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He’s the product of three generations of retardation, mental illness, and physical and sexual abuse. He cannot read or write — even something as simple as the word “sky.” He has trouble printing letters of the alphabet. He is also a self-reported drug addict, claiming he has smoked about 30 marijuana joints a day, many laced with PCP, since age nine. According to police and prosecutors, the teen-age boy is an extremely dangerous criminal. Between the ages of 10 and 15, he was arrested more than 20 times in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. Last fall, the 15-year-old garnered headlines after being charged with raping two women at gunpoint. He then twice escaped from custody, only to be recaptured both times. The D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office wanted to prosecute the teen-ager as an adult. Of the four psychiatrists who examined him, though, only one believed the boy was competent to stand trial. In July, D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Ronald Wertheim ordered that the teen-ager be sent to a juvenile mental health facility in Minnesota until he is found competent. In the opinion, the defendant is referred to by his initials: D.C. Wertheim’s 46-page opinion — publicly released earlier this month — presents a seldom-seen view of the confidential proceedings of a high-profile juvenile case and the unsettling history of the defendant’s childhood and ascent to violent crime. Corporation counsel lawyers decline comment, as does Judge Wertheim. Lawyers at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Juvenile and Criminal Justice Clinics who represent the teen-ager did not return several calls for comment. Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declines comment on this case, but says it is rare for 15-year-olds to be tried as adults in the District. THE VICTIMIZED BECOME VICTIMIZERS Criminal justice officials say the District’s juvenile justice system is filled with children who were themselves abused — and later go on to commit crimes. According to Wertheim’s opinion, D.C., now 16, grew up in a District home where drug addiction and mental illness were the norm. His grandmother was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, and an uncle was retarded. Both of D.C.’s parents had psychiatric problems: His father was hospitalized, and his mother was abused physically and sexually as a child. D.C.’s parents also were addicts, and his mother used heroin, cocaine, and methadone during her pregnancy with D.C. Of D.C.’s three siblings, two have mental health problems. The third was removed from the home at the age of two. When D.C. was 9 months old, a pediatrician told his mother that D.C. was not developing normally and needed to be tested. D.C.’s mother refused to take him to a doctor for several years, fearing that he would be removed from her home. According to the court opinion, D.C. was beaten severely by his mother as a child, and he may have been sexually abused by an older, retarded half-brother as well. D.C. was taken to the hospital several times for head injuries as a child. An undated CT scan at D.C. General Hospital indicated brain damage. He also was sick numerous times as a child, twice with pneumonia. It is unclear from the sparse information available when D.C. began school. But the court opinion states that he repeated both first and second grades, but wasn’t placed in special education until 1995 at age 10. By then, D.C. had already come in contact with the criminal justice system. Prior to the sexual assaults, D.C. was arrested in Maryland and the District for car theft, burglary, cocaine distribution, and attempted armed robbery-some 20 charges between 1995 and 2000. (According to the court, D.C.’s competency did not come into play in earlier cases.) By the fall of 1999, D.C. had been sent to several special schools, including a court-ordered stay at a Florida treatment facility. According to the opinion, at nearly all schools, D.C. was “oppositional, defiant, aggressive, and chronically truant.” In 1996, D.C. climbed out onto the ledge of a school window and threatened to jump. Two years later, he deliberately set his pants on fire at a group home. On five occasions, he ran away from group homes. He is small for his age, has loss of hearing in his left ear, and has problems with his eyesight. According to police, in September 2000, D.C. and two of his friends were looking for houses in their neighborhood where women lived alone. Early in the morning on Sept. 9, they kicked in the door of a young woman’s house and robbed her at gunpoint. Police say D.C. raped the woman twice. One month later, D.C. allegedly approached three District health inspectors who were taking samples from the Anacostia River in Northeast Washington, pulled out a pistol, and robbed two of them. He ordered the third member of the team, a woman, into a city-owned car, drove a few blocks away, and raped her, police say. D.C. was arrested a few weeks later and charged with armed robbery and first-degree sexual assault for the September attack. In November, police felt they had enough evidence to connect him to the October assault. At the time, Lt. Scott Dignan of the Metropolitan Police Department told The Washington Post: “As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything like this. These are heinous crimes. And just looking at the way in which he committed these crimes, we can see he knows what he’s doing. I just don’t know where he learned it.” LESS THAN GREAT ESCAPES In March, as D.C. was being taken to St. Elizabeths Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, he jumped from an ambulance while wearing leg shackles. He was apprehended 10 days later. On Memorial Day, D.C. escaped from the Oak Hill juvenile detention facility in Laurel, Md., one of seven youths who cut a hole in the fence and fled. He was on the run for just three days before his capture. The Office of Corporation Counsel, which prosecutes juvenile crimes, considered the rapes and robberies so heinous that they wanted to send the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office so D.C. could be charged as an adult. The difference between the two systems is enormous. If found guilty of the crimes in the juvenile system, the most time D.C. could wind up serving is five years — or until his 21st birthday. If tried as an adult, D.C. could face life without parole if found guilty. The U.S. Attorney’s Office offered D.C. a deal: waive a transfer hearing and plead guilty to one rape and robbery and the government will recommend no more than 50 years behind bars. Judge Wertheim ordered D.C. to undergo a psychiatric examination. From there, the debate spiraled over whether D.C. was competent to stand trial in either the juvenile or the adult systems. By the time of Wertheim’s ruling, D.C. had been examined by nine doctors — neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Nearly all found developmental problems and forms of mental retardation. All but one of the psychiatrists found him incompetent. Dr. Floyd Galler, a psychiatrist with the District’s Youth Forensic Services Division who interviewed D.C., says that he has seen a number of patients who can perform skills well, but cannot remember what took place 15 minutes earlier. “I find a lot of youngsters, adults, and adolescents who are mentally retarded, who can do beautifully with performance. They can put a jigsaw puzzle together,” Galler says, “but they may not be able to deal with verbal things.” According to the transcript of a conversation between D.C. and a psychiatrist, D.C. didn’t understand the difference between the meaning of guilty and not guilty. He also thought that the expression “water under the bridge” meant that there was fish in the water. After a 10-day hearing in June, Wertheim found D.C.’s disabilities to be so extreme that the judge could not let him go to trial. Wertheim also wrote that he was surprised to find that District law did not equivocally state who had to prove competence — the government or the defense. The judge found the burden lay with the government. He noted that his finding conflicts with a recent ruling in federal court here. The judge ordered D.C. sent to Mesabi Academy in Buhl, Minn., which Wertheim wrote was “one of the few secure facilities for juveniles specializing in treatment for difficult cases such as this.” He also ordered D.C. evaluated every six months for competency. “It is difficult to imagine a proceeding … that is more demanding than a criminal trial of the very verbal and abstract reasoning skills in which respondent is most deficient,” Wertheim wrote.

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