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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Adult trial for adult crime

THE judicial system gave Robert Jobe a fair hearing. A lengthy hearing. And in taking 20 minutes to explain in detail his thinking on the matter, retired Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge James Ray made plain for all to see how carefully the issue had been considered.

Then he gave the decision the community expected and wanted: The teenager will be tried as an adult for the murder of Toledo police vice detective Keith Dressel.

The question of whether he should be tried as an adult or a juvenile is partly dependent upon arbitrary factors. He is 15. If he had been just a year older at the time of the killing in February, he would automatically be tried as an adult.

The law says that if certified to be tried as a juvenile he'd likely be released from custody at 21. That gives the judge a clear-cut choice - the option of an appropriately lengthy sentence if the suspect is convicted as an adult, versus an embarrassingly short incarceration for an accused cop killer if tried and convicted as a juvenile.

There's insufficient middle ground, as is the case in some sentencing guidelines where mandatory jail terms are out of sync with the characteristics of individual crimes.

Judge Ray must have been keenly aware that whatever his decision, he would get some heat. Certify young Jobe as a juvenile and be sure to hear from those accusing him of being soft on crime; certify as an adult and hear from those who see the accused as a wayward child, not meriting an adult trial or penalty.

Conflicting portraits of the young man were presented in court by the prosecution and defense, but ultimately the judge made the right call - one we believe matches the prevailing sentiment in the city.

His reasoning was sound. The community comes first, the judge said. Would a short period of incarceration provide sufficient time for a change in the suspect's attitudes and values to assure community safety? He decided it would not.

He noted that the teen had several run-ins with authorities and that he had snubbed court orders, even cutting off an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. He was caught with a gun late last year.

He could face life imprisonment but not the death penalty if tried as an adult.

Some may find it hard to imagine how a person that age could reach this point, facing the most serious of charges, accused of murdering a police officer.

It's understandable that they might look back at the 1950s, or the 1960s and 1970s, and wonder whether those were not more halcyon days when young people may have gotten up to mischief, but nothing too serious. When guns and drugs were not so prevalent, and gangs settled scores with their fists, not semi-automatic weapons.

Rose-colored glasses? Perhaps. But it is nonetheless disturbing that today a person so young in years can stand accused of a crime so adult.

However, that is the sad reality that Judge Ray had to consider, and it is that reality his thoughtful and correct decision reflects.

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