SOUTH BEND — Nearly a year after 6-year-old Grace Ross was found dead in a wooded area near a New Carlisle apartment complex, a judge ruled that Anthony Hutchens, the boy accused of molesting and killing her, will be tried as an adult.
The ruling by St. Joseph Probate Court Magistrate Graham Polando comes after recent hearings where doctors, probation officers and Hutchens’ mother testified to whether he should remain in juvenile, or probate, court.
In a written order, Polando concluded several factors suggested the teen’s case would best be handled in adult court. Those factors included:
Evidence of deliberating about the crime either before or after, suggested by how remote the location of where Ross’ body was found.
Taking steps to hide evidence such as his bloody clothes.
The time it would have taken to both molest the girl and kill her.
The likelihood, even if small, of committing similar offenses in the future.
Evidence of prior efforts of the accused teen’s mother to provide help and treatment for the boy’s difficulties, and that the boy seems to Polando to have squandered those efforts.
The very serious nature of the crimes alleged.
The juvenile system’s inadequacy to provide both the punishment and rehabilitation needed for someone guilty of the crimes in this case.
“If the Respondent is guilty of the offenses alleged here, he deserves more severe punishment than this Court can impose. He requires lengthier rehabilitative services than this Court can impose,” Polando wrote. “This community requires more deterrence, both for the Respondent specifically and others, juveniles included, than this Court can impose. And the Respondent must be incapacitated for a longer period than this Court can impose.”
The Tribune did not name Hutchens in previous coverage of the case, but is doing so now that he has been waived to adult court.
Polando also ruled that Hutchens will be detained in an adult correction facility while awaiting trial, and that he will be held without the possibility of release on bail.
“If the question is simply ‘Should an ASD eighth-grader be in an adult jail?’ the answer is almost certainly ‘no,’ Polando wrote. “On the other hand, if the question is ‘Should a juvenile arrestee who there is probable cause to believe molested and murdered another child be around other children?’ the answer is similarly almost certainly ‘no.'”
Ultimately, the ability to protect other detained children, given the nature of the alleged offenses, convinced Polando that Hutchens was best held in an adult facility.
According to police and prosecutors, Hutchens molested and killed Ross, whose body was found in a wooded area behind the New Carlisle apartment complex where they both lived, on March 12, 2021.
The boy’s mother, believing her son may have been involved in the girl’s death, came forward to police after Ross’ body was found.
Hutchens, who was 14 at the time, gave shifting stories when police questioned him with his mother present, according to prosecutors.
At first, he said he lost track of the girl after she followed him into the woods. He then said there was another person in the woods, and that he had been knocked unconscious before awaking next to her body. He finally said a “shadowy man” had controlled him while he strangled Grace.
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Since then, proceedings were delayed as doctors and psychologists interviewed Hutchens to assess his ability to stand trial. After the teenager was deemed competent, prosecutors asked for the case to be moved to adult court due to the severity of the crimes and reports that Hutchens has a violent “mindset.”
At a Feb. 23 hearing, Craig Redman, a juvenile probation supervisor, testified that Hutchens has made several disturbing comments, including references to killing and torturing people.
“I have the mind of a psychopath,” Hutchens once said, according to Redman. “Give me any object, and I will find a way to kill someone with it.”
Under questioning by the boy’s attorney, Mark James, Redman acknowledged Hutchens has never committed any actual violence in the 11 months he has been detained.
During the same hearing, Hutchens’ mother said he is on the autism spectrum, has ADHD and a sensory disorder and is “very immature for his age.”
Indiana Superior court
Indiana law states a probate, or juvenile, court shall waive jurisdiction to superior, or adult, court in felony cases, “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.”
State law also specifies that if a juvenile is 12 or older and is accused of murder, the case should be waived unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.
The superior court system has more severe sentences at its disposal, as sentences, or dispositions in probate courts are often focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment. A murder conviction in adult court calls for a minimum sentence of 45 years, however superior court judges can use probate court sentencing guidelines if they wish.
Hearings and records in superior court are public, while some hearings and records in probate court are confidential by law. Verdicts in probate court trials are also decided by the presiding judge or magistrate, whereas trials in superior court are decided by juries.
Email Marek Mazurek at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Adult trial for New Carlisle teen accused of killing 6-year-old girl