An Illinois juvenile court judge sentenced a 15-year-old girl Tuesday to just over five years in a juvenile detention facility for fatally stabbing her 11-year-old sister in an argument over household chores.
Reuters reports the girl, who has not been named in news stories because she was charged as a minor, stabbed her younger sister 40 times with a kitchen knife in a January 2013 argument at their Mundelein, Illinois home, just outside of Chicago. She was 14 at the time.
She pleaded guilty to the charges against her in exchange for a deal that will see her released from juvenile detention once she turns 21. Her attorneys can seek parole in five years for a slightly earlier release.
According to prior testimony in the case, the girl first told investigators an intruder had killed her sister. The teen later confessed to killing her sibling after arguing about who did more household chores and whether she was appreciated for helping her younger sister with homework.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim originally weighed the possibility of trying the girl in adult court for first-degree murder. A conviction under those conditions would have meant a minimum of 20 years in prison for the girl, according to a story from the Chicago Tribune.
Under Illinois law, Nerheim would have had no discretion at all had the crime happened just a few months later, because state law requires those 15 and over to be tried as adults for serious crimes.
Nerheim said after Tuesday’s hearing, he chose to accept a plea deal and drop the adult charges so the girl can get treatment that wouldn’t be available to her in prison.
“One of the factors we looked at was the availability of treatment,” Nerheim said. “The main difference (from adult prison) is there is a lot more structured treatment that she will have to get.”
The decision was applauded by those in the state who would like to see legislators change the strict laws currently applied to juveniles over the age of 15.
Herschella Conyers, a law professor at the University of Chicago and juvenile justice expert, is among them.
She said the teen’s “mother would have lost both her children” had Nerheim decided to pursue prison time where the girl would have simply been “warehoused.” With proper treatment, Conyers said, the girl will likely come to understand the seriousness of her crime.
For that reason, Conyers believes the discretion for sentencing should be placed in the hands of the judge rather than the current structure which mandates that 15-year-olds be directed to adult court.
“Kids are different than adults,” she said. “They are not little adults. They are children. That term for a lot of us is coming to have significant legal implications for how we punish and how we treat them.”
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