March 4, 2019

A Cup of Joe | Twisted Teen Viciously Kills Cat – Proper Punishment: Prison or Pills?

This week’s case concerns the need to protect pets from random acts of violence balanced against the need to assure that that adolescent criminal offenders are prosecuted properly for their behavior.

Enter: Rita, 16, an 11th grader at La Guardia High School, in regular classes, and Advanced Placement classes. Her average is in the nineties.

Cheryl Accardi, a long-time friend of Rita's family, who agreed to take Rita into her home.

Chica, Cheryl’s cat, 15 years old, peaceful and affectionate.

The Killing:

One evening, a few months after moving in with Cheryl, Rita captured Chica and wrapped her in a towel. Rita then sat on the encased cat and suffocated her by sitting on top of it. Chica died after struggling for about ten minutes. The next day, Rita sliced open Chica’s corpse and removed her small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, and spleen, and kept them in a container in her room. For the next few days, Cheryl frantically searched for Chica to no avail until, finally, Chica’s body was located in a bag in the woods behind Cheryl's home. Immediately after Cheryl’s sad and grisly discovery, Rita was arrested.

Rita charged as an Adolescent Offender in the Youth Part of Westchester County with one count of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals, a felony. As of October 1, 2018, New York law  raised the age of adult criminal responsibility from sixteen to eighteen so that youth who are charged with a crime may be treated in a more age appropriate manner. The new legislation takes into account scientific evidence indicating that children's brains are not fully developed until after the age of eighteen and that as a result, youths who engage in criminal conduct often do not have the same level of understanding of their actions as an adult. Additionally, the research shows that the penalties and longer sentences often imposed by adult criminal courts do not reduce the recidivism rate of youth who commit crimes, compared to similarly situated youth who are adjudicated in Family Court.

Because of the seriousness of the crime committed by Rita, the prosecutors filed a motion to keep the case in criminal court. Rita’s attorney argued that the case should go to Family Court where she would be able to obtain medical treatment.

Rita’s Psych History:

Rita had been in therapy for the past two years with a private practitioner in Queens. At age seven, Rita ran away from home with a knife to kill herself, after which she was hospitalized at Jamaica Hospital. She was next hospitalized at Zucker Hill for three weeks after a suicide attempt and diagnosed with depression. Rita has had three suicide attempts. The first was in September of 2017, when she attempted to cut her throat. The attempt was interrupted by the defendant's father. In December of the same year, the defendant attempted to cut her arm with a kitchen knife, and once again, was unsuccessful. The last attempt was in March of 2018, when the defendant taped the car exhaust pipe in an attempt to suffocate herself. Her attempt was unsuccessful due to the fact that newer automobiles are designed to prevent such an event.

Rita’s Family:

Rita’s mother has history of mental illness, possibly ADHD history, paranoia (camera and government watching the children, and risky impulsive behaviors, neglect toward children), and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Rita’s father admitted to history of dysthymia, depression, anger issues, and anxiety. Her father was verbally abusive and would throw things in the home out of anger and that as a result, the father left the family home when the defendant was four years-old at the request of Administration for Children's Service. This was when the defendant ran away from home and was hospitalized for the first time. Rita and her two younger siblings were removed from their mother's house and returned to the custody of their father after it was reported to ACS that the mother was neglecting the children medically and physically, not feeding them and leaving Rita alone to care for her siblings at the ages of 8, 5, and 2 years old.

Court’s Ruling:

Here is what the judge wrote in the Court’s ruling: “While this Court decidedly acknowledges the emotional and violent nature of this crime and the significant impact it has undoubtedly had on [Cheryl] and her family, it is constrained by the language of the statute and the philosophy behind it in determining that the facts and circumstances of this case do not rise to the level of "extraordinary circumstances" giving the court the limited authority to remove it to Family Court.  Rather, the court is of the opinion that [Rita] will benefit from the offerings of Family Court and is confident that the Family Court is well-equipped to meet her therapeutic and supervisory needs.”

Here is the case:  http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2018/2018_28429.htm

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