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Teen homicide suspect pleads not guilty; case will not be moved to juvenile court

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RACINE — The 15-year-old charged with shooting a school friend was in court on Monday in Racine County Circuit Court.

Zontell M. Junior headshot

Junior

Quentin Smith headshot

Smith

Zontell Junior 15, pleaded not guilty to first-degree intentional homicide with use of a dangerous weapon in the Aug. 12 shooting death of Quentin Smith, 16, at a residence near the intersection of DeKoven and 19th streets.

The defendant was in court seeking to have the case moved into juvenile court, which was ultimately denied.

Laura Walker, who represents the defendant, requested the arraignment take place after the hearing.

According to the criminal complaint, when Smith arrived at the home of a witness, Junior was already there, and the three were going to smoke marijuana.

The witness alleges Junior said he was going to shoot Smith for associating with a rival gang, the Dirty Ps, which are associated with Racine’s south side. According to the complaint, Junior associated with the north side gang the NFL, an offshoot of the Vice Lords.

Waiver

In homicide cases, defendants are charged as adults and adult court has jurisdiction.

A reverse waiver seeks to have the case be moved to juvenile court, usually because the defendant is so young.

The Wisconsin Legislature has passed legislation allowing category A felony cases to be moved to juvenile court.

However, the accompanying standard for the reverse waiver makes such a waiver very challenging for defendants.

The defense must prove all of the following:

  • The defendant had rehabilitation needs that could only be met in the juvenile justice system.
  • The waiver would not unduly depreciate the seriousness of the offense.
  • The deterrent factor continued; that is, other teens would still be encouraged to avoid crime seeing how this teen was treated even after being transferred to juvenile court.

Depreciate

Edward Kirchner, who is employed by Health and Human Services to work with juveniles, conducted the reverse waiver study in which he recommended that Junior’s case remain in adult court.

He told the court he felt moving a first-degree intentional homicide case to juvenile court would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the offense.

Kirchner said, “A young life was lost,” referring to Smith.

He pointed out that, in the juvenile justice system, a person convicted of homicide is done with their sentence at 25 years old. It is not a supervised release as the individual is done with the system altogether. He also said the inmates tend to be released early so the juvenile justice system can help them transition back to civilian life. That sentence would be far less severe than what Junior faces if convicted of homicide in adult court.

Under questioning, he told the court a teen convicted of homicide would not go to adult prison right away. Rather, he will be held at Lincoln Hills, the detention center for teens, until he was an adult. There he could receive the appropriate programming for a teen.

Walker noted the scientific research that showed the human brain would not be fully mature until the individual is 25 years old.

The prefrontal cortex, which regulates many things including impulse control and decision making, is not developed in a 15-year-old person.

Kirchner agreed that was the case, and the science was pretty settled on that point. However, the standard set by the Wisconsin Legislature for a reverse waiver did not rest on the development of the prefrontal cortex.

Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz denied the defense’s motion.

A status conference is scheduled for Jan. 23.

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Reporter

Dee Hölzel has been reporting since 1999 and joined the Journal Times in October 2020. Dee graduated with an MA in History from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, specializing in the intersection of history and journalism.

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