this way before

tristen kurilla

Yesterday as the news hit the Internet and airwaves, readers were outraged by Pennsylvania’s decision to charge 10-year-old Tristen Kurilla as an adult in the death of 90-year-old Helen Novak. According to the boy, Ms. Novak (a resident at the boy’s grandfather’s house, which he was visiting) yelled at him for entering her room to ask a question, angering the boy, and triggering his unpremeditated assault on her with a cane and his fists.

There is obviously more to this story than is now known, but the fact remains that Pennsylvania law gives prosecutors no choice but to charge anyone who commits murder, regardless of age, as an adult. Defense attorneys must petition the courts to re-charge the young person as a juvenile if they hope for the state to deal with the child in a rational way. But as we have seen in the case of 11-year-old Jordan Brown, publicity and politics can make this petitioning move problematic, to say the least.

More than five years after the event, Jordan is still incarcerated by Pennsylvania for two murders of which he has not been convicted and is most assuredly innocent (his conviction by a juvenile court has been vacated by the Superior Court in Pittsburgh, but through legal maneuvering by the state prosecutor, his present legal status is in limbo due to a pending ruling, and inaction, by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court).

There are a number of things which are extremely troubling about Pennsylvania’s approach to juveniles charged with murder.

First, the traditional protections generally afforded juveniles are not available to young people accused of murder. In Jordan’s case, as with Tristen’s, the identities of children are plastered all over the media, as are their back stories. Normally, the identities of children charged with other crimes are not disclosed to the public. This exception with regard to the act of murder ensures that the child’s identity will be forever linked with the act, regardless of circumstances, guilt or innocence.

Second, even though Tristen’s attorney has announced that he will seek bail, there is a question based on Jordan Brown’s experience whether bail is even available under the circumstances and Pennsylvania law. To my knowledge, it is not.

Third, regardless of innocence or guilt, Pennsylvania law prevents any child accused of murder being dealt with in a constructive way. As long as he maintains his innocence, Pennsylvania has denied Jordan any services which permit the state’s unjust acts being addressed for Jordan in a therapeutic way.

It is a bad, stupid statute and the Pennsylvania State Legislature must reform it immediately. Under pressure from the Philadelphia district attorney’s office (arguably the worst in the country), it was enacted as a knee-jerk reaction to Philadelphia’s perceived youth gang problem. As we are seeing, it is being applied in Pennsylvania to non-youth-gang-related cases and it must stop.


Groove of the Day

 Listen to Jimmy Ruffin performing “I’ve Passed This Way Before”


8 Responses to “this way before”

  1. October 15, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I agree totally with you Dan and the fact that the system does not care what was the circumstances behind this , the fact that every thing goes against the child from the get go, the hearings, the trials the delays are all against a kid as the one thing they cannot stop is the natural aging and growing process goes on placing everything in favor of the prosecutors. I watched as this happened to Alex and Derek, Daniel Carter, Aaron Papparilla, Tyler Edmonds………………..on and on . The prosecutors in each and every case tells the jury don’t look at the child look at the facts that were presented to you. They are aware that a childs face will cause emotions in a jury and the older the child gets the better the chances are for a prosecutor to win their case. Due process and a speedy trial are NOT provided for kids as they are ripped from their families and have to depend on total strangers to fight for them, which as we all realize again goes in the favor of a prosecutor. For 10 years that boy was depending on the people and family in his life to guide him and to care for him, but suddenly he’s declared an adult and he is required to care for himself , where’s the justice in that ?

  2. 3 Jeanne
    October 15, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Still amazed that this is permitted. Brain development studies clearly set a guideline that Pennsylvania courts are ignoring. Charging children this young is a clearly discriminatory and a civil violation that can be remedied if only someone, somewhere, would do whatever is possible to stop this abuse and complete nonsense.

    It is a civil violation against any child this young being charged as an adult. How can Pennsylvania charge a child as an adult when science and all matters relating to brain development prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the human brain does not fully developed until well into our twenties. ?

    Someone remove the red tape please.! This is ludicrous!

  3. October 16, 2014 at 4:47 am

    It’s literally impossible to understand how Americans can automatically send a 10 year old child in an adult jail and threat him with an adult sentence of life without parole, as Pennsylvania’s judicial system does. Perhaps is it due to the fact that I live in a country in which no child under 13 can be incarcerated, and only for serious charges. Which does not mean that a kid of less than 13 years old who commits a crime or an offence remains unpunished. But the measures taken against him may not include incarceration. Boys like the young Tristan, Jordan, Paul Henry, or Alex would have sent in a home, under judicial and educational supervision, until a release decision taken by a judge for minors or until they are 18. And for youths over 13, incarceration is exceptional and restricted to the most serious cases. They cannot be directly send in adult prison, even in a juvenile wing, to serve a long time, exceptionally a lifelong sentence. They transit through a juvenile prison until they reach 18 before be sent in another prison, joining at least an adult inmate population. Life sentences for juveniles are rare but we had, this week, such a case, the first since 25 years. A youth was sentenced to life but it was a murderer and a recidivist rapist; he was 17 at the time of the fact and the victim was 13. No mandatory time was set, so he will be eligible for a release in several years – probably after two decades in prison, if justice decides it’s appropriate to do so.

    The threat of gang activities has certainly played a great role and has probably lead some State Governments to decide and write in the laws such process permitting to send directly kids to adult court, three decades ago. But they should have set a reasonable age limit under which this process will not be applicable, like 16 years and not 7, 10 or 13. Also, they should not make these mandatory process but let a judge decide, as soon as the facts are known, the procedure to follow and not to leave this responsibility to a Prosecutor.

    It is to hope that the next legislature in Pennsylvania, and in other States who have such process, will bring a change in the manner in which kids and youths are treated in their judicial systems.

    • October 16, 2014 at 4:51 am

      Sorry, an error has occured in my post. Children under 13 cannot be incarcerated, even if charges are serious. this is only possible if the youth is aged over 13 and only if the case is serious.

  4. 8 Gloria
    October 18, 2014 at 1:14 am

    10-Year-Old’s Homicide Confession Was Coerced, Lawyer Says


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