Judge rejects home detention for alleged Joplin school shooter

Saturday, February 16, 2008

JOPLIN, MO. (AP) -- A Joplin teenager accused of firing an assault rifle at his middle school will remain in jail while his case is being appealed.

A district judge Friday rejected a defense motion to put Thomas White, 15, on home detention or reduce his $250,000 bond while the Missouri Supreme Court decides whether he can be tried as an adult.

Judge David Mouton told the courtroom the charges are too serious for him to allow White a reduced bond or home detention.

White has been in the Jasper County Jail since December 2006, when he was certified to stand trial as an adult on four felony charges related to the alleged shooting and one count of trying to flee juvenile detention.

White was 13 at the time he allegedly fired the rifle inside his middle school in October 2006. Prosecutors say the gun jammed after one shot into the ceiling. Nobody was injured.

Public defender James Egan argued Friday that White's 14-month incarceration is beginning to border on "cruel and unusual punishment" because his age means he has to be kept in isolation.

Mouton rejected that argument and said part of the purpose of bond was to protect public safety.

White's lawyers are asking the state Supreme Court to return the case to the juvenile system. The Supreme Court has set a Feb. 28 hearing on the issue.

White's mother, Norma White, 47, said after the ruling that she had "hoped but not expected" her son to be freed.

Norma White said she is only allowed to visit her son once a week for 15 minutes in the jail, where they can talk by phone through a glass separator. Thomas White is not getting any formal education, although Egan said he will file a motion for court permission to appoint a private tutor.

Norma White said Friday she has been unable to find a job since the alleged shooting. At the time, she was a full-time mother.

The boy's father, Greg White, is serving a 15-month prison sentence on a federal charge of owning a gun despite a prior felony conviction.

Thomas White is one of the youngest offenders ever to be certified as an adult in the state. Three St. Louis girls, two 14-year-olds and one who was 13, were tried as adults in a 2004-2005 murder case.

If White is convicted, he faces an approach to juvenile crime known as blended sentencing and a state program involving dual courts' jurisdiction.

The court could sentence White jointly to the Department of Corrections and the Division of Youth Services, with the adult portion of the sentence suspended upon completion of the juvenile sentence.

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