The ruling means Shilen Wylie, who was 14 last summer at the time of the shooting, could be released within a year.
“It is clear that the [higher] the courts have directed this court not to consider punishment as a factor in this proceeding,” Circuit Court Judge David W. Lease said from the bench last week.
The prospect of such a short detention has infuriated family members of victims while Lease’s emphasis on rehabilitation has drawn praise from advocates of juvenile justice reform. They have long argued that sending children to adult prison only increases the likelihood that they will reoffend upon release. Lease spoke directly about this position, citing the recent opinion of the Maryland Court of Appeals.
“Protection of the public is the ultimate goal of any juvenile delinquency program,” this court wrote, adding that “the most effective program to treat, educate and rehabilitate young offenders will be the most economical and will best protect the public over the years.
Wylie was initially charged as an adult with one count of first degree murder and three counts of attempted first degree murder, all of which carry life sentences. His lawyers decided to transfer the case to the juvenile system, triggering a series of hearings before Bail over the past month.
Ana Martinez, the mother of two of the basketball court shooting victims, listened to every proceeding. Her son Axel Trejos, 20, was shot multiple times and died, and her 16-year-old brother survived gunshot wounds to the leg and arm. The younger brother was shot first, Martinez said, before Axel ran to protect him and was hit.
“It was a massacre shooting,” she wrote in a letter to the judge, asking that Wylie remain in the adult system. “This crime has affected our entire family in every possible way; physically, emotionally, mentally… Our life changed in the blink of an eye.
The day after Lease published his decision, Martinez said that having Wylie locked up for as little as nine months was insufficient.
“Are you kidding me? Are you telling me you can take someone’s life and you’ll be a different person in nine months?” she said. ‘they can go and kill someone and not be punished.’
Two Montgomery County defense attorneys not involved in the proceedings — both former prosecutors — saw both sides.
“Tough case,” Jessica Zarrella said. “Are you protecting everyone by throwing it away?” At the same time, it’s hard to give up on a 14-year-old, even when accused of doing something like this. You say there’s a good person in there somewhere, there’s a good boy somewhere in there? »
Paul Zmuda said Wylie’s case, before the new opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals – known in state courthouses as ‘Davis’ – probably should have remained in adult court . Given the opinion’s focus on rehabilitation, specifically referred to as “fitness for treatment,” Zmuda predicts that fewer minors will be tried in the adult system.
“Davis is huge,” he said.
Treat children like adults?
Lease’s decision comes amid increased attention in Maryland and across the country to youth crime and how to address it.
On the one hand, those who worry about what they see as an increase in the number of minors committing violent crimes – particularly carjackings – who advocate longer detentions as a deterrent. On the other, there are those who say such thinking is outdated, ignores long-term trends of declining youth crime, and ultimately makes society less safe.
In Wylie’s case, if the juvenile court finds him responsible for the shooting, he would likely be sent to a program at a secure facility for juveniles. But since young people can complete such programs in nine months, Wylie could then be released into the community on supervised probation, according to Zmuda, Zarrella and testimony heard. A judge could impose strict supervision requirements which, if not met, could send him back to a secure facility for minors. “A judge could have him on a really tight leash,” Zarrella said.
Maryland has long been one of the most active states in requiring youth arrested for certain crimes to at least begin in adult court. This covers 33 offenses, including anyone 14 or older charged with murder and anyone 16 or older charged with theft with a dangerous weapon, according to Marcy Mistrett, youth justice director for the Sentencing Project, an organization which calls for an overall reduction in incarceration rates.
“Treating children like adults is worse for everyone,” she said. “The child does worse in the adult system, public safety suffers, and young people don’t get the rehabilitation that many victims hope for.”
The national trend is to reduce these default notices in adult courts. Some 26 states, Mistrett said, have done so.
Many Maryland officials want their state to join them. Current legislation in Annapolis would reduce automatic adult court charges. Cases could still be sent to the adult system, Mistrett said, but only after a judge conducts a full hearing to see if that’s the best course of action.
Local prosecutors like Scott Shellenberger, the state’s attorney for Baltimore County, are urging caution.
“I think there’s going to be a solid debate about where we draw the lines,” he said, noting that in a case like Wylie’s, the absolute limit of his confinement stops when he will be 21 and will probably be much younger.
“The Juvenile System is focused on fixing whatever went wrong with a person,” he said, “but I’m not convinced they can restore them in that time frame.”
A ghost gun on a basketball court
Shilen Wyle was born Nov. 3, 2006, and grew up in the Washington area a victim of abuse, trauma and limited role models, her attorneys claimed in recent court hearings. He had only borderline intellectual functioning, according to testimonies, but he had good grades in school.
At age 10, he got into a fight on a school bus, but the case was solved without detention and would represent his only exposure to the justice system, according to his lawyers. In the summer of 2021, living in Silver Spring, he had recently completed eighth grade.
On the night of August 18, 2021, according to police, Wylie traveled by subway and bus to the Plum Gar Community Recreation Center in Germantown. With him was a friend who had argued with another teenager by phone and text, prosecutors said.
The couple found the 16-year-old, along with his siblings and friends, on the recreation center’s outdoor basketball courts, authorities said. Wylie’s friend and the 16-year-old reportedly got into a fight, which only lasted a few moments. Wylie then allegedly pulled out a gun that he had slipped into his belt.
“He carried it easily. He pulled it off easily. He easily shot four people,” said Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Donna Fenton.
Arriving officers broadcast a description of the suspect over police radio, leading to the arrest of Wylie, who was found nearby walking away from the scene and still armed with the weapon, according to the police and prosecutors.
New Juvenile Jurisprudence in Maryland
A month before the shooting, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the Howard Jimmy Davis case.
He was 16 in 2017, according to court records, when he was part of an armed home invasion in Baltimore County. After he was arrested and charged as an adult, a judge denied efforts to transfer the case to the juvenile system. Court of Appeal had to decide whether that decision was correct.
The judges date back to 1943, when juvenile courts officially came to Maryland and studied how local judges then handled these requests. In most cases, the appeals court found that judges weighed two extremes: a child wanting to improve through the juvenile system’s programs against “either the brutal nature of the crime already committed or an inference drawn of it that the child will remain a danger to public safety.”
In too many cases, the judges wrote, the allegations and issues of public safety carried too much weight. The question should not be when the minor would be released, they added, it should be the best way to treat and rehabilitate them.
“Is there a program that can provide immediate safety to the public and reduce the risk of recidivism? writes the court. “If so, absent other circumstances, the child should be transferred or remain in the juvenile system.”
Under this majority opinion, Wylie’s attorneys presented their case to Lease.
Throughout his life, Wylie’s lawyers said, he had aspired to better himself when the forces weighed on him.
“Shilen was saying, ‘Help me, someone please help me,'” Shelly Brown told the judge. “And what did he get out of the school system? He was suspended. When he said to his mother, ‘Help me’, she chased him out of the house.
Brown added that under Davis’ notice, a defendant need only show that a juvenile facility would protect public safety “now,” not at a later date.
Prosecutors countered that Wylie was definitely not amenable to treatment, saying 20 months of therapy before the shooting didn’t make him think it was a bad idea. Given the generally short imprisonments in the juvenile system, they added, how could this have a greater effect?
“Frankly, it should be appalling to everyone that for these four crimes – which carry a potential life sentence – six to nine months of placement in a secure facility is an appropriate deterrent to prevent behavior future,” said Fenton, the prosecutor.
Lease spent 30 minutes Thursday reviewing its decision.
He said that given the allegations against Wylie, he currently poses a risk to public safety.
“The nature of the offenses in this case can be described simply as shocking and appalling,” he said. “It doesn’t get much more serious than what happened in this case.”
But in Davis’ opinion, Lease said, he could no longer consider these factors independently and had to consider them in the larger context of rehabilitation.
“It’s a remarkable decision by the Court of Appeals, and it’s a far cry from how courts in Maryland have applied [case law] over the years,” Lease said. “The only real factor that is now determining is the ease of processing.”