COURTHOUSE — A 17-year-old Skippack boy charged as an adult in the alleged stabbing death of his girlfriend wants his trial moved to juvenile court where potential punishments are less severe upon conviction.
Tristan Brian Stahley, of the 4100 block of Rittenhouse Lane, through his lawyer Timothy J. Barton, filed papers in Montgomery County Court seeking to “decertify” his case to county juvenile court. Barton claimed Stahley will be able to establish at a decertification hearing that the transfer of the case to juvenile court “will serve the public interest.”
“Additionally, defendant is in need of a program of supervision, care and rehabilitation,” Barton wrote in court papers.
Stahley, a former Perkiomen Valley High School student, is currently being held in the county jail without bail, awaiting trial on charges of first- and third-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime in connection with the May 25 fatal stabbing of Julianne Siller, a 17-year-old from Royersford who was scheduled to graduate from Spring-Ford Area High School weeks later.
Authorities alleged Stahley, who was 16 at the time of the incident, stabbed Siller to death after an argument in a park near the Perkiomen Trail.
Police and prosecutors charged Stahley as an adult, relying on state laws that allow juveniles to face adult charges if they are accused of murder or commit violent crimes with a weapon. If Stahley is convicted of first-degree murder in adult court he could face life imprisonment. A conviction of third-degree murder in adult court could carry a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.
However, if the case is transferred to juvenile court and the charges are proven, then Stahley could be kept under court supervision only until he’s 21.
Juvenile court cases are handled differently than adult criminal cases. In juvenile court, there are no juries and all cases are handled by a judge. While adult court proceedings focus more on punishment, in juvenile court the focus is on rehabilitation.
In juvenile court, defendants are never referred to as “guilty,” but are considered “adjudicated delinquent” if the charges are proven. Additionally, juvenile courts aren’t bound by the same sentencing guidelines used in criminal courts.
Punishments in juvenile court can include placement in a juvenile detention facility, a rehabilitation facility or house arrest.
To get the case transferred to juvenile court, Barton will have to convince a judge that Stahley is amenable to treatment in the juvenile system. Judge William R. Carpenter has not yet scheduled a hearing on the pretrial request to move the case to juvenile court. At that hearing, prosecutors could oppose the so-called juvenile decertification.
Stahley pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment last month.
Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Abidiwan-Lupo previously explained prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty against Stahley if he is convicted in adult court of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing, in light of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed the death penalty unconstitutional for those who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes.
A life sentence also would not be automatic under a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed automatic life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional and required judges to consider factors such as juveniles’ life histories and their potential for rehabilitation in fashioning sentences.
Stahley and Siller had been dating “off and on” for about six to nine months at the time of the incident, according to court papers. The couple allegedly drove to the park off Creamery Road where they argued about Siller smashing Stahley’s phone and going out without him, according to court documents.
“Tristan said he used an orange handled EMT knife and stabbed Julianne in the throat and on her body,” according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective Paul Bradbury and state police Trooper Barry Bertolet. “After the stabbing, Tristan said he then drug Julianne’s body into the woods to conceal her body.”
Authorities alleged the paramedic-style knife was found about 10 feet from Siller’s body.
After the alleged killing, Stahley returned home and threatened to kill himself with another knife shortly after confessing to his mother. Stahley’s father attempted to stop his son from committing suicide and struggled with the teen, suffering scratches to his face and a bite to his hand in the process, according to the arrest affidavit.
State police responded to the Stahley home about 10:21 p.m. for a report of a domestic disturbance and diffused the struggle between father and son. At that time, Stahley allegedly confessed to police and led troopers to Siller’s body.
An autopsy determined Siller died from multiple stab and cutting wounds.
Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews.