Should school shooting case be in adult court?

Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-02 07:29:22-05

MADISON TOWNSHP, Ohio – Adult or juvenile?

Should you treat a 14-year-old eighth-grader accused of opening fire in a school cafeteria as if he were an adult?

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser is reviewing evidence before deciding if he wants to take the  Madison Jr./Sr. High shootings case to adult court.

"We will engage in a very deliberative process,  number one, to protect the public," Gmoser said Tuesday.  "I do not want to have -- down the road 5, 10, 15 or 20 years from now -- an 'I told you so' moment when the public says, 'What the hell were you thinking?'"

It doesn't matter to Sheriff Richard Jones that no one was killed or seriously injured in the attack.

"Did he intend to kill anybody? As far as I'm concerned, when you pull that trigger, I don't care if you're 14 or 15 or 18 or 40. The possibility of someone dying or being injured,  let alone the mental stress, it's not good," Jones said.

MORE: How the district is seeking normalcy for kids

"I believe it was a horrendous shooting, and that as law enforcement, this individual had motive, he had more than enough ammunition, and there was more ammo besides that."

The procedure calls for the shooting suspect, James Austin Hancock, to undergo a forensic and psychological exam to determine if he is suitable for adult court. For now,  Hancock is charged in juvenile court with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of felonious assault, inducing panic and making terrorist threats. 

Hancock denied those charges in court on Tuesday, which is the juvenile court equivalent of a not-guilty plea.

Never mind the denial in court or that Jones says Hancock confessed after he was arrested: That’s how these cases usually start to play out, says long-time defense attorney Martin Pinales.

"It's standard procedure to deny charges, get a grip on what happened, get a grip on the facts, get a grip on a forensic exam and see where you are at that point,"  Pinales told WCPO.

Gmoser has until the pretrial hearing April 5 to decide if he wants to pursue the case in juvenile court or adult court. Ultimately, a judge will decide.

If the case stays in juvenile court, it will automatically be considered one of a serious juvenile offender, which is a special classification that carries harsher punishment.

Four teens are recovering after Monday's shootings.

Cameron Smith, 15, and Cooper Caffrey, 14, are being treated for gunshot wounds at Miami Valley Hospital. Dr. Peter Ekeh, the hospital's trauma director, said one of them was shot once and the other was shot multiple times. Neither needed surgery, and both are in stable condition.

Brant Murray and Katherine Doucette, both 14, were injured by flying shrapnel or while trying to get out of the way, Jones said.