The last of the three teenagers who were charged with causing the death of 16-year-old Schuyler Jones of Alexandria last September was sentenced to serve time in juvenile detention. The maximum amount of time he will be incarcerated is until his 21st birthday.
Retired Judge Joseph L. Peters, Jr. listened to testimony from friends and supporters of the defendant and from the defendant himself. The 17-year-old Alexandria youth was sentenced in juvenile court while the other two Fairfax County teens who were charged in this case were sentenced in adult court.
“The worst thing I ever did was to run away from Schuyler as he lay dying,” the Alexandria teen said in court last Friday. “It is terrorizing my heart, knowing that I contributed to Schuyler’s family’s pain. I will never again turn my back and run away.”
The courtroom was packed with young friends of Schuyler and of the defendant. Many of them wore yellow ribbons in Schuyler’s memory.
“We are here because of this defendant,” said Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. “We are here because, as he wrote in his statement to the court, 'of a decision I made.'”
Sengel told the court that there had been an altercation between Schuyler and the defendant months before the September incident that led to Schuyler’s death. The defendant assaulted Schuyler who told him that he didn’t want to fight. Finally, in self defense, Schuyler hit the defendant, bloodying his nose and knocking him to the ground in front of a number of young people.
“Punishment is required,” Sengel told the court. He quoted from a letter written by Schuyler’s girlfriend who was at Market Square the night of Schuyler’s death. “They did this in front of me,” she wrote. “I was there, standing in front of them trying my best to stop them. I tried my best, just like the adults expect us to do. Now it is the adults’ turn. We teenagers expect that you adults will live up to your promise to protect us…”
“Protect them from what,” Sengel said. “I submit, not just from their peers who turn to violence but perhaps more importantly from the notion that the system doesn’t work or doesn’t care or doesn’t have an answer in a case like this…”
Joseph McCarthy, the defense attorney, argued that his client has suffered enough. “Enough is enough,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that but for the decisions of many children, Schuyler might be alive today…Many adults do not recognize the consequences of their actions, how can we expect a child to foresee the consequences of his actions…This child deserves recognition for his efforts over the past six months. He deserves the right to continue with the progress that he has begun to make…”
Sengel argued that commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice would not preclude that progress continuing. “If this defendant has to start over after being released from the Department of Juvenile Justice, at least he will have that opportunity,” Sengel said. “Schuyler Jones does not.”
In juvenile court, sentences such as this are indeterminate. “The court does not review this case,” Sengel said. “The amount of time that this defendant will serve is up to the staff in the Department of Juvenile Justice.”