A 17-year-old boy who faced the possibility of life in prison after he was accused of soliciting the murder of a Prince George’s County judge on Twitter likely will receive a lesser punishment now that his case has been waived down to juvenile court.
Prosecutors said Garrett Bailey of Bowie wrote online threats against Prince George’s County Judge Herman C. Dawson earlier this year after the judge oversaw the sentencing of some of Garrett’s friends. Several hours after his friends’ hearing was over, Garrett posted several tweets referencing both the judge and a gun on his Twitter account. Among the tweets, which were riddled with profanities and spelling and grammatical errors, was the post, “Who wants 1000 to kill” Judge Dawson?
Police caught wind of the threat and charged Garrett with solicitation of murder.
On Friday, prosecutors and defense lawyers argued whether the tweets were simply impulsive rants from an angry boy or an indicator that Garrett was growing too violent to be rehabilitated.
A Montgomery County judge — who heard the case because it was deemed a conflict of interest for Prince George’s judges — called Garrett’s actions “reckless and immature” and ruled that his case may be heard in juvenile court, dramatically changing the potential resolution to the boy’s case. If found “involved” in the case — the juvenile court equivalent of guilty — Garrett can only be held in the Department of Juvenile Services custody until he turns 21, a far cry from the life imprisonment he faced if tried as an adult.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Gary E. Bair said the context of the Twitter posting, coupled with Garrett’s previous pattern of online outbursts, showed that Garrett would be better suited to have his case heard in juvenile court where rehabilitation could play a role in his sentence.
“It’s a threat to an individual and it’s a threat to the system,” Judge Bair said, underscoring the seriousness of the charges. “It seems to be part of a pattern of his behavior of saying things that are not true. That’s not quite the same as an adult, in a different context, who wants to murder someone and goes out to hire someone.”
Over the past three years, the number of cases waived from adult to juvenile court has remained relatively small in Maryland, according to data provided by the Department of Juvenile Services. Out of the 15,745 juvenile cases referred to prosecutors in fiscal 2011, only 179 were waived down from adult to juvenile court. Another 189 cases were waived up from juvenile court for adult criminal proceedings.
Cases involving juveniles do not exclusively start in juvenile court. Older juveniles accused of more serious crimes can be charged as adults without a waiver hearing — as was the case with Garrett.
Garrett’s public defender, David Booth, argued that juvenile court was a more appropriate place for his client to be adjudicated because he would be able to receive help with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning-disability issues. While awaiting his juvenile waiver hearing, Garrett had already showed academic and behavioral improvement while in custody at the Cheltenham Youth Facility, said Mr. Booth, who argued that Garrett’s track record shows he can make progress in the juvenile system.
Mr. Booth also said a gun that police mention Garrett having in his possession in charging documents was a BB gun.
“He did post things on Twitter regarding Judge Dawson, but those were just words,” Mr. Booth said, adding there was no indication Garrett actually wanted or was willing to take action to have the judge killed.
Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Bohrer referenced prior juvenile burglary and theft cases to which Garrett pled “involved,” and prior Twitter postings by Garrett that indicate drug use and threats of violent behavior as a continual pattern of anti-social behavior.
“This was a calculated thing. He wanted to terrify people,” Mr. Bohrer said, adding that a person can’t get off the hook for a solicitation of murder charge just because he didn’t mean it. “He got lucky no one hurt the judge or his family.”
Judge Dawson could not be reached for comment Monday.