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St. Petersburg teen accused of murder stays in adult court, judge rules

A Pinellas-Pasco judge rejected arguments that the law used to move Javarick Henderson Jr.’s case out of juvenile court is unconstitutional.
Javarick Henderson Jr. is ushered into a courtroom to attend a March 9 hearing before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley. Henderson was 13 when he was arrested in 2019 on a charge of first-degree murder, accused of killing his 56-year-old grandmother, Gloria Davis. He is now 15, but a judge ruled his case will remain in adult court.
Javarick Henderson Jr. is ushered into a courtroom to attend a March 9 hearing before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley. Henderson was 13 when he was arrested in 2019 on a charge of first-degree murder, accused of killing his 56-year-old grandmother, Gloria Davis. He is now 15, but a judge ruled his case will remain in adult court. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD ]
Published Apr. 2
Updated Apr. 2

A St. Petersburg teen accused of killing his grandmother when he was 13 will be tried for murder in an adult court, a judge ruled.

A Pinellas-Pasco judge on Wednesday denied defense motions seeking to transfer the first-degree murder case against 15-year-old Javarick Henderson Jr. to juvenile court. The defense team argued that the Florida law used to move him into the adult system is unconstitutional.

Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley rejected their arguments, writing in a March 26 court order that she’s “not at liberty to ignore the judgment of the Legislature” or rulings by higher courts that have backed up the juvenile transfer laws.

A court of appeals and the Florida Supreme Court have, in prior cases, “both held that Florida’s system is constitutional and provides sufficient due process protections,” she wrote in the order, which also denied two other motions that sought the same goal based on different legal arguments.

Related: Defense wants 13-year-old facing murder charge out of Pinellas’ adult court system
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge Nancy Moate Ley
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge Nancy Moate Ley [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The question of how the legal system should handle children accused of serious crimes has played out in cases and policy battles all over the state.

The majority of transfers happen through a “direct file,” in which the State Attorney’s Office has the sole discretion to charge a kid as an adult. The second, rarely used method is judicial review, in which a judge makes the call. That’s the gold standard for advocates who believe adult transfer laws are in need of reform.

The third is through a grand jury indictment, which occurs when a child faces a crime punishable by death or life in prison. That’s how Henderson ended up in adult court.

The defense and prosecution debated the issue at a March 9 hearing. That process is “cloaked in secrecy conducted in the absence of the child and his counsel,” Henderson’s public defenders argued in one of the motions, “with no required consideration” of factors a judge would normally use to decide whether to move a child to adult court.

Prosecutor Amelia Hummel pushed back in court, saying it’s “not unreasonable for the Legislature to treat children who commit serious crimes as adults in order to protect societal goals.”

Henderson is accused of fatally stabbing his 56-year-old grandmother, Gloria Davis, in November 2019. There were no signs of a break-in, and only Henderson and his brother, then 12, were home with her at the time.