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Boy merited insanity plea, justices told

By ROB MORITZ

This article was published June 9, 2000 at 4:16 a.m.

— Andrew Golden, the younger of two boys who killed four students and a teacher at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro two years ago, should be allowed to argue that he was insane, his lawyer told the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday.

"I believe he was" insane, said Andrew's attorney Val Price, a public defender from Jonesboro, after arguing before the high court that Andrew should have been allowed to defend himself with an insanity argument during a 1998 juvenile court hearing.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that state law does not allow juvenile court defendants to use an insanity defense.

Price also argued before the court that his client was not competent to face the charges.

Competency, Price said, is whether Andrew, at the time of the proceedings, had the ability to cooperate with his attorney and understand the nature of the charges.

Price asked the court to overrule a Craighead County judge's decision that denied his request to argue that Andrew was not able to fully understand the charges against him.

Price told the high court that Andrew should have been allowed to argue that he was incompetent because the charges filed against him in juvenile court were based on the state criminal code, which allows adult defendants to raise questions of competency and use an insanity defense. Youthful offenders should have the same rights, he said.

Joe Cordi, an assistant state attorney general, disagreed with Price and told the Supreme Court on Thursday that youthful-offender "defendants are not equal under the law" and that youthful offenders do not have fundamental liberties. He said the juvenile code was established because youthful offenders are considered incompetent to start with.

In 1998, Andrew, then 11, and Mitchell Johnson, then 13, were found to be delinquent in a juvenile-court proceeding in the March 24, 1998, shooting deaths and the wounding of 10 other people at the school. Johnson admitted the killings.

Andrew's attorney didn't deny that his client participated in the shootings, but tried unsuccessfully to argue that his client was incompetent and then that his client was insane.

A Craighead County judge denied both arguments, saying that state law does not allow youthful offenders to use those defenses.

The judge ruled that because the juvenile code does not specifically mention incompetence or insanity, then they cannot be argued, Price said, adding that the juvenile code is based on the Arkansas Criminal Code, which does allow those defenses.

"A 17-year-old in juvenile court might be competent," Price said. "In my case I don't think my 11-year-old was competent, and it's unfair I couldn't argue that in court," he said.

Cordi told the Supreme Court that the "priority function of the juvenile system is rehabilitation and that the rehabilitation process would be delayed by a competency hearing."

If the Supreme Court overturns the lower court decision, Andrew's case would go back to Craighead County Circuit-Chancery Court for a competency hearing, Price said. If Andrew is then declared incompetent to defend himself, he could be sent to the State Hospital for rehabilitation, his attorney said.

If he is determined to be competent, he would have a juvenile court rehearing.

"If he's not competent, he shouldn't have been convicted even if he did the shootings," Price told the Supreme Court. He said Andrew could spend up to 10 years in state Youth Services Division custody.

"The state would put on their proof, and the defense would be allowed to put on the insanity defense," Price said. "We could try to prove, going back to the time of the crime, whether he could appreciate the criminality of the conduct or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."

After being found delinquent in juvenile court, the boys were assigned to the Youth Services Center at Alexander. State law at the time did not provide for youthful-offender incarceration past age 21, and the state had no place to hold youths after their 18th birthdays.

The high court judges peppered Price and Cordi with questions and comments.

"If an adult has the ability to say 'I'm not competent,' why shouldn't a juvenile have a similar right," asked Justice Annabelle Clinton Imber.

Justice Ray Thornton asked whether a youthful-offender defendant with mental problems should be placed in a detention hall for rehabilitation or the State Hospital.

"How do you do that if you don't allow a hearing on insanity?" Thornton asked.

Justices Tom Glaze and Donald Corbin questioned Price's argument and asked what would be the benefits of a reversal.

They said that even if Andrew were declared incompetent and was sent to a mental hospital until he was competent, he already had admitted to the crime and ultimately would wind up back in detention when he was found to be competent.

Copyright © 2007, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.

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