On January 23, 2019, Sammy Arellano called 911 to report that an armed robber shot her boyfriend, professional boxer John VanMeter. Although responders quickly raced to the scene, the victim was later pronounced dead at the hospital. While the loss is undeniably tragic, there is one aspect of this case that is truly startling: the alleged suspect is a 12-year-old boy. This child, whose name has not been released, is one of the youngest people in the history of the United States to be charged with capital murder. Uvalde police have yet to reveal a possible motive in the shooting, though burglary is being considered as a factor.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose capital punishment on a minor. So, while the boy doesn’t need to fear the death penalty, he may still be sentenced to 40 years in prison, amongst other penalties.
The circumstances of this case have opened an interesting dialogue regarding youth mental health and the juvenile justice system. Of course, the greatest question is what could drive a child to kill someone. According to the boy’s father, VanMeter and another man allegedly threatened the boy with physical violence last October. The father reported this incident to the police and believed the matter was otherwise resolved.
Another issue of concern is that the Texas juvenile justice system often treats children like adults. In fact, the cutoff age to charge a minor as an adult is 14. Kristine Phillips, a reporter at The Washington Post, discussed this case with Steve Halpert, the Juvenile Division Chief of the Public Defender’s Office in Harris County. Halpert explained, “Someone so young being charged with capital murder is hardly a surprise in Texas because prosecutors often seek the highest possible charge they believe they can prove…Depending on the length of the sentence, the boy will be in the juvenile system until he’s 19 if convicted. Then he will have to go back to court, and a judge will decide whether to transfer him to an adult prison or place him on parole for the remainder of his sentence.”
To complete her article, “A Texas Boxer was Shot to Death in His Own Home. The Suspect: A 12-Year-Old Boy,” Kristine Phillips asked my opinions about this case and the juvenile justice system, in general. While I’m not involved with this case, I do represent juvenile convicts who want to reduce their sentences. As such, I have developed a unique perspective based on my personal experiences as a legal representative. As I explained to Kristine Phillips, “The justice system has to catch up with the science, which says that brains are not fully formed until we’re in our 20s. Male development of the brain is even behind the females. A 12-year-old, this is not somebody who can comprehend the gravity of his actions. That’s assuming he isn’t [already] damaged. Some of the young men I’ve dealt with on post-conviction were given automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole…These are young men who I’ve seen a lot of growth since their offenses. If we all think that our criminal justice system is for rehabilitation, these are the individuals we should be taking chances on.”
At Mandy Miller Legal, PLLC, I believe it’s never too late to fight for justice and second chances. I can represent your interests in court, help you appeal an unjust verdict, or guide you in securing a post-conviction writ. By listening to your story and meticulously reviewing every detail of your original case, I can develop a customized strategy that reflects and achieves your legal objectives.
To discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney in Katy, Texas, contact Mandy Miller Legal, PLLC at (832) 769-0613. I’m available to you 24/7.