By Ashley Johnson - email
SOCASTEE, SC (WMBF) - A judge announced Friday morning just after 10 a.m. in an Horry County courtroom that the Socastee teen, Chris Helms, accused of firing a gun at a school resource officer last year will be tried as an adult for the alleged crimes.
Helms' parents, classmates, and SRO Erik Karney took the stand this week during the waiver trial that determined the 15-year-old will now face charges as an adult.
Criminal defense attorney Scott Bellamy says some people accused of crimes should get a second chance.
"In essence, try to fix whatever problems that they have in order for them to not reoffend; that is the primary purpose of our juvenile system. Rehabilitation versus simply punishing people and locking them up," Bellamy says.
Bellamy also acknowledges that sometimes the punishment fits the crime. "There are only certain crimes in which we allow a juvenile to be tried as an adult, and these are some of those crimes, and they are very serious."
During the hearing Karney told the court how serious it was for him. Karney explained, "I realized at that moment 'I'm a dead man if I don't do something'. At that moment I yelled, 'shots fired, shots fired, call 911, call lock down now'."
Because of the seriousness of the crime, prosecutors argued Helms should bear the full brunt of the law by trying him as an adult. However, in the eyes of the teen's mother, she says bullying forced her son to make a decision that will affect the rest of his life.
The mother said, "The kids were calling him leprechaun and making fun of his red hair and they were making fun of him because he was the smallest."
Bellamy explained to try Helms as an adult is to suggest he cannot be helped. "What they're in essence saying is, 'we think this person can't be rehabilitated and that we need to treat them as an adult'."
Loretta Neal shed some light on what happens to teens when they are tried as a juvenile or as an adult. Neal said either way, the teen will go back to the Department of Juvenile Justice until the age of 17.
She said if a teen is waived up to trial by adult, he would be put in isolation, away from the general population until he was moved to the Department of Corrections.
She said if he were to have been tried as a juvenile, there are specific programs within DJJ to help with the goal of rehabilitation. They would have offered education on a daily basis as well as training in hands-on activities like welding and carpentry. Neal also said regardless of the decision, the teen would meet with a social worker who would then determine the needs regarding mental health.
Hembree said, "First and foremost is the crime itself because it has to be a crime of a certain magnitude or it doesn't even get considered for a waiver. So that's sort of a first essential element we have to establish. It depends on the juvenile's level of sophistication and intelligence. You know, if they're smarter, it depends on their level of maturity. It could depend on their contact with the juvenile justice system."