Charges themselves mandate teen be tried as adult - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Charges themselves mandate teen be tried as adult

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WALKER COUNTY, GA. (WRCB) -- LaFayette Police say they consider 16-year-old Scott Kenneth Winebrinner a victim as well as a sexual predator.

"He seemed remorseful during the interview with us," Capt. Stacey Meeks says. "He showed a great deal of remorse and emotion."
But so far, neither they, nor we, have been able to verify his mother's claims that his father molested him, and is serving time for it.

"That doesn't have a bearing on our investigation," Capt. Meeks says. "We're concerned with the charges at hand."

Since May, Winebrinner has been held in a Georgia Juvenile Justice detention facility after two neighbor boys, ages 7 and 8, accused him of subjecting them to sexual attacks for almost a year.

In June, a Walker County Grand Jury indicted Winebrinner on five counts of Aggravated Sodomy, five counts of Aggravated Child Molestation, and four counts of molestation not involving direct sexual contact.

If convicted, he would be sentenced as if he were an adult.

"In Georgia, simply by being charged with aggravated sodomy, you're transferred as an adult automatically," says attorney Bill Speek, who defends adults and children charged with sex crimes in Tennessee.

"His (Winebrinner's) own history would have nothing to do with it."

Had Winebrinner been charged as an adult in Tennessee, the offenses would be Child Rape, a Class A felony. Conviction for a first offense could net a sentence as heavy as that which a repeat offender would receive: 20 to 40 years in prison.

"But a Tennessee judge has some flexibility," Speek says. "In Georgia, you have only two options on Aggravated Sodomy. You're doing at least 25 years. And you could be doing Life."

Tennessee requires a hearing before a juvenile could be charged as an adult, Speek continues. 

"A prior juvenile record, whether the accused himself had been victimized as a child, all could be mitigating factors. And those factors would come into play not just during sentencing; they could keep your case in Juvenile Court."

In law and in practice, Tennessee places more emphasis on rehabilitating and treating the offender.

"You're assuming that, at some point, that offender will get out (of prison or custody)," Speek says. "What sort of person do we want to put back out there?"

Parkside Valley Mental Health counsels child victims of sexual abuse and molestation. It also treats children accused of such crimes.

"We deal with 'victim-offenders' who could be called 'reactive' and those you would consider a predator," says Farlie Chastain, a licensed clinical social worker for Parkridge.

"A 'reactive' child is more of an opportunist. They may or may not know what is right and wrong. So they go back to what they've been shown."

In contrast, a 'predator' child 'grooms' other children as victims much the way their offender groomed them, Chastain says.

"In both cases, we're working toward a goal of (the patients) recognizing when your mood or your behaviors are getting out of control, and not acting on those influences."

Georgia law does not require Winebrinner to undergo a mental evaluation, although his attorney or prosecutors could request.  

Walker County District Attorney Buzz Franklin has declined to comment on the case. 

Speek is not licensed to practice in Georgia, but he says that Winebrinner's mental state, and claims that he too was a victim of molestation, could factor into his defense.

"The claim isn't, 'I didn't think it was wrong because it happened to me'," Speek says.

"It's, 'I have a defect in my brain that doesn't allow me to actually make a decision as to the wrongfulness of this act'."

Capt. Meeks would prefer Winebrinner be offered a plea deal.

"Not to spare him, but to spare the victims from testifying," he says. "We believe there are no more victims. But making these little boys testify would make them relive what happened to them."

Under Georgia law, pleading guilty to a single count of sodomy would put Winebrinner in prison for at least one year, or as many as 20 years.

"Unless he's found guilty, or the charges are dismissed, he's still headed to prison," Speek says.

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