Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald C. Nagle this week rejected a request by the attorney for Calvin Haines Jr. to have her client decertified as an adult criminal defendant and have his case transferred to the Chester County Juvenile Court, where he would be adjudicated and likely placed in a facility that would seek his rehabilitation rather than his general punishment.
We find that Judge Nagle acted properly in this case, although we do so with our approval tinged with some sadness.
Haines, now 16, was 15 years old last August when he got into a car with a 24-year-old man who had befriended -- some might say hypnotized -- him, Dashan White. White, who had a history of improper behavior, suggested that Haines accompany him on a planned robbery of the Microtel Inn & Suites motel off Route 202 in West Goshen.
Not only did Haines agree, he actively began planning and aiding White in the steps leading up to the attempted robbery. He gathered masks and tools in a backpack that the pair could use, and left his family's home in the middle of the night. His father, according to testimony at the seven hearings Nagle held in the matter, warned him to stay out of trouble. He did not listen.
Instead, as Nagle put it: "He ... descended down a path of willful, destructive and unlawful behavior even though he (knew) his actions (were) wrong."
That is perhaps the strongest point. There was nothing about Haines' psychological makeup that would have suggested he could not have made a conscious decision not to engage in the robbery. He knew danger was involved -- White brought along two guns to use in the scheme -- and as a resident and young man who had some experience on the mean streets of Coatesville, Haines surely knew what guns are capable of doing. We disagree with the notion expressed by one of the defense psychologists who interviewed Haines that the guns and robbery tools and masks were all "props" for Haines' teenage imagination.
What happened that night is now of record. The pair drove to the hotel, tied up the night clerk, tried to pry open the safe, and ransacked the manager's office in a desperate search for cash. When a police officer interrupted their crime, one of the men -- it is still unclear which one -- fired as many as seven shots at him. We -- all of us, Haines included -- are lucky that the officer, Sgt. Michael Carroll, was knowledgeable and experienced and adept enough to avoid the hail of gunfire, both inside the motel lobby and outside. White was killed as Carroll fired at him in courageous self-defense.
Of Haines, Nagle wrote:
"In my view, he poses a threat not only to the community but the people who are around him on a daily basis when he is not closely supervised." Although Nagle said he agreed that the robbery was primarily White's idea, he said Haines must also be held accountable. "That a then-15-year-old child would be capable of contemplating, co-planning, and executing an armed robbery of this nature is concerning to this court and to this community," the judge wrote. "Haines could have abandoned the plan, but chose to pursue it."
And that is where our sadness comes to play. Haines had the ability to abandon the episode, but chose not to.
And now a 16-year-old who might have used that split-second decision as a wake-up call to turn his life around and make something useful of himself sits in a prison cell contemplating a future of grim reality. For White, who put not only his own life but the life of a teenager in danger, we have no sympathy. For Haines, we have only regret.