Miguel Ita stabbing: DA frustrated by new rules for charging fifteen year olds as adults
Last week, we told you about the decision of the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office to name Miguel Angel Ita, fifteen, as the prosecutorial target in a fatal Lakewood stabbing and begin the procedure to try him as an adult.
Photos, video below.
That process has changed, and not for the better in the view of Jeffco DA Pete Weir. He laments the inability to use a method called "direct file" to simply move Ita's case directly to adult court. Get details and see photos and a video below.
The homicide victim was Jose Barrera-Mendoza, 22, and as we've reported, he narrowly evaded death once before -- in December 2009, when he was eighteen. According to KOAA-TV, Andrea Hernandez-Almanza was behind the wheel of a Ford pickup when the vehicle crashed on Interstate 25 south of Fountain. Hernandez-Almanza is said to have veered onto the right shoulder of the roadway, then over-corrected, causing the vehicle to flip. Abelardo Mendoza-Garcia, 46, was killed in the crash, while the other occupants survived, but barely; Barrera-Mendoza, along with Mendoza-Garcia and an unnamed twelve year old, were ejected. No one was wearing seat belts.
Barrera-Mendoza would not cheat the odds during the wee hours of April 21. At approximately 1:50 a.m., the Lakewood Police Department received a disturbance report that brought officers to the parking lot of an apartment complex at 285 South Jay Street.
The 2009 accident scene, courtesy of KOAA-TV.
Upon their arrival, they discovered three stabbing victims. One of the trio is said to have suffered relatively minor injuries, but the other pair were transported to a local hospital, where a man later identified as Barrera-Mendoza was pronounced dead.
Before long, a juvenile male was taken into custody -- and Weir's office has identified him as Ita. "The statute specifically provides that we are authorized to release the name of a juvenile charged with a Class 1 through Class 4 felony," Weir says. "Sometimes we do it because of the magnitude of the crime. We believe in protecting the rights of all defendants, particularly juveniles, but we also believe in the transparency of the system and the right of the public to know."
During a hearing last week, Ita was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault, plus five violent-crime-related offenses and eight aggravated-juvenile-offender beefs. The total: eighteen.
The apartment complex near where the fatal stabbing took place.
This matter took place in juvenile court. But Weir has filed a motion requesting a transfer hearing, so that Ita can be charged as an adult.
Such a hearing wouldn't have been necessary under the previous version of a law known as "direct file." As our Alan Prendergast has reported, Colorado was one of just four states where prosecutors had discretion to prosecute offenders in the fourteen-to-seventeen age range in adult court without a judicial hearing on the issue. But those laws have changed, with the Ita case one of the first examples of how. Weir explains.
"There was quite a lot of debate during the last legislative session about a juvenile file bill called 12-1271," he says; we've included the document below. "It was a frankly philosophical separation-of-powers debate that restricted the ability of district attorneys to make decisions with respect to when a juvenile should be treated as an adult -- and one of the most significant aspects of it was a component that raised the age with which we could direct file to sixteen."
For those under age sixteen, like Ita, "the statute provides for a transfer hearing," Weir goes on. "If we choose to charge a juvenile as an adult, we have to justify it before a judge, who may say, 'The district attorney may proceed,' or 'No, I'm remanding this to juvenile court.'"
Critics of direct file feel this extra step is necessary because some DAs are too eager to charge juveniles as adults.
Continue for more about the Miguel Ita case and direct file, including photos and documents.