Although some citizens have clamored for the teens accused in The Great Frederick Fair assault case to be charged as adults, Maryland law prevents the state’s attorney from doing much else yet.
There are conditions the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office would need to meet in order to try the defendants as adults, State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said in an interview Wednesday. A judge would need to grant approval, and only after police complete their investigation.
“I think people think that somehow I have this unbridled authority to charge them in any manner that I want, and that just doesn’t exist,” Smith said, “and for good reason.”
Two teens were charged after 59-year-old Mount Airy resident John Weed was found lying unconscious on the ground of The Great Frederick Fair on Friday, according to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Weed died at the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore on Saturday.
Smith said he’s received emails from members of the public who are outraged that the teens have not been charged with first-degree murder or with committing a hate crime. Some have even called for the death penalty, according to Smith.
Currently, the facts of the case do not allow for Smith to bring forth more serious charges, he said.
“When they say they want them charged as an adult, I can’t charge them as an adult," Smith said. “I have to charge them as a juvenile because the law mandates that I charge them as a juvenile. ... Right now, these two young men are charged to the fullest extent of the law and to the maximum that we have been allowed to charge them.”
Smith said at a Monday news conference that the incident started when a group of young men, including the two defendants, asked Weed for a dollar at the fair and he refused. Some sort of “negative” dialogue occurred, the 16-year-old punched Weed in the back of the head, and then after a brief time the 15-year-old landed a “deadly blow,” according to Smith.
When asked about the exchange Wednesday, Smith declined to say more about the words that were said, as they were not part of the public record, he said.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said Tuesday he would call the attack “unprovoked" and he believes Weed was the victim of a “hate crime,” though he noted it might not match the legal definition of a hate crime. The teens are black and Weed was white.
The 15-year-old has been charged with first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, while the 16-year-old was charged with second-degree assault.
“They were charged with the punching before the death occurred," Smith said.
Will Cockey, communications specialist for the state’s attorney’s office, said in an email that the defendants are brothers. Attempts to reach the defendants’ family for comment have been unsuccessful.
Christopher Kalotra of the Frederick County Public Defender’s Office represented the defendants at “emergency hearings” Monday, he wrote in an email.
“As members of the legal community who work in the criminal justice system, we are deeply concerned by statements that inflame the public, materially prejudice adjudicative proceedings, and interfere with an accused’s constitutional right to a fair trial,” Kalotra wrote.
Kalotra declined to answer specific questions about the case.
Waiver petition could switch case to adult status
In order to try the defendants as adults, Smith’s office would need to file a waiver petition in circuit court asking a judge for approval, Smith said. That cannot be done until police complete their investigation and the state’s attorney’s office has made a final charging decision on anybody involved in the incident, according to Smith. The law mandates that the case starts in juvenile court, Smith said.
When asked if his office might pursue filing a waiver petition in the future, Smith said it is too “premature” to say, as the investigation is still ongoing and facts are being gathered. People who said on social media they witnessed the event are being interviewed by detectives, Smith said.
As for the allegations of a hate crime, Smith said Monday the facts thus far do not indicate the assault was over race. On Wednesday, Smith said he was not aware of any new information that would indicate whether the attack was a hate crime.
One of the defendants is accused of spitting on the victim, Smith said, but that wouldn’t qualify as a hate crime.
“Spitting on someone is not one of the statutory criteria that allows me to charge a hate crime," Smith said Wednesday.
Under Maryland law, hate crimes are defined as misdemeanors such as assault or vandalism that were committed based on race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, age, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin or homelessness.
Smith noted that the alleged spitting will weigh into the sentencing, or could lead to another charge of assault.
He called spitting on a person “repugnant” and “repulsive,” but not a hate crime.
“It certainly is a crime of hate, but definitionally it’s not a hate crime and therefore there is no hate crime charge," Smith said.
The teens are being held in detention in Montgomery County until their next court date on Oct. 22. Smith said his office would make a statement once the investigation is complete.
Karen Nicklas, executive assistant to The Great Frederick Fair Board of Directors, sent a statement on behalf of the board to the Times on Wednesday:
“The Great Frederick Fair’s number one priority is the safety and security of everyone on the fairgrounds. To ensure this, we engage a private, professional security firm and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department to patrol the fairgrounds on a continuous basis. They work cooperatively with local law enforcement, including Frederick City Police and the Maryland State Police. In addition, Fire and Rescue are also on site to respond to any medical situations. The Great Frederick Fair deeply regrets this incident and sends condolences to the family of the victim. The Great Frederick Fair would also like to thank law enforcement for their prompt and professional response in controlling the situation and apprehending the suspects. The investigation into this incident remains active and any further information will be released from the Sheriff’s Office.”