- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — A study indicates that juvenile offenders aged 11 to 13 are more than three times as likely to be confused by courts as young adults.

Using the same criteria as for mentally impaired adults, the study found that one in three offenders aged 11 to 13 met the criteria for incompetency to stand trial. For 13- to 15-year-olds, the figure was still one in five.

The study — released in Washington by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation — could relate directly to the Florida cases of Nathaniel Brazill of West Palm Beach and Lionel Tate of Fort Lauderdale. Both are serving time; Brazill was 13 when he committed his crime and Tate was 12.

"The study found that juveniles aged 11-13 were more than three times as likely as young adults (ages 18-24) to be seriously impaired on the evaluation of competence-relevant abilities, and that individuals aged 15 and younger also differed from young adults in their legal decision making," the foundation said.

"For example, younger individuals were less likely to recognize the risks inherent in different choices and less likely to think about the long-term consequences of their choices," it said.

Tate beat a 6-year-old girl to death while he was pretending to be a pro wrestler in 1999. He turned down a plea bargain under which he would have served three years in a juvenile detention center.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. Gov. Jeb Bush this month is expected to consider a second request for parole.

Brazill shot and killed his English teacher in Lake Worth, Fla. in May 2000. He turned down a plea deal for 25 years and is serving 28, which his attorney, Bob Udell, said he thinks was a reasonable choice.

But he also says he doesn't think Brazill understood the full implications of the decision.

Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal will consider Brazill's appeal for a new trial or a new sentence this week.

The mothers of both boys joined a group on a trip to the Vatican last week and asked Pope John Paul II for help.

The foundation said states that permit juveniles 13 and under to be tried as adults might wish to re-examine this policy "in light of the substantial proportion of individuals of this age who are at great risk for incompetence to stand trial."

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