Judge decides if murder deserves to be referred to juvenile court

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A Pulaski County circuit judge is examining whether an 18-year-old Little Rock man charged with murder when he was 17 should be prosecuted in juvenile court.

Judge Cathi Compton concluded a three-and-a-half-hour hearing on Tuesday by saying she would decide the issue in the coming days after further examination of the evidence.

Defense lawyer Lisa Walton urged the judge to give Joseph Villarreal a chance to reintegrate into the juvenile justice system.

Villarreal, who turned 18 in March, is himself the victim of physical abuse, sexual violence and neglectful parents who have driven him from their homes, forcing him to fend for himself, the public defender said. He was placed in foster care twice, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was institutionalized on several occasions for depression, trauma and suicidal thoughts and homicide, according to testimony at the hearing.

The juvenile system has failed him so far, Walton said, pointing out that he was beaten by other children while locked up in an attack deliberately ignored by staff members.

“He wouldn’t be sitting here if he had the right family support, the right community support,” Walton told the judge. “[The Division of Youth Services] failed him. His family failed him. “

If Villarreal is sued in the juvenile system, he can be held until the age of 21 and then will have to serve at least three years of probation and most likely more, Walton said. If Villarreal cannot prove to a judge that he has been rehabilitated, he can be sent to jail.

She further argued that the case against Villarreal is not as clear-cut as prosecutors claim, as it is based in part on witnesses who have a reason to downplay or obscure their role in what happened. to Nicholas David Winter, 37, in May. 2020.

Villarreal is accused of shooting Winter at 2303 E. 145th where Winter had rented a room, testified Sheriff Investigator Terrance Mems.

He told the judge that three masked men, including Villarreal, stormed the residence on the orders of the owner, Anthony Griego, 19, to force Winter off the property. The effort was organized by Floyd St. Clair, 36, with Christopher Burroughs, the group’s third member, Mems said. Neither man has been charged.

St. Clair and Burroughs told authorities their intention was a physical confrontation to get Winter out of the house and that they were surprised when Villarreal shot Winter, who had armed himself with a rifle, almost as soon as the three entered the residence, Mems said. . Both men said they were unaware Villarreal was armed, the MP said.

Villarreal’s little brother also told MPs his brother told him how he shot a man and was unsure if the man survived, the investigator said. Mems testified that he had known Villarreal since the teenager was a student at Mills High School who was arrested on campus – then expelled – for having a BB gun at school.

Deputy District Attorney Christy Bjornson urged the judge to retain jurisdiction over the case, arguing that Villarreal deliberately ignored many opportunities to improve. He continued to make choices about how to live his life, including his decision to shoot a man – someone he has never met, the prosecutor said.

“He chose to be there. He chose to bring a gun and he chose to use it, having been there less than a minute,” Bjornson said. “He chose to attack Mr. Winter.

Testimony showed that Villarreal had been in the juvenile justice system since 2018, mainly for property crimes, and the prosecutor further noted the duration of the murder, 2.5 months after his release from a month of incarceration in a juvenile detention center.

Court records show that in September 2019, Villarreal, then 16, was charged as an adult with committing an act of terrorism after Little Rock police linked him with a woman, Vanessa Quintana , 31, to a shooting in May 2019 that injured Victor Faz. , 25, cousin of Quintana, in a mobile home park at 8118 Stanton Road.

When questioned by police, Villarreal said a man shot him with a shotgun during an argument involving a group of people and that he joined Quintana in shooting some people, an affidavit says of arrest. Quintana was identified as the person who shot Faz, according to court documents.

Despite objections from prosecutors, the judge’s predecessor, Herb Wright, transferred Villerreal’s case to juvenile court in February 2020, according to court documents. The Quintana trial is ongoing.

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