The 17-year-old suspect in the July 24 beating of a Cape Girardeau woman will be prosecuted as an adult, a judge ruled Tuesday, and officials wasted no time filing charges that included "hate crime" language because the victim is gay.
In a hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes, Judge Scott Lipke transferred the suspect, Mercedes M. Ayers, from the juvenile system to the adult courts. Ayers, already in ankle shackles, was then taken into custody and transferred to the Cape Girardeau County Jail.
Neither Terry nor her partner testified Tuesday, although both had been subpoenaed. The girl's lawyer, Jeff Dix, did not object to the juvenile office's motion to certify the suspect, who was 16 at the time of the attack but turned 17 on Friday. Terry did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.
Ayers' parents, Calvin Ayers and Nancy Harris, were in the courtroom, though Dix said they had no comment after the hearing. Before the hearing, Mercedes Ayers unsuccessfully tried to get her father to remove her mother from the courtroom.
Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle filed a class B felony charge of first-degree burglary for entering Terry's home with the intent of assaulting her. Terry says the suspect pulled her from the home before she, her two younger siblings and some of their friends beat and stomped Terry while yelling anti-gay slurs. If convicted, the suspect faces five to 15 years in prison on that charge.
The second charge, third-degree assault, is normally a misdemeanor, Swingle said, which carries possible penalties of one day to one year in the county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. But because he believes the assault was a hate crime, the charge becomes a class D felony, which carries the more stringent penalty of one to four years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Swingle said he intends to prove the hate crime requirement that the suspect was "knowingly motivated" by Terry's sexual orientation.
"In Cape Girardeau County, thankfully, hate crimes are rare," Swingle said. "We have maybe one a year at the most. In proving the motive, we have to prove it just like any other fact -- have testimony and evidence to prove the motive, either by eyewitnesses or confession. So that's our allegation, and we intend to prove it."
Ayers was being held on a $10,000 bond, though Judge Benjamin Lewis notes in the arrest warrant the condition that she is to have "absolutely no contact with Jeana M. Terry by any means."
A probable-cause statement prepared by John Volkerding, an investigator with the prosecutor's office, says that police responded July 24 to a call that a fight was in progress on South Park Avenue in south Cape Girardeau. Several subjects were assaulting one woman, who was on the ground. When police arrived, the report says, Ayers fled as a witness pointed and yelled out: "That's her! Right there!" The officer caught Ayers and placed her in custody.
Terry and her partner, Lisa Lange, told investigators that Ayers came to the door uninvited that night. Terry opened the door, the report says, and Ayers grabbed her by the arm and pulled her onto the porch and attacked her. Terry attempted to escape and yelled to Lange to call 911. Ayers pursued, punching Terry as several other juveniles -- including two of Ayers' younger siblings -- joined in.
Terry never hit back, the report says, instead attempting from the ground to block the repeated blows and stomps to her head and body. Ayers yelled racial slurs at Terry during the beating and made comments about Terry's sexual orientation.
Lange told law enforcement that Ayers had been yelling derogatory names at them for some time, calling them "dykes" and "yags," which is the plural of "gay" spelled backward. Shortly before the assault, the report says, Ayers yelled at Lange sitting near a window that she was going to get her brother and come back and beat her. Minutes later, she and her 11-year-old brother returned and attacked Terry. Her 13-year-old sister and some of their friends joined in later, according to Terry.
The 11-year-old last week was again arrested in an armed robbery case and is being held at the juvenile detention center in Charleston, Mo. The 13-year-old is on probation but is being monitored electronically. Swingle said that Missouri statutes prohibit the 11-year-old boy from being certified as an adult because the limit is 12.
Tuesday's hearing was the first of its type for Judge Lipke in the 20 months he's been in office. The most recent of such cases in Cape Girardeau County was in 2007, when a 16-year-old from Jackson stood accused of shooting and wounding another teen three times in a love-triangle dispute. The teen, Jonathan D. McClard, killed himself in prison the following year after being sentenced to 30 years.
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