In a highly unusual move, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said he plans to ask a grand jury today to indict a 13-year-old for attempted murder.
If grand jurors agree, Le'Genius Wisdom Williams could be tried as an adult and, if convicted, sent to an adult prison for many years.
Williams is accused of shooting a small-caliber handgun at a 15-year-old who rode by on a bicycle after reportedly taunting Williams. The older teen was heard saying "Childs Park, Childs Park," referring to the St. Petersburg neighborhood.
Police said Williams shot the 15-year-old three times, twice in the chest.
McCabe said he wrestled for days with the decision on how to proceed against such a young defendant accused of such a serious crime.
"I just couldn't come to grips with a 13-year-old shooting someone at close range three times for saying something like 'Childs Park.' I just couldn't get past it.
"I thought there was a good chance the juvenile system just isn't equipped to deal with a youth who was just that brazen."
Prosecutors in Florida frequently file adult charges against juveniles and have discretion to do so in many cases for youths who are 14 or older. In fact, Hillsborough court officials are considering a special court division that would exclusively handle juveniles charged as adults.
But adult charges are rarely filed against someone as young as Williams. To do so, a prosecutor has to go to a grand jury, which decides whether to proceed with adult charges, McCabe said.
"It's very rare … but I would hope by goodness that it would be very rare that a 13-year-old would have a gun and shoot somebody," he said.
Florida is one of the few states that has no minimum age for indicting people, Florida State University law professor Paolo Annino said. He said a series of recent Supreme Court rulings have ordered courts to handle youths differently from adults, even those accused of extremely serious crimes, because children's brains aren't as developed as adults'.
While McCabe said the juvenile justice system might be ill-equipped to handle someone who commits such a serious crime, he pointed out that Williams' age means he could be treated in the juvenile system for several years.
"I know of no empirical study that says that our juvenile justice system could not handle this child," Annino said.
Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.