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Hearing to decide if teens will be tried as adults

By Brad Hicks

A hearing date to determine whether the two Washington County teens charged with robbing a Flag Pond man and leading law enforcement on a pursuit that resulted in the death of a third juvenile will be tried as adults was set Monday in Unicoi County Juvenile Court.

Per an order filed Monday by the state and signed by Judge David Shults, this transfer hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 26 in Unicoi County Juvenile Court.

The order also outlines steps that must be completed for each juvenile in order for the transfer hearing to take place. This includes the preparation of a report by the Department of Children’s Services detailing the nature and extent of any prior delinquency records, the nature of any past treatments and the nature of responses to these treatments, and the possible rehabilitation of the teens if they are tried as juveniles.

The order also states that Frontier Health is to complete an evaluation of each juvenile to determine his competency to participate in court proceedings.

The teens – ages 14 and 15 – are each charged in Unicoi County with aggravated burglary, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, theft of property over $500, and theft of a vehicle over $1,000. The 15-year-old is also charged with felony evading arrest.

Bonds were also set Monday for each of the juveniles. A $60,000 corporate bond was set for the 15-year-old, and a $2,500 corporate bond was set for the 14-year-old.

According to law enforcement officials, the teens led officers on a two-county chase on June 20 which resulted in the death of 14-year-old Lacey Burton of Embreeville.

The 15-year-old was the driver of the vehicle and Lacey’s brother, according to law enforcement. The pursuit, which traveled from Unicoi County into Washington County for around 15 miles, began after the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department received the report of a robbery which had allegedly occurred on Rice Creek Road in Flag Pond.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley previously said the alleged victim, identified as Roger Briggs, was beaten, robbed and tied up in his home but was able to free himself and go to a neighbor’s home to contact 911.

It is alleged that the three juveniles were dropped off at the Rice Creek residence by an adult where they waited on Briggs to return home.

“When he returned, they grabbed him and assaulted him,” Hensley said previously. “They held him at knife point. They tied him up and placed him in a closet.”

The motive for the alleged robbery stemmed from an altercation between Briggs and his brother, which reportedly took place on June 18. Briggs reportedly owed his brother, who is the grandfather of the juvenile siblings, $100.

“They went up there to collect the debt,” Hensley said.

The teens also allegedly took the 2000 Ford Ranger owned by the victim and traveled toward Washington County. A “be-on-the-lookout alert” was issued for the vehicle. Hensley previously said officers attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver refused to stop and exited Interstate 26 and drove down State Route 81 into Washington County. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the pursuit, which turned right onto Cherokee Road, Hensley said.

As the vehicle approached the intersection of Cherokee Road and Charlie Hicks Road, the driver lost control of the truck. A crash report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol stated that control of the truck was lost as a curve was negotiated, causing the vehicle to roll several times before coming to rest on its top. Burton was ejected from the vehicle. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts, according to the THP report. She passed away around midnight on June 21 at the Johnson City Medical Center.

Hensley said it was not until after the crash that officers learned the three subjects were teenagers. The sheriff also said officers in pursuit acted appropriately and that no officer made contact with the vehicle as control was lost.

“All these subjects were juveniles,” he said. “Of course, we did not know that at the time of the call. The call was vague on what had happened, other than that victim had been tied up and held at knife point and had been assaulted.”

At the crash scene, officers reportedly found two handguns and a large hunting knife.

No charges have been placed against the adult who dropped the juveniles off at Briggs’ residence. This individual reportedly was unaware of what the teens were planning.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Curtis said Monday charges in Washington County against the two male juveniles are pending the completion of a full report from the THP.

Attorneys Cameron Hyder and Elizabeth Jones, appointed to represent the teens, objected to the media’s presence during Monday’s hearing and the use of the juveniles’ names in any reports, as neither attorney was aware media would be present prior to the hearing. Tennessee Code Annotated 37-1-153(b) states that petitions and orders filed in juvenile court proceedings shall be open to public inspection so long as the juvenile is at least 14 years of age when the alleged act is committed and if the alleged act, if committed by an adult, would constitute several charges, including especially aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping.

Shults said this code does grant the public access to the filings, it does not specify whether the public has access to court hearings meeting this criteria. Rule 27(2) of the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure grants the public access to transfer cases involving juveniles, but Hyder said the transfer hearing would not be taking place Monday, as he needed more time to prepare and that he intended to introduce proof during Monday’s hearing during which he did not believe the media should be present. Members of the media present left the courtroom prior to the conclusion of the hearing.

Shults also issued an order at least temporarily blocking the publication of the juveniles’ names. He said a separate hearing to determine whether this information can be disseminated to the public will be held on Aug. 15.