2022 | Courts

Case of teen charged with Magruder High School shooting to remain in adult court

Judge: Defendant showed ‘very adult-like behavior’ in allegedly carrying out pre-planned attack

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Montgomery County Circuit Court.

File photo

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. on May 26, 2022 to include comments from State’s Attorney John McCarthy

The case of a 17-year-old boy charged with shooting and seriously injuring a classmate at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in January will remain in adult court, a Montgomery County Circuit judge ruled Thursday.

The 17-year-old is accused of shooting a boy, then 15, in a restroom at the Derwood school around 1 p.m. Jan. 21. Police and prosecutors say the suspect purchased a privately-made firearm, or ghost gun, online and brought the loaded gun to the school in a pre-planned attack. The victim, now 16, was on life support for three weeks and has had nine surgeries to date, his family has said.

The school was put on lockdown while police searched for the suspect after the shooting. According to police, the 17-year-old was found in a classroom around 3 p.m. with a disassembled gun. He was arrested and charged as an adult with attempted murder, assault and multiple weapons offenses. Police have identified the alleged shooter, however Bethesda Beat generally does not identify juveniles who are charged with crimes.

In Maryland, minors who are at least 14 and are charged with violent crimes such as murder and attempted murder are automatically charged as adults. However, courts have discretion in determining whether a case should be moved to juvenile court. Maryland’s Juvenile Justice Reform Council found that about 80% of the time juveniles charged as adults either have their cases dismissed or transferred to juvenile court.

During Thursday’s hearing, Circuit Court Judge David Boynton said the 17-year-old showed “very adult-like behavior” on the day of the shooting, noting that he bought the ghost gun online, tried to conceal the weapon from his parents and later tried to hide evidence by disassembling it in a classroom.

Boynton said it’s clear that the Jan. 21 attack was premeditated and that the alleged shooter presents a danger to the community.

Boynton also talked about a report from Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services, which did not provide any specific diagnosis or treatment recommendations for the defendant. Boynton called it “a very unusual report.”

In order for a case to be transferred to juvenile court, there must be an overriding factor that shows how the defendant would benefit, Boynton explained. In this case there is “no credible evidence” that the 17-year-old had a life circumstance that would necessitate transferring the case, he said.

Defense attorney David Felsen told Bethesda Beat after the hearing that he was disappointed with the outcome.

“We understand the judge’s decision. We respect it, but we don’t agree with it,” he said. “We think there was uncontroverted evidence concerning [the teen’s] amenability to treatment in the juvenile system. But the judge is the one who makes the decision and we’ll have to move on from there.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy told reporters after Thursday’s hearing that Boynton’s ruling was “absolutely appropriate” in making sure schools in the county are safe.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, center, speaks to reporters on Thursday.

“We are on the right road to accountability for the person who brought violence to the school,” he said. “We are working every day with community partners from all levels of government and the police department to make sure our schools are safe places.”

Had the defendant been transferred to the juvenile system, he would have been in a program that lasts between six and nine months, McCarthy said. He said he worries that the state’s juvenile justice system is not in good shape because it currently has a high recidivism rate for youth.

“I don’t think we have sufficient programs for young people. I don’t think the programs last long enough,” he said. “Realistically, when you look at an alleged crime … . You look at this kind of conduct and the serious nature of it. And you say, the juvenile justice system only offers you a program that’s six or nine months in length. Is that really adequate to deal with the issue?”

McCarthy also said that it has become less common in recent years for the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) to issue a recommendation for a defendant prior to a waiver hearing.

“I’ve been doing this a while, and until about two or three years ago DJS in a waiver hearing would always make a recommendation,” he said. “They would look at the age, the physical and mental development of the person, the amenability to treatment, the role the person played [in threatening] public safety … . That’s what’s in the statute. And then they would [make a recommendation]. They stopped doing that. They stopped taking a position.”

A status hearing in the case is scheduled for June 1 and a trial date is expected to be set later.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com