Child killer case highlights court problem

TUCUMCARI, N.M. (KRQE) – The case of Tony Day, a Tucumcari teen accused of killing his mother and sister, is on hold because of a fight over how the case should be handled.

Day is facing two counts of murder for allegedly stabbing and killing his sister, 49-year-old Shery Folts, and shooting and killing his mother, 67-year-old Sue Day, in November 2012. If he’s found guilty and sentenced as a juvenile, he would be locked up until his 21st birthday. If he’s sentenced as an adult, he could be locked up for 60 years.

Under New Mexico statute, juveniles do not find out if they will be sentenced as a juvenile or an adult until after a finding of guilt or the approval of a plea agreement.

Both the prosecuting attorney and Day’s attorney agree this is unfair to both the child suspects and victims and have agreed to hold an amenability hearing before trial. That hearing determines how likely it is that Day can be rehabilited within the juvenile system and how he will be sentenced if found guilty. The Children, Youth and Families Department has challenged the move, arguing that law does not allow it.

Deputy District Attorney Kirk Chavez says it makes no sense and is a disservice to the victims.

“They have constitutional rights just like the defendants, and one of those rights is to be able to take part in plea negotiations. It makes no sense whatsoever. The victims would have to sit through a trial and the emotional cost would be amazing,” says Chavez.

Day’s attorney, Jeffrey Buckels, says the system is also unfair to the accused.

“With adult clients, you have a rational conversation with them about what they are facing when choosing between a plea or a trial. With a juvenile, I can’t. That’s pretty ridiculous.” says Buckels.

While a judge has tentatively agreed to the amenability hearing before trial, the CYFD spokesman says the agency is considering its legal options. That could include simply moving forward, or appealing to the supreme court.

Chavez says he’ll continue to argue against the current procedure in other cases until the law is changed.

Many say the law was designed to try to speed up juvenile cases. Attorneys agree that has not happened.

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