Judge weighs adult murder trial for 18-year-old

Suspect in uncle’s 2018 death has PTSD, lived in unstable home, therapist says

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright said Tuesday that he'll decide in the coming days if a young suspect, who told authorities that he accidentally shot and killed his uncle, should be tried as an adult.

Concluding a two-hour juvenile-transfer hearing for D'Anthony Clee Bushong, Wright said he'll make his decision after reviewing Bushong's police interview, psychiatric records and an Instagram video that investigators say shows the teen playing with a gun shortly before his November 2018 fatal encounter with 36-year-old Tobias Mathew Bushong at the family home in Little Rock.

D'Anthony Bushong, arrested at the scene, was about three weeks shy of turning 17 and was charged as an adult with first-degree murder. Now 18, he's been jailed ever since.

According to police testimony, officers called to the Sunflower Drive residence found the teenager and his mother, 36-year-old Earline Bell Bushong, in the street in front of the residence, with Tobias Bushong fatally wounded inside.

Earline Bushong was in near hysterics, crying out repeatedly that her son had shot her brother, said officer Holly Bain who arrested the teen at gunpoint.

Detective Rick Harmon testified that D'Anthony Bushong said he'd been watching internet videos and playing with a gun in his bedroom. Thinking he was alone in the house, the teenager said, he had walked out of the room carrying the weapon when he was startled to see someone in the home and accidentally pulled the trigger, the detective said. He told detectives he then panicked and hid the weapon, and police have never found the gun, Harmon testified.

The detective told the judge that the teen's story differed from his mother's version of events. Harmon said Earline Bushong was in the carport, having just gotten out of the car when she heard her brother inside yelling and then a gunshot. She then found her brother wounded in the house, the detective said.

Earline Bushong said she and her son had argued earlier in the day because she believed he'd stolen $200 out of her wallet, the detective told the judge. Harmon said D'Anthony Bushong also described the heated quarrel, saying Earline Bushong had told him she wished she'd aborted him, but the teen said he wasn't too upset because that was how they typically argued.

Harmon said he also learned that the teen and Tobias Bushong had a physical fight about six months earlier, but the teen denied being angry at the older man or wanting him dead.

Senior deputy prosecutor Jeanna Sherrill said the juvenile-justice system has little left to offer the teen, partially because of his age now, but also because the teen has already been through the system, having spent almost two years in a Division of Youth Services lockup beginning at age 13 for taking a gun to school in Camden. He was released in April 2017.

A July 2018 fight with his stepfather, 40-year-old Sharell Lakisa Douglas, saw D'Anthony Bushong back in the juvenile-justice system on a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge. Authorities in that case were considering a second Youth Services incarceration for him until he was arrested four months later on the murder charge, according to testimony.

Defense attorney Megan Wilson on Tuesday called on the judge to transfer the case to juvenile court, arguing that D'Anthony Bushong, now 18, is too immature to be tried as an adult and could be rehabilitated through the programs offered through the juvenile justice system, which can hold him until he turns 21. D'Anthony Bushong did well during his incarceration and could be rehabilitated, Wilson said.

Wilson said the juvenile-justice system had failed D'Anthony Bushong after his incarceration by not providing after-care services that he had been promised upon release.

Therapist Therese Skinner, testifying for the defense, said the teen is suffering from deeply rooted post-traumatic stress disorder brought on when he was about 5 years old and witnessed a playmate hanged to death. She said he also was raised in a "very unstable" environment as a child because of his mother's military career.

Skinner who had begun counseling with the Bushong family about the time of the slaying told the judge that the teen, at age 16, had the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old.

Skinner said D'Anthony Bushong had been a victim of bullying because of his slight build and fashion choices, telling the judge that Bushong acted out like an angry child to compensate, pointing to his boasting about having gang ties, displaying a preoccupation with firearms, and describing himself as a Robin Hood, who stole things to help out his friends.

Skinner said Bushong's admission that he had once killed a cat that had scratched him was not an indicator of a severe personality disorder but rather reflected his difficult upbringing. She said he expressed remorse and regret for that act.

Metro on 02/26/2020