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Violent assaults renew questions over ‘youthful offender’ status in Vermont

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Two violent crimes by Vermont youths have renewed ongoing questions of whether the perpetrators in these kinds of cases should be charged as youthful offenders or adults.

Vermont State Police Thursday arrested a Bennington 18-year-old man on charges that he assaulted his infant daughter, breaking her collarbone. Another case last month involved a Marshfield youth.

Eighteen-year-old Ayden Jestice is currently facing attempted murder charges after police say he stabbed Gabriel Deangelis, who was working for the Good Samaritan Heaven, which operates a warming shelter inside the Montpelier Transit Center. The 38-year-old Montpelier man was stabbed ten times.

“The individual was there and our staff member was there and our staff member was trying to help work through whatever situation had arisen,” said Good Samaritan’s Julie Bond. “It was definitely a really intense situation and traumatic for everyone involved.”

The Marshfield youth faces two felonies including attempted murder for the attack last month. According to a motion filed in Washington County Court last week, Jestice’s attorney is seeking youthful offender status. They argue he is capable of receiving treatment and rehabilitation and that the juvenile system will provide sufficient services.

When a person under the age of 22 is charged with a crime, their case can move from criminal court to family court, where proceedings are closed to the public and prison is off the table as punishment.

“People under the age of 22 are still growing, they’re still developing, and they’re still becoming the people they’re going to be. They’ll be treated as juveniles, the criminal history won’t follow them,” said Washington County State’s Attorney Michelle Donnely. She says there have been 13 cases up for youthful offender consideration this year alone. Last year, she says there were 55 in Washington County last year and that 11 were denied.

She will not discuss Jestice’s case but says that before a youthful offender hearing takes place, a screening is conducted to assess an offender’s risks and needs. “The process allows for a case-by-case analysis, and I think that’s the right approach here. This screening instrument and the DCF report is going to give everybody, myself and the court included, a lot more information to be able to weigh in on what the appropriate outcome would be,” Donnely said.

If the judge decides to grant Jestice youthful offender status he would undergo treatment or rehabilitation under the Department for Children and Families. If denied, the case goes back to criminal court where he’ll be tried as an adult and face possible prison time.

Jestice’s youthful offender hearing has yet to be scheduled and he is being held without bail.

Gabriel Deangeles continues to recover from the attack and remains out of work.

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