BENNINGTON — The prosecution of a Bennington girl once held in adult prison has been moved from criminal to family court, where the case is now shielded from public view.
The Bennington Superior Court reclassified the teenage girl as a youthful offender, with closed-door hearings in the family division, as requested by the state prosecutor.
The 15-year-old girl was originally charged as an adult with two counts of aggravated assault using a weapon in May. She faced a combined maximum of 20 years in prison on the two charges.
The felony charges came after state police said she severely injured her father by repeatedly hitting him on the head with a handgun while her parents were fighting outside her father’s home in Glastenbury. Then, investigators said, the pistol discharged beside her brother’s head as he was trying to wrestle the gun away from her.
Police said the girl’s mother went to her estranged husband’s home with her daughter and two other young people on May 20. After the parents got into a fight, the group of four allegedly assaulted the father.
Because the girl was initially considered a threat to herself and to others, the teenager was held at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility for a couple of weeks when the state couldn’t find an available juvenile detention center.
VTDigger generally does not identify criminal defendants under age 18. The girl had been named in court documents and had appeared in open hearings.
In September, Bennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Jared Bianchi asked the court to have the girl undergo the screenings necessary to determine if she could be reclassified as a youthful offender.
On Sept. 17, according to the girl’s criminal case file, Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady granted her the status of a youthful offender and moved her case to family court.
Youthful offender status puts the case on a rehabilitation-focused track, which is available to defendants up to age 22 who meet the qualifications.
It’s unclear how the Bennington teen’s case has progressed since then, or if it’s still being prosecuted, because youthful offender cases are confidential. Neither the case files nor the court hearings are accessible to the public, said Wendy Dickie, operations manager of the Bennington criminal and family courts.
When asked why the state would decide to designate a minor as a youthful offender after initially deciding to prosecute the person as an adult in criminal court, Bianchi said prosecutors consider various factors. Among them, he said, are the safety of the public and the defendant, the severity of the crime and whether the criminal process is the appropriate way to handle the case.
“You're making these calls in each case as appropriate to the situation,” Bianchi said in an interview about the general process. He declined to discuss the specifics of the Bennington girl’s case.
Youthful offenders generally receive probationary sentences, Bianchi said. But if youthful offenders commit serious violations of their probationary conditions, he said, the presiding judge could decide to move their case to criminal court for resentencing.
Meanwhile, the girl’s mother continues to be prosecuted in the Bennington Superior criminal court on related charges. She faces two felony charges of aiding in the assaults allegedly committed by her daughter and a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault.
She has pleaded not guilty and is not in custody, provided she abides by certain court conditions.
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