LEONARDTOWN, Md. (AP) — A teenage girl accused of bullying a 16-year-old autistic boy pleaded "responsible" to a pair of misdemeanor charges on Thursday after her case was transferred from adult to juvenile court.
A "responsible" plea is the juvenile equivalent of a "guilty" plea in adult court. The 17-year-old girl entered the plea to the charges of second-degree assault and distribution of an obscene video.
The defendant was originally charged with false imprisonment, child pornography solicitation and first-degree assault stemming from abuses she and the victim's 15-year-old girlfriend inflicted on the boy, including holding him at knifepoint, forcing him to walk on a frozen lake and attempting to force him to have sex with his family dog. If she had been convicted of those charges in adult criminal court, the teen could have faced up to 80 years in prison.
The teen will be released from juvenile detention on or before her 21st birthday.
The Associated Press does not name juvenile defendants.
According to court documents, the two teenage girls videotaped the abuses with a cellphone. In one video, the 17-year-old holds a knife to the boy's throat, threatening and taunting him. In another, the girls tell the boy to walk out into the middle of a frozen lake to retrieve a basketball. According to the charging papers, the girls offered no help when the boy several times crashed through the ice.
The teen's attorney, Brian Thompson, said his client never should have been charged as an adult.
"We have a choice as a society when kids go wrong," Thompson told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We either decide we're going to try and fix them, rehabilitate them, put them in a therapeutic environment that will treat them so hopefully they can come out at a later time and be productive members of our community, or we decide they're incorrigible, not try and help them and punish them as adults. That would have been wrong."
Assistant State's Attorney John Pleisse, who prosecuted the case, did not return a telephone call for comment, nor did the 17-year-old girl's parents.
The victim, a high-functioning autistic high school sophomore, was quoted by The Washington Post last month as saying that although the treatment he received sometimes frightened him, he wanted charges against the girls dropped.
"It really makes me upset that my parents want to see them in jail," the boy said. "Because I really like them." On Thursday, however, the boy's mother was quoted by the newspaper as saying that her son is now "over" the girls.
The 17-year-old is to be sentenced next week to an inpatient juvenile residential program. The 15-year-old girl pleaded "responsible" last month to second-degree assault and displaying an obscene photograph. She was sentenced to a juvenile detention center in Maryland.