Sheila McLaughlin reports:
How can you kill someone and get only 54 days in jail?
A rarely used Ohio law for violent juvenile offenders makes that possible for 18-year-old Lance Tiernan.
Tiernan could even be out of jail before he finds out his final sentence for killing fellow resident Anthony Parker at the One Way Farm teen group home last December. He was a student at Mason High School before being arrested.
A Butler County Common Pleas Judge set Tiernan’s release date as Oct. 13.
His lawyer, prosecutors and Judge Patricia Oney will pow-wow Oct. 8 to decide if that date sticks or if Tiernan can be freed on a recognizance bond until at least Oct. 22. That’s when a juvenile judge has scheduled a hearing to determine whether Tiernan will be subject to sentencing as a juvenile or face an adult sentence and conviction that will follow him for the rest of his life.
It’s yet another chapter in an already-complicated case involving Ohio’s Serious Youthful Offender law.
The case that keeps ping-ponging between courts has Parker’s relatives wondering how it will ever end.
Either way, justice won’t be served, said Parker’s adoptive grandmother Anita Smith of West Chester Township. Either way, it won’t bring her grandson back.
Is five years of probation enough?
“No, but nothing would be,” Smith said.
Tiernan was 17 when he slapped 16-year-old Parker, picked him up and threw him headfirst on the floor on Dec. 19 at the Fairfield Township group home. Parker died nine days later, when Smith gave doctors permission to remove her grandson from life support.
Because of the ferocity of the attack, prosecutors asked that Tiernan be tried as an adult on a murder charge and a juvenile judge automatically sent the case to Butler County Common Pleas Court after determining there was sufficient evidence of the crime.
If convicted of murder as an adult, Tiernan faced life in prison.
At trial Tiernan testified that he never meant to kill Parker. A jury however convicted Tiernan of a lower-level felony of involuntary manslaughter, triggering a confusing legal process.
Under Ohio’s Serious Youthful Offender law, a juvenile judge would have had discretion whether to send Tiernan’s case to adult court had he initially been charged with the less serious offense of involuntary manslaughter.
Had that happened, the juvenile judge would have been required to hold an “amenability” hearing and review psychological evaluations and other information about Tiernan to decide whether the case could stay in juvenile court, whether Tiernan could learn his lesson through the juvenile justice system.
But prosecutors went after Tiernan for the more serious charge of murder, an offense that doesn’t warrant an amenability hearing before being sent to adult court.
So now, Tiernan is looking at a possible blended sentence – one that combines a juvenile disposition with an adult sentence.
The adult court judge, Patricia Oney sentenced Tiernan to 54 days in jail and five years of probation. Oney “stayed” the adult sentence, meaning Tiernan wouldn’t start serving the 54 days until Juvenile Judge Ronald Craft decides to sentence him or send the case back to Oney to enforce the adult sentence.
Since then, prosecutors have filed a motion asking Craft to wash his hands of the case. They want the adult sentence to stick.
Tiernan heads to juvenile court for an amenability hearing on Oct. 22.
If Tiernan catches a juvenile sentence and completes it to Craft’s satisfaction, he’s done. If he messes up, the case bumps up to Oney and her sentence would be imposed. Should he violate Oney’s probation, she said she would send him to prison for up to three years.
Defense attorney Charles M. Rittgers is fighting to keep the case in juvenile court because it gives Tiernan a better chance for a future.
“With that, comes a lot of benefits. (The conviction record) doesn’t follow you into adulthood,” Rittgers said.
Unlike an adult manslaughter conviction, Tiernan could ask to have his juvenile record expunged or sealed.
As for asking Oney to set Tiernan free on a recognizance bond, or promise to return to future hearings, Rittgers said Tiernan would have been out of jail altogether on Oct. 13 if Oney’s adult sentence was put into play.
That was the day she had set for Tiernan to be released from jail before she “stayed” the sentence pending the juvenile court hearing, he said.