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Public Defender for 14-year-old indicted on first degree murder charges speaks out

There’s been more input surrounding the arraignment of a Peoria teenager charged with first degree murder.

Thursday, family of the victim, 16-year-old Zarious Fair, walked out of the courtroom; saying they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear what the judge was saying.

25 News was in the courtroom when Judge Katharine Gorman handled several video arraignments. Our reporter noted Gorman projected her voice and the charges she outlined for each person, were audible from the back of the room.

It wasn’t however, until the 14-year-old approached the judge’s bench, that it was noted her voice became much lower and nearly impossible to understand.

Rena Parker, Court Administrator says Judge Gorman’s voice and demeanor were not out of the ordinary. She cited the judges projected voice during video arraignments as nothing more than a means of ensuring the suspects on the other end of the screen could hear her. She also explained it is never within the scope of responsibility for a judge to make sure the public can hear the comments during an arraignment.

According to Parker, Judge Gorman wasn’t aware there were media present, or members of either family involved in the case. And again, if she was, Parker says the judge’s only responsibility is to communicate to the defendant their charges and to hear their plea.

The juvenile’s court appointed lawyer, William Loeffel, echoed that explanation, but understood why some may have been frustrated and confused. Loeffel, outlined the circumstances of the 14-year-old being tried as an adult is a unique case, that has not only drawn the attention of family involved, but a much of the public too.

“We have a separate juvenile court system that is meant to handle the needs of these young people whose brains are not fully developed at this point.” Loeffel shared.

A local counselor from the Antioch group shared that studies outline the human brain isn’t full developed until around age 27.

For a young man to be indicted on murder charges and moved to adult court, is not unheard of, but is certainly uncommon.

Though Loeffel was named electronically as the 14-year-old’s attorney in the Peoria County’s criminal court records, he did not find out about the appointment until late Friday morning, and as such, has had no communication with any member of the suspect’s family, nor the suspect.

The juvenile, who is accused of shooting and killing Fair on June 12th after a suspected robbery, faces two counts of first-degree murder and a single count of unlawful possession of a weapon.

Loeffel broke down the severity of a charge and said solemnly, if convicted of murder, the minimum his client would face is twenty years. The max, is sixty.

But twenty-five years would be added if he were convicted on weapons charges and 100% of that time would have to be served. Th is not a case where good behavior could impact or lessen a sentence.

Finally, Loeffel added despite the shock and devastating reality that two families’ lives will forever be changed by this, it remains a terrible and harsh reality that similar situations are happening disproportionately in communities of color.

“You can’t work in this business without recognizing from who you see come through the courthouse…that this is a population very much at risk. A vulnerable population.”  said Loeffel.

The 14-year-old pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for October 21, 2019.

This story originally included the 14-year-old suspect’s name, but his case was moved back to juvenile court in September 2019. As a result, we have removed his name from this article.

Lauren Melendez

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