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14-year-old boy faces rape charge
Teen charged as adult for assault on child
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A Hall County grand jury returned a felony indictment against a 14-year-old boy this week on charges of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl.

The defendant, who is not being named by The Times because of his age and his relationship with the alleged victim, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years without parole if convicted of rape. He is also charged with aggravated child molestation and child molestation in the alleged assault, which occurred in a Hall County home on Feb. 29, according to court documents. The boy was arrested March 28 and booked at the Hall County jail before his transfer to Gainesville’s Regional Youth Detention Center.

Under a law passed by the state legislature in 1994, persons age 13 or older charged with one of Georgia’s so-called "seven deadly sins" are automatically charged as adults. The crimes are murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and voluntary manslaughter.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said prosecutors in his office could decide to transfer the case to juvenile court or keep it in adult court. Under the law, a superior court judge can also make that decision, independent of a prosecutor’s recommendation.

"While a decision is still pending, we felt it was important to bring the formal charges by indictment," Darragh said Friday, a day after the indictment was returned. "During the pendency of the case, this office will keep all its options open."

"The nature of these charges and the evidence prompted us to go ahead and present the matter to a grand jury," Darragh said.

Area court observers and law enforcement officials say it is rare for a 14-year-old to be indicted in superior court. In many cases, defendants that age have their cases heard in juvenile court, where the maximum period of confinement is five years.

Hall County prosecutors have indicted juveniles on other serious crimes, including murder. Chaz Stringer was 15 when he was charged in a fatal shooting, and later received a mandatory sentence of life in prison after being convicted of murder at age 17.

Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn, whose office successfully prosecuted a 15-year-old boy as an adult on a child molestation charge last year, said the decision on whether to try a young defendant in superior court or juvenile court "depends on a variety of factors."

"You’re looking at the age of the juvenile, the circumstances of the case," Penn said.

"When a child’s in juvenile court, the court is looking at what’s in the best interest of that child," Penn said. "They want to see if there’s something in that child they can salvage."

Superior court may give more consideration as to whether the child is a danger to society, she said.

"Even with the fact that you have a young defendant, everything else may weigh against that," she said.

It could not be determined Friday if the boy had been released on bond or remained in custody.

The boy’s attorney, public defender Nicki Noel Vaughan, did not return phone messages seeking comment.