Eight months have passed since twelve-year-old Ketrease Murphy was hit by a stolen truck and flung across an empty lot, where she landed hard in the grass, her life spilling out into the earth. Eight months ago ten-year-old Annalyn (her name has been changed for this story) heard the "pop" of the speeding truck's tire when it blew, causing the truck to careen out of control toward Ketrease, who was standing by the front gate of her home on Evans Avenue in the Vandeventer neighborhood. Meanwhile thirteen-year-old Dominick (whose name has been changed for this story because his identity is protected by law), who is accused of causing the catastrophe, has spent eight months locked up in a juvenile detention center. He is facing charges of second-degree involuntary manslaughter.
Since the fateful afternoon of October 24, 2003, Dominick has celebrated a birthday, and Ketrease's school pictures -- taken shortly before her death -- were delivered to her mother, Detrease. There's been a white coffin and a police investigation.
Two weeks ago there was a trial.
It began on Monday, July 12, before St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley at the juvenile courthouse on Vandeventer Avenue. During the three-day proceeding, lawyers argued over who was to blame for Ketrease's tragic death.
The prosecution claimed that Dominick was seen joyriding in the stolo -- street slang for a stolen car -- on the day of the accident. Though there was no proof Dominick actually stole the pickup truck, the vehicle eventually ended up in his hands. He was speeding down Evans Avenue when a tire blew. The truck jumped the curb, hit the girl, mowed over part of the fence and stopped in the vacant lot next door. Dominick jumped out of the truck and fled the scene of the accident. An adult witness for the prosecution placed Dominick in the truck.
But another witness, a woman who lived on Evans Avenue, testified for the defense that Ketrease was the one driving the truck. Dominick's lawyer, Daniel Underwood, argued that Dominick didn't have a mark on his body when apprehended by police -- so he couldn't have been driving the truck.
But neither adult witness was particularly compelling, which meant much of the case hinged on the testimony of the child witness, Annalyn, who told the judge that Dominick was driving the truck and hit Ketrease.
At the close of the hearing, Judge Frawley found Dominick guilty of two crimes: second-degree involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. He meted out a sentence of 75 hours of community service. Dominick will be referred to a program where he'll receive grief counseling, social services and transitional housing. Dominick also has a 7 p.m. curfew and will be on probation until he's eighteen. And although he hasn't made a final decision, the judge said he would likely turn custody of Dominick over to an uncle who recently retired from the military after approximately twenty years of service.
Even though Dominick has already spent 265 days behind bars, had no prior criminal history and says he didn't intend for the accident to happen, Detrease Murphy is outraged by the judge's sentence and says the young offender should spend the next four years in jail or be confined to a group home.
Says an angry Murphy: "I feel like if you can get your butt in that truck, start it up and steal it, you should do the time for it."