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Testimony to decide Toledo youth’s status

Girl was 14 last year when charged in brother’s death

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    Brandya Cavitt, the mother of homicide victim Tommie Thomas hugs daughter Tyanna Thomas during the girl’s initial court hearing.

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    Tommie Thomas

At what age is a teen accused of murder too young to face charges as an adult?

Tyanna Thomas was 14 when Toledo police said she took a shotgun and fired last year at Tommie Thomas, 15, in their central-city home.

On Wednesday, the Thomas youth, now 15 years old, returned to Lucas County Juvenile Court, where a judge will decide whether to retain her case or send it to the adult division of Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Defense attorney Jim Haughn said his client's case belongs in juvenile court.

“There’s plenty of time to rehabilitate her,” Mr. Haughn said in his opening statement.

Over the course of four hours, prosecutors’ witnesses testified about the Thomas youth’s history at school, juvenile detention, and the criminal justice system. An additional two hours of defense testimony described the teen as hard-working, but also struggling with at least two behavior disorders.

Police found Tommie on Dec. 7 inside the residence in the 1000 block of Woodland Avenue with a single gunshot wound to the chest. They did not recover the firearm.

Police arrested the teen on a murder charge. She previously entered a denial to the charge and is in the Juvenile Detention Center. If transferred, she would be the county’s youngest transfer case at the time of offense in recent memory. In Ohio, children as young as 14 can stand trial as an adult.

Detective Jeff Clark testified Tyanna was previously arrested in 2015 on a charge of aggravated robbery near the library’s Mott Branch, where she was suspected of carrying a gun. A firearm was not retrieved, and the charge was later reduced to robbery. Detective William Noon also testified he believes she was in a gang based on photographs on Tyanna’s Facebook page.

Nicole Wilson, an administrator at Toledo Public Schools, said Tyanna was disciplined at school more than 30 times through fourth grade and suspended repeatedly later for such incidents as threatening others and pushing a teacher, she said.

Brandya Cavitt, the siblings’ mother, told the court Tyanna was affected by her father’s absence and her own long hours at work. The Thomas youth had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, she said.

A high school English teacher of the Thomas youth, Nicole Gurtzweiler, said she found the girl nice and respectful.

“She would react with openness, perseverance, and responsiveness to what I was trying to teach that day in class,” Ms. Gurtzweiler said.

Attorneys are expected to make closing arguments June 2. Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon will decide whether her case transfers from juvenile court.

Contact Ryan Dunn at: rdunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6095, or on Twitter @rdunnblade.

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