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Public Notices

April 20, 2014

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Stabbing Suspect To Be Tried As Adult

Originally published: 2014-01-24 11:15:31
Last modified: 2014-01-24 11:17:57
 


BY KEN LITTLE

STAFF WRITER

Jacob Wesley Mitchell reacted emotionally Thursday when Greene County Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. told the17-year-old he will be prosecuted as an adult in connection with an attempted-first-degree-murder charge filed after the stabbing of a teenager last September at South Greene High School.

Mitchell cupped his face in his hands and shed tears. In the row behind him, his mother began sobbing.

No one was in the courtroom from the family of Daniel A. Birchfield Jr., the 15-year-old who was stabbed three times by Mitchell on the morning of Sept. 24, 2013, as the South Greene students sat in the school cafeteria.

Had Mitchell been allowed to remain in the juvenile justice system, he would have been kept in a secure facility until he turned 19, then released.

If convicted of attempted murder, Mitchell could spend multiple years in state prison.

Mitchell was 16 at the time of the stabbing.

DIFFICULT DECISION

Bailey said that transferring Mitchell's case to the adult justice system was the most difficult decision he had had to make in more than seven years on the bench.

But the judge said too many factors weighed against resolving the matter in Juvenile Court, including the fact that Mitchell would have served an effective sentence of two years for the act.

Birchfield has since recovered from his wounds and returned to school. Mitchell was expelled from South Greene High School as part of the school district's "zero tolerance" policy toward violence.

Two students who knew both Mitchell and the victim testified Tuesday that Mitchell had made text-message and verbal statements about harming the victim in the days before the stabbing, and on the morning it occurred.

Bailey also cited "troubling" posts on Mitchell's Facebook page about selling marijuana, and drug use by the teenager.

ANGER ISSUES

Mitchell's anger issues and his actions before and during the stabbing, which were detailed during hearing testimony, also contributed to the judge's ruling.

"Those factors weigh heavily on transfer to adult court, and I didn't make this decision lightly," Bailey said.

Bailey set Mitchell's bond at $80,000. He had been held in a juvenile detention facility in Johnson City since the stabbing but was transferred Thursday to the Greene County Detention Center.

Mitchell will be held in an area of the jail where he will not have any contact with adult inmates.

The case will now be presented to a Greene County Grand Jury. If Mitchell is indicted on the attempted murder charge, he could be arraigned March 31 in Greene County Criminal Court.

Assistant District Attorney General Cecil Mills Jr. said it has not been determined when a grand jury would get the case.

DISPUTE OVER GIRL

Mitchell was angry at the 15-year-old Birchfield because he was dating a former girlfriend of Mitchell's, according to hearing testimony.

Prosecution evidence shows he used a kitchen knife to stab Birchfield three times as he sat at a cafeteria table with his back to Mitchell. The victim was stabbed twice in the back.

A female student intervened during the violent outburst and helped subdue Mitchell until school staff could intervene.

A school videotape of the incident introduced as evidence by prosecutors shows Mitchell sitting at a table near the victim for at least four minutes, intently staring at him before acting.

"You had lots of time to think this over, not a split second," Bailey said.

"You could have killed him. You could have severed his spine and paralyzed him for life had (the female student) not reacted instantly," Bailey told Mitchell.

"She's the hero of the day," he said.

PERSISTENT ATTEMPT

Bailey said one disturbing factor in the case was Mitchell's attempts to pursue the seriously-wounded victim as he tried to get out of the cafeteria, clearly showing Mitchell's "anger and aggression".

"You didn't stop. You ran after him with her on your back," he told Mitchell.

Bailey said the actions support the contention of prosecutors that Mitchell acted with premeditation in committing the stabbing.

In a recorded interview with Mitchell the day of the stabbing, he told sheriff's Detective Sgt. Mike Fincher that there had been a "back and forth" between him and the victim for several weeks.

Mitchell admitted to stabbing the victim in the interview, a video of which was played Tuesday during the hearing.

"My feelings got in the way of my judgment over everything," Mitchell told detectives.

He broke down and began crying several times during the interview.

DEPRESSION DIAGNOSIS

During defense testimony Tuesday, several counselors and a doctor testified that Mitchell had a form of depression.

Karen Malone, a crisis therapist at Frontier Health, testified that before the stabbing, the defendant spent some time in Woodridge Hospital in Johnson City after threatening harm to a family member and himself.

Scott Hollenbeck, a Frontier Health counselor who treats children and adolescents with emotional disturbances or mental illness, testified that he had several sessions with Mitchell after his release from the hospital.

Mitchell eventually stopped showing up for scheduled appointments, Hollenbeck said.

Dr. Thomas E. Schacht, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University, interviewed Mitchell in November in the juvenile facility where he was being held.

The teenager told Schacht that he sometimes "heard voices" and had difficulty controlling his emotions.

Schacht said Mitchell has recurring episodes of depression. He found that Mitchell poses a "substantial likelihood" of causing serious harm to himself or others.

Mitchell told Schacht that his "anger and his feelings are getting in the way of everything," according to hearing testimony.

Schacht testified that, given Mitchell's troubled recent history, "a controlled environment" would be best for him.

NO PRISON TREATMENT

Assistant Public Defender Anita Leger said Tuesday during the hearing that an adult prison offers no appropriate mental health treatment options for Mitchell.

Bailey told Mitchell that he believed the teenager showed remorse, but added, "I think there have to be consequences for your actions, and I think the juvenile system is not appropriate for you at this time."

"I hope that you will eventually be able to be a productive citizen in our society," Bailey said at the conclusion of the hearing.

 
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