Delaware judge: Teen girl won’t be tried as adult in fatal fight

WILMINGTON — A 16-year-old girl charged with homicide after a fatal fight in a high school bathroom will not be tried as an adult, a Delaware judge ruled Friday.

Family Court Judge Robert Coonin refused a prosecution request to move the case to Superior Court, saying the circumstances support trying her as a juvenile on charges of criminally negligent homicide and conspiracy.

If convicted as an adult in the death of 16-year-old Amy Joyner-Francis, the girl would have faced up to eight years in prison. If adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile, she would be subject to supervision until age 19.

Coonin said the state failed to meet its burden of overcoming the presumption that the girl is amenable to rehabilitation within the Family Court system. He noted she comes from a supportive home with no history of intervention by Family Services officials, and that she has no history of prior criminal behavior or aggression.

“While this is respondent’s first contact with the justice system, it is a tragic one with a horrific outcome, an outcome that will have a longstanding impact on a family, a school and a community for many years,” Coonin wrote.

“Whether respondent is tried in the Family Court or in the Superior Court, that outcome will not change; the senseless loss of a young girl’s life cannot be undone, nor will the pain inflicted upon her family ever be extinguished.”

The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

Defense attorney John Deckers said the girl’s family is grateful for the decision.

“They’re very mindful that this is a tragic ordeal for Amy’s family and friends, and the community,” he added.

The girl is accused of repeatedly hitting Joyner-Francis in a premeditated attack on April 21 at Wilmington’s Howard High School of Technology. Two other girls are charged with conspiracy in planning the fight, which was recorded on a student’s cell phone.

The Associated Press is not naming the defendants because they are juveniles.

A medical examiner determined that Joyner-Francis died of sudden cardiac death. The girl had a pre-existing heart condition, and physical and emotional stress from physical assault were contributing factors, the autopsy report said.

In arguing that the girl accused of hitting Joyner-Francis should be tried as an adult, prosecutors cited the planned nature of the attack, prior threats of violence, the victim’s injuries, and the defendant’s alleged lack of remorse.

Deputy attorney general Theresa Sedivec told the judge last week that after learning of Joyner-Francis’ death, the girl responded by saying: “Somebody else must have kicked her…. They’re not going to put this on me.”

But Coonin said there was no evidence the girl knew Joyner-Francis had died when she made the comments.

The judge also suggested that the prosecution had exaggerated when saying the victim’s fingernails had been “ripped” or “torn” off. According to the medical examiner, Joyner-Francis had long, artificial nails, some of which were broken during the struggle, partially exposing the underlying nail bed.

The cellphone video shows Joyner-Francis on the ground, struggling to fight back and escape as she is held by her hair and repeatedly hit and kicked in the head.

Wilmington police detective Thomas Curley testified that in an online group chat the day before the attack, Joyner-Francis had offered advice to one of her friends about a problem involving a boy. “Just be careful,” she warned.

Curley said the defendants were later brought into the chat, and that the alleged attacker thought Joyner-Francis had been talking about her.

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