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Published: Friday, 2/23/2007

Lack of evidence kept teen on streets, prosecutors say

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Judge James Ray Judge James Ray
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A Toledo teen appeared in Lucas County Juvenile Court yesterday, accused of killing a police detective. And with Judge James Ray's brief explanation of the system, so began a process that could send Robert Jobe to prison for the rest of his life.

Handcuffed and wearing the dark green jump suit provided by the detention center, the boy sat quietly throughout the brief hearing. He was flanked by defense attorney Ann Barones and his mother, Diane, who kissed him when he was escorted in by deputies.

The 15-year-old said few words, answering Judge Ray's question about whether he understood the process with a simple, "Yes, I do, your honor."

Judge Ray ordered the youth detained until a probable cause hearing at 9 a.m. March 15.

He also took into consideration a request by the Lucas County prosecutor's office to transfer the case to Common Pleas Court, where the teen would be tried as an adult.

It could take months to get to that decision. A prosecutor must first convince the judge during a probable cause hearing that there's enough evidence to move forward, and the court will evaluate the boy's social, mental, and criminal history.

Based on that information, Judge Ray will be able to determine whether the boy is - in the vernacular of juvenile justice - "amenable" to rehabilitation. In other words, if the boy were convicted, could he be rehabilitated in the juvenile system before he's 21 - so that he's no longer a threat to the community?

"We'll find out about you as much as we can possibly find out," the judge told him.

The paneled courtroom - packed yesterday with media, court officials, and Jobe family members - most likely was familiar to the teen.

He'd been in this courthouse for earlier arrests, leaving some people questioning how the boy could be on the streets again - this time with a 38-caliber gun with which he's accused of killing Detective Keith Dressel.

The answer, according to prosecutors: a lack of evidence in earlier cases.

Most recently, police had responded to a call of someone shooting in the air at Bush and Erie streets shortly after midnight Dec. 29. They found the teen at a North Toledo carryout. Inside a box near him was a 22-caliber handgun - its handle in sight.

But there were evidence problems to support the felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon, said Kevin Carder, an assistant county prosecutor. For one, the gun was far from "concealed."

Also, he said: "We couldn't put the gun in his hands. Believing [a charge] is one thing, proving it is different."

In fact, it was much the same problem with an earlier case, Mr. Carder said.

On June 28, police found the teen leaving an apartment where police found a small amount of cocaine and a marijuana pipe inside. But the boy didn't live at the house and no one had seen him use the drugs.

As the cases wound through the court system, police and the teen would face off again.

At 3 a.m. Aug. 4, police said young Jobe was with two apparently intoxicated men - 18 and 22 years old - in the 900 block of North Michigan Street. The men were charged with misdemeanors after refusing to disperse, and the boy, who police said had suspected marijuana in his pocket, was taken home.

Then on Sept. 7, police saw the youth walk away from a suspected drug house. He struggled with officers who stopped him, pulling his elbow back as if to hit one officer and pushing another to the ground.

The Jobe youth went to court Sept. 18 and Magistrate Sue Cairl, acting on the recommendation of a prosecutor, dismissed the two assault charges police had filed against him in the Sept. 7 incident.

She also agreed to accept a drug abuse charge in the June 29 case, and three other misdemeanor charges: drug possession, obstructing official business, and resisting arrest.

The magistrate then recommended a relatively rare move. She ordered young Jobe into the juvenile court's intensive "treatment court." Each year, a few dozen offenders are asked to participate. They must submit to routine drug screens, attend counseling, and follow conditions of their probation. A judge then can wipe out the charges against them.

But just two weeks after his hearing, the teen cut off an electronic monitoring device and walked away from house arrest.

Juvenile Judge Denise Cubbon issued an arrest warrant for young Jobe and police took him into custody Dec. 29 for the gun charge.

The youth was kicked out of drug court and instead served two weeks in detention and three weeks in a community program to which he had to report several hours a day.

"The report from there was that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing," said Kendra Kec, assistant administrator for Lucas County Juvenile Court.

He was doing so well, in fact, he was placed on electronic monitoring for another week, and then released Feb. 9.

His arrest record amounted to a string of misdemeanors - meaning he couldn't be assigned to a youth prison facility.

Judge Ray said judicial ethics bar him from commenting on any specific case.

In general, he said, the court deals with thousands of youths each year and must weigh each charge against the evidence and strength of witness statements, and each sentence against community safety concerns, a hope for rehabilitation, and the unpredictable nature of humans.

"The short answer is that this is not an exact science. We're dealing with humans and all the complexities that go along with that," he said.

It was a sentiment yesterday echoed by state Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green).

"I remember [Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer] telling us that many times, when a child appears before a juvenile court judge, you don't know if you're dealing with Dennis the Menace or Billy the Kid,'' he said.

As a state senator, Mr. Latta sponsored the law that made blended juvenile-adult sentences a possibility.

The blended sentences create a situation where prosecutors and judges could keep those who commit crimes as juveniles locked up after they turn 21, the point at which they would normally be released from the juvenile detention system.

Still, it's unclear how likely the "serious youthful offender" would play into young Jobe's case.

Lucas County juvenile authorities yesterday said they could not remember a time in recent history that a juvenile charged with aggravated murder had not been transferred to adult court.

Jim Provance of The Blade's Columbus bureau contributed to this report.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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