Three teens accused of carjacking and kidnapping an 89-year-old Milford woman will be tried as adults, a Delaware Superior Court judge has ruled.
Defendants Rondaiges Harper, 19, Jackeline Perez, 16, and Junia McDonald, 15, all sought to have their cases transferred to Family Court where they would be tried as juveniles. Judge Richard Stokes ruled that as a result of the severity of the crime and because all three teens knew what they were doing at the time of the crimes, it was in the court’s interest to try them as adults.
A fourth teen, Phillip Brewer, 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree carjacking, three counts of second-degree kidnapping and four counts of second-degree conspiracy. Brewer has agreed to testify against the others.
According to Delaware State Police, on March 18, 2013, McDonald and Perez hitched a ride with 89-year-old Margaret Smith before stealing her car keys, robbing her of $500 and locking her in the trunk of her 1991 Buick Le Sabre. Police said Brewer and Harper later joined the girls, who spent the night at a Seaford hotel with Smith in the trunk. Two days after abducting her, the teens dumped Smith in a graveyard, where she was found by a passerby. Brewer later testified that Perez proposed burning the car with Smith inside.
The teens were originally to be tried as adults, but their attorneys attempted to have their cases moved to Family Court. Separate reverse amenability hearings were held for McDonald, Perez and Harper, with Stokes issuing separate opinions for all three teens March 31.
Stokes said the state could make a case for first-degree kidnapping against Harper, Perez and McDonald. The judge said the violence showed towards Smith, both in forcing her into the car and discussing burning the car with Smith in it, show impulses of attempted murder.
“The supposed intentions of Perez and McDonald, if believed by the trier of fact, show them, individually and separately, capable of terrible depravity. There is a disturbing theme of thinly veiled force, coersion and the total disregard for Mrs. Smith’s safety during her kidnapping,” Stokes wrote.
Of Perez, who has had previous run-ins with the law and faces deportation if convicted, Stokes wrote, “She was not a girl who did not know what she was doing. She might have had cognitive problems and a troubled past, but she was an equal participant throughout this ordeal.”
Harper, was not present when Smith was kidnapped, but he knew she was in the trunk when Perez and McDonald opened it. Stokes wrote that first-degree kidnapping involves the defendant not voluntarily releasing the victim alive, unharmed and in a safe place. Although Harper was the one who got Smith out of the trunk, she was abandoned in a cemetery with no food, water or method of communication.
“The evidence shows that Harper was not an ignorant participant throughout this ordeal,” Stokes wrote. “Harper was in a position to hear Mrs. Smith say things like the car was hers and that she wanted to go home. Harper’s culpability in this case is not slight.”
Stokes also pointed out Harper’s past criminal record, which he wrote includes incidents of assault, shoplifting and drug charges. Stokes said Harper’s participation in Smith’s kidnapping and his past record show he has little respect for the law or other people.
A trial date for the teens has not been set.