Juvenile justice reform falls short in Louisville as 14 teenagers face murder charges in 2017
Right now in Kentucky, kids can break the law four times without ever seeing a judge.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a follow-up to an investigation into Louisville's juvenile justice system that aired on May 22, 2017. The title was, "WDRB Investigation: New KY law contributes to rise in Louisville juvenile crime."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Young lives taking lives is Louisville's newest crisis.
So far this year, Louisville Metro Police has charged 14 juveniles with murder. Three were added to the list this week, all just 15 years old, accused of killing newlywed Jason Spencer on Sunday during a robbery as he walked in the Highlands with his wife. The Spencers were just one day back from their honeymoon.
The number of teenagers charged with murder so far this year nearly doubles the eight charged in all of 2016.
To Meme Bard, whose 62-year-old father Lonnie is one of the victims, they're more than just numbers.
"Basically, he was internally decapitated, so his spine had disconnected from his skull," she said. "He had a limp from nerve damage, couldn't run. He couldn't even put his arm up to protect himself, so he definitely was targeted and taken advantage of."
Bard said seven teenagers are being prosecuted for murder and robbery from the July 24 case. Police said the attack on the elder Bard was unprovoked. He was walking down Stone Alley near South 22nd Street in west Louisville returning home from his mother's house.
"It's a danger to all of us in the city," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Jones Brown.
Reform prompted by Senate Bill 200 shifted courts and police into incarcerating as few kids as possible, but as Louisville's juvenile jail counts go down, the city's juvenile crime rates spike.
Right now in Kentucky, kids can break the law four times without ever seeing a judge. They can be charged with three misdemeanors and a felony and still be eligible for diversion, which consists of simply a promise and a plan with a court designated worker not to do it again.
"I think it emboldens them," said Jones Brown, who handles most of the juvenile murder cases in Jefferson County once they're waived up to adult court.
"For instance, I had a case where a juvenile said to detectives, 'I'll be happy to confess to this, because I know I'll just get out.'"
WDRB has confirmed that at least two of the three 15 year olds charged with killing Spencer were already in trouble and on home incarceration.
At least three of the six minors shot at South 17th and Prentice Streets last month were also on a form of HIP, and the 17 year old accused of killing Kontar Roberson on Oct. 9 was also on house arrest.
"It's heartbreaking where you see the forks in the road, where this could have been stopped, and it wasn't, and a life could have been saved had different choices been made along the way," Jones said.
Bard agrees that it's heartbreaking. She agrees that her father's murder could have been prevented.
"Actually, all of the kids have a record except for one," she said.
The cases of all 14 minors charged with murder in the city in 2017 remain in juvenile court, sealing their names from the public for now. Prosecutors are in the process waiving them up to circuit court and charging them as adults.
Copyright 2017 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.