The murder case against 15-year-old Dalton Gay, who shot his father to death last July in Shawnee, will remain in juvenile court, a Johnson County District Court judge ruled Friday.
Judge Thomas Foster will announce later, however, whether he will place Dalton under an extended juvenile jurisdiction program.
That would give the court the option of imposing an adult sentence if Dalton is convicted in juvenile court and then commits a new crime before age 23, when the juvenile court jurisdiction expires.
Prosecutors had argued that Dalton, who was 14 at the time of the killing, should stand trial as an adult on the charge of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of his father, Darren Gay.
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Defense attorney Trey Pettlon argued for the case to remain in juvenile court.
An adult murder conviction carries a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. In juvenile court, Dalton would have to serve a sentence of about five years, officials estimated.
Both sides agree that Dalton pulled the trigger in July when his father picked him up for a weekend visit.
During two days of testimony last week, Pettlon presented witnesses who described Darren Gay as subjecting his son to an unrelenting torrent of verbal and emotional abuse.
After the shooting, Dalton alleged that his father also had physically and sexually abused him and threatened his life.
Mental health professionals who have worked with the teen said they believed he was being truthful in describing the abuse.
But Assistant District Attorney Don Hymer argued that Dalton’s adult act warranted an adult prosecution.
Hymer said the crime was premeditated. Dalton sneaked a .40-caliber handgun from his stepfather’s gun cabinet, made sure it held the maximum 16 rounds and emptied the weapon into the car where his father sat.
“There was a lot of anger and rage there,” Hymer said. “He stepped into the world of adult action.”
Hymer noted that Dalton’s recounting of abuse at the hands of his father “seems to be increasing as time goes by.” He also noted that the only remorse Dalton showed after the killing was because of the consequences he would have to face.
Pettlon, however, described Dalton as a child who had endured severe abuse of one form or another for almost his entire life.
“He killed his father to escape rape, physical abuse and emotional terror,” Pettlon argued. “In a very real sense, there were two fingers on that trigger.”
He noted Dalton’s lack of prior legal troubles or violent behavior and the testimony of mental health professionals who said they think he is not a risk to anyone else. That supported keeping the case in the juvenile system, where Dalton can receive counseling and treatment not available in the adult system, Pettlon said.
Because of Dalton’s age and the seriousness of the crime, Pettlon had to overcome a legal presumption that Dalton would be tried as an adult.
In his ruling, Foster ruled that Pettlon had overcome that presumption by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
The judge said that he considered why the crime was committed, not to justify what Dalton did, but in considering the kind of treatment options there were for him.
He also noted that Dalton was the child of “high conflict” parents who had engaged in lengthy court disputes.
Foster found that based on Dalton’s history and the testimony of mental health professionals, Dalton is not likely to be a danger to himself or the community.
The judge scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to give his decision on the extended juvenile jurisdiction, which prosecutors had asked for as an alternative to adult prosecution.