia and Jackeline – said the girls picked up Harper and himself from Coverdale Crossroads using Smith’s Buick LaSabre, and the four smoked marijuana and stayed in a hotel while the elderly woman remained locked in the trunk.
Police found Smith delirious and abandoned in a remote graveyard March 20. The four teens were later spotted in Smith’s car and arrested.
After the arrests, the state vowed to put all four teens on trial as adults. Harper, Junia and Jackeline were each subject to separate hearings to determine whether their individual cases should remain in Superior Court – where they would be tried as adults – or moved to Family Court – where they would be tried as juveniles.
Harper, who was 17 when the crime was committed, is now 18. Phillip is currently being held at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, a maximum-security adult prison in Wilmington.
Junia and Jackeline are currently housed at William Marion Stevenson House Detention Center, a secure juvenile facility in Milford. New Castle County Detention Center in Wilmington is another secure facility for males and females under 18.
According to Andrea Wojcik, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families, both Stevenson House and New Castle County Detention Center house only pre-adjudicated juveniles. “This means that they remain there only until their court cases have gone to trial,” Wojcik said in an email. “Once their cases have been adjudicated in court, the male juveniles convicted of the most serious offenses generally are sentenced to Ferris School.”
The Ferris School for Boys is a secure facility in Wilmington. Wojcik said there is no equivalent to Ferris for girls in Delaware.
Elisabeth DiStefano, chief of juvenile probation for Delaware’s Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, testified at Junia’s Sept. 18 hearing. She said if Junia were sentenced as juvenile, Delaware would have to partner with an out-of-state facility where she could serve her sentence. She said there are no secure facilities for minor females in Delaware.
DiStefano testified Delaware occasionally contracts with House of Hope Southwest Indiana, a facility in Evansville, Ind., about 800 miles from Sussex County. “They were very hesitant. In fact, they said that they would not accept them,” she said. “They rejected her based on the pending charges and the length of time they may need to stay.”
Jackeline’s hearing continued into its second day, Oct. 2. Lisa McFarland, Jackeline’s juvenile probation officer said she also spoke with the director of House of Hope. “She said, based on the seriousness of Jackie’s charges that they would not be able to meet her needs at Southwest Indiana,” McFarland testified.
DiStefano said it is the responsibility of the department to find an appropriate facility for Junia and Jackeline if they are sentenced as juveniles. “We’re going to find a placement,” she said. “We will do a nationwide search.”
Jackeline faces violence, human trafficking if deported
Ted Murphy, a private immigration attorney, also testified at Jackeline’s Oct. 2 hearing.
He said Jackeline faces deportation because she entered the country illegally, but deportation is certain if she is convicted in Superior Court.
“If she’s convicted of an aggravated felony, she would not have a right to see a judge in immigration proceedings,” Murphy testified.
Murphy said Jackeline would likely complete her sentence before she was deported. “She will not be able to stay in the United States. Deportation is certain, it’s just a matter of when,” he said.
Murphy said Jackeline was brought to the United States when she was 6 or 7 years old. Her family is from an area of Mexico that borders the Peten section of Guatemala, which is essentially lawless. He also testified 40 percent of Mexican territory is controlled by drug cartels.
“There’s 80 drug cartels in Mexico,” he said. “She faces the significant possibility of violence.”
Murphy said the U.S. must notify Mexico of deportees. One cartel – Los Zetas – often kidnaps deportees from the U.S. and holds them for ransom or pushes them into working for the cartel, Murphy testified. “The likelihood that she would be involved in human trafficking, drug trafficking, is very high,” he said. “Greater than 50 percent chance she would be forced into working for one of these organizations.”
If Jackeline’s case is moved to Family Court and she is adjudicated delinquent, she would still face deportation, but she would have more options for relief, Murphy said. She could request an immigration judge hear her case; she could ask to remain in the country under the United Nations Convention Against Torture; or she could apply for asylum in the U.S., Murphy said.
“But 80 percent of asylum applications are denied,” he said.
Jackeline's probation officer, Rodney Griffith, who also testified, said Jackeline's first adjudication occurred in 2011, when she was 12 years old. She was later adjudicated in April 2012 for shoplifting and in February for offensive touching, Griffith testified.
On March 7, Jackeline was arrested in school and charged with possession of marijuana, he said. "She was expelled, actually, from Milford Central Academy," Griffith testified.
Jackeline’s hearing continued in Superior Court, Oct. 3. Once her hearing is complete, Judge Richard F. Stokes is expected to issue a decision on whether to keep each of the three teens’ cases in Superior Court or move the cases to Family Court.