SOUTH BEND — The decision on whether to try a 15-year-old boy accused of molesting and killing a 6-year-old girl from New Carlisle as an adult will not be made until mid-January.
That's when prosecutors and attorneys representing the boy want to hold a waiver hearing, saying court dates scheduled for this week did not give either side enough time to prepare their arguments as to whether the teenager should be tried in adult court.
The delay is the latest in a line of continuations and postponements as both parties have sought testimony from doctors and psychologists regarding the boy's ability to stand trial in connection to the death of Grace Ross in New Carlisle on March 12.
The boy is charged with molesting and killing Ross, with court documents alleging the boy told police a "shadowy man" controlled him and made him strangle the girl after she had followed him into the woods.
"I'm frustrated by another delay," said St. Joseph Probate Court Magistrate Graham Polando at a hearing Monday before instructing the parties to work together with the court to find a date for the waiver hearing in mid-January.
Polando will ultimately decide if the case should remain in juvenile court or be waived to adult court.
Grace Ross murder case:Prosecutors want New Carlisle teen accused of killing 6-year-old girl moved to adult court
Chief deputy prosecutor Chris Fronk said the delays are not ideal but are part of the "proper process" in finding what's right for the community and for the boy. If the boy is moved to adult, or superior, court he likely faces a harsher sentence if convicted.
"In this situation, you can't rush things," Fronk said. "This isn't a shoplifting case, you have to sit down and make hard decisions."
A trial in probate, or juvenile, court was scheduled to begin Thursday, but prosecutors last week moved to waive the case to superior court "after reviewing the circumstances and evidence" in the case and after talking to Ross' family.
Fronk said the prosecutor's office weighed the safety and sense of justice for the community against the needs of the defendant before moving to try the boy as an adult.
"It's what we've determined based on competency and the evidence we've looked at that that's in the best interest of the community," Fronk said.
The boy, who was 14 at the time of the incident, sat quietly with unkempt hair in the courtroom Monday speaking only when being sworn in by Polando.
Questions about the boy's ability to stand trial have marked proceedings until last month when prosecutors and the boy's attorneys agreed he was competent. Doctors and psychologists who examined the boy's level of competency are also likely to be called as witnesses during the waiver hearing, Fronk said.
Indiana law says a probate court shall waive jurisdiction to superior court for felony offenses, “unless it would be in the best interests of the child and the safety and welfare of the community for the child to remain within the juvenile justice system."
The superior court system generally has more severe sentences should a defendant be convicted of a crime, as sentences, or dispositions, in probate courts are often focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Indiana’s sentencing guidelines for murder are 45 to 65 years in prison. Even if convicted as an adult, Fronk said a superior court judge could decide to sentence the boy based on juvenile sentencing guidelines.
Hearings and records in superior court are public, while some hearings and records in probate court are confidential by law.
If Polando decides to keep the case in probate court, the case could still go to trial, though trials for juveniles are decided by the presiding magistrate as opposed to a jury.
The boy is charged with two counts of murder and one count of child molesting in connection to the death of Ross, who was founded dead in a wooded area near her apartment complex in New Carlisle on March 12. An autopsy found her death to be a homicide by asphyxiation.
After the girl's body was found, a woman brought her child forward to police and detectives interviewed him with his mother present, according to a police report from the incident.
At first, the boy told investigators Grace had followed him into the woods and then he wandered around and lost track of her.
Police said the boy then referred to “a shadowy man” who, controlling him, made him strangle the girl with his hands. The boy also told police he had checked Ross for a pulse to see if she was dead.
The boy reportedly fled the woods and went back to his apartment. Investigators noted he had blood on his hands, and he said he had removed his clothing and taken a shower, placing the clothing behind the bathroom door before putting on fresh clothes.
Email Marek Mazurek at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Boy accused of killing 6-year-old Grace Ross could be tried as adult