The 13-year-old boy accused of stabbing a school resource officer at a middle school earlier this month will be tried as a juvenile, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Kenneth "Kenny" Stoltman's age, clean record and treatment options make the juvenile justice system the ideal venue, said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.
"Our juvenile system is supposed to be designed to correct some of these issues that affect some of these kids," Bartlett said, "and this will certainly be a good test case for that."
Stoltman took 11 12-ounce bottles of gasoline and a knife to Carwise Middle School in Palm Harbor on April 5 and stabbed officer Kenneth Fridlund, 55, three times when confronted, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies said Stoltman also violently tried to unholster Fridlund's gun.
Stoltman's attorney, Barry Cohen, contends his client took the bottles of gasoline to school to scare kids who were bullying him. He was going to show Fridlund the bottles of gasoline, Cohen said, but what happened next is unclear even to Stoltman.
"The boy doesn't really know how that happened," he said. "It's common with that much pathology that something like that can happen without actually remembering it."
But one thing that is clear to Cohen is why Stoltman went for the officer's gun: "He intended to kill himself," Cohen said.
Cohen, the influential Tampa lawyer who has represented clients in some of the Tampa Bay area's most high-profile legal cases, said he waived his usual fees for Stoltman to raise awareness of the issue of bullying, among other reasons.
Stoltman had a rough childhood and was frequently bullied in school, Cohen said.
"This is one of those sad cases," Cohen said. "This kid has been through pure hell as a young boy."
Cohen said that when you've had the trauma and depression and sadness that Stoltman has faced, it's hard for people without expertise to explain the behavior. "And that's why we have these very seriously trained mental experts," he said.
As a child, Stoltman's father used to dunk his head under water in the sink, Cohen said. His father eventually died due to complications of severe alcohol abuse, according to a death certificate.
Stoltman's mother is bipolar and a drug abuser, according to court documents and Stoltman's family. With arrest warrants in Florida, Stoltman's mother eventually fled the state.
At school, his life wasn't much better.
Beginning in the sixth grade, students taunted him by calling him "Cub Scout" and "Girl Scout" because he sometimes wore his Boy Scout uniform to school, Cohen said. Students would throw pencils at his head, he said.
"He just kept internalizing that anger and that sadness," Cohen said. "Things got to the point where he just had enough."
Cohen said there needs to be more public awareness about bullying. "The school has a responsibility to protect these other children as well by identifying this bullying and putting a stop to it," he said.
Cohen said he took the case to "put an end to this damn bullying" and because of the hardships Stoltman went through as a child.
"I took it because of the terrible, despondent background that he had and, despite his background, he did so well in the Boy Scouts. He was so proud of his achievements."
Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804.