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YOUNGSTOWN Teen wants to be tried as adult



Published: Sat, February 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



She cannot opt for a jury trial at the juvenile court level.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- An East Side teen-age mother accused of killing her 11-month-old baby has asked a Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center judge to send her case to adult court so she can have a jury trial.

"I'm innocent," Janelle Thomas told Judge Theresa Dellick during a court hearing Friday. "And I want to take this to a jury so they can see I'm innocent and I did not kill my baby."

Thomas, 18, of North Garland Avenue, is accused of killing her son, Leroy Huff Jr., who died in October. A coroner has testified he died as a result of injuries sustained when his head was either hit with or struck against a blunt object.

Judge Dellick, earlier this week, ruled that probable cause exists to proceed with an involuntary manslaughter charge, and lawyers were scheduled to attend a hearing next month to determine if Thomas' case was to remain at the juvenile level or be transferred to Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas.

Attorney: County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Villani had filed the motion to have the case tried in adult court. After the finding of probable cause, Thomas' attorney, Mark Lavelle of Youngstown, said he does not object to the transfer.

His client cannot opt for a jury trial at the juvenile court level, Lavelle said, and Judge Dellick, who already found probable cause, would decide the case. Probable cause is a much lower standard than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required to convict someone of a crime.

But Lavelle said he and his client would prefer a trial by jury.

"I don't believe there's any point in delaying this any more than we have to," Lavelle said. "I'm ready to take it to a jury because I think that we have a reasonably good chance of success before a jury."

During the probable cause hearing, one witness, a friend of Thomas', testified that Thomas had beaten the baby a few days before he was hospitalized with the injuries that led to his death. While a coroner testified that the fatal blows were delivered within hours of the child's hospitalization, no witness testified to seeing Thomas hit the baby that day.

Punishment: If found responsible for the crime at the juvenile level, Thomas could be detained until her 21st birthday.

If found guilty at the adult level, she would face a sentence of three to 10 years, or could be released on probation, Lavelle said.

Judge Dellick told attorneys that she wanted to review case law before rendering a decision and would rule on the transfer Tuesday. If the case is transferred to adult court, it would be bound over to the grand jury before proceeding to a trial stage.




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