Despite infractions at schools, prison, defense urges juvenile placement
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The attorney for a 17-year-old charged as an adult for his role in an armed home invasion in Birmingham Township this past spring argued on Friday that his client belongs in the juvenile system, a position vehemently opposed by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.
During a daylong hearing before Chester County Judge David F. Bortner, Robert J. Bush, who represents Daniel K. Waltson, presented a single witness, a forensic psychologist. Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Burack presented six live witnesses; a state prison official who testified by video; and an impact statement from one of the victims.
Bortner took the matter under advisement and said he would issue his decision on Sept. 4 at 1:30 p.m.; however, his questions and comments strongly suggested that he was leaning toward juvenile placement.
According to earlier testimony, one of the robbery victims, Rachel Yalisove, had just returned from a shopping trip with her mother, Karen Wroblewski, about 3 p.m. on March 19. When she walked into their Birmingham Township residence, a man shrouded by a red bandana pointed a silver pistol in her face from about three feet away. The confrontation caused her to run and scream for her mother, who was behind her, to do the same.
Yalisove, who did not appear on Friday, submitted an impact statement that described the experience as scarring. She said she had been looking forward to a relaxing visit home from college during spring break and instead returned to school “traumatized and exhausted.” She said her home, once her “safe haven,” is now a place that unnerves her with an anxiety that has proven pervasive.
Police said the teens were Waltson and Alexander W. Granger, 18, who is awaiting trial. Waltson was charged as an adult because of the seriousness of the crimes, prosecutors said. Investigators were able to track the pair because they used a wheeled trashcan that left tracks when they carted the stolen goods from the Wroblewski home to Granger’s nearby residence.
Investigators said Waltson threw a brick through a window to gain entry into the home, where the teens stole jewelry, electronics, coins and two .357 Smith and Wesson pistols. They allegedly took the guns with them when they went back to the home for a second load and were confronted by the returning residents, police said.
Psychologist Bruce Mapes testified that Waltson had a difficult childhood. He said Waltson never knew his mother, who had mental-health problems, was estranged from his father, and was raised by his grandparents. Mapes said the death of Waltson’s grandfather six years ago after a two-year bout with cancer was extremely painful.
Mapes said Waltson was correctly diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was 14 but was never treated for it. Mapes said he did not believe the ADHD contributed to the crimes, but it did prompt Waltson to act out in school. However, Waltson’s infractions never rose to the level that involved him in the juvenile-justice system, Mapes said. “I don’t condone what he did … It’s my professional opinion that he’s amenable to treatment in the juvenile system,” Mapes said.
Testifying for the prosecution, East Marlborough Township Police Lt. Robert C. Clarke Jr. said he had contact with Waltson twice: once when he was cited for marijuana possession at Unionville High in 2011 and once when he was arrested for underage drinking in January 2012. A third indirect contact occurred in March, Clarke testified, when a letter Waltson had written from prison to a friend was intercepted by the friend’s mother and taken to the police station.
Read by Clarke, the letter included a rant against “corrupt” authorities and said Waltson did not belong in the “big-boy jail … for a crime I didn’t commit.” The letter said police “forced Granger into thinking he was getting 20 years,” which is why Granger confessed.
Burack also called Charles Lawson, a correctional counselor at Chester County Prison. Lawson said despite repeated warnings to Waltson to avoid infractions that could adversely affect his transfer to the juvenile system, the teen misbehaved so frequently that he has earned a year’s worth of restrictions.
But Lawson’s testimony was cut short by the judge. Bortner said Waltson’s “disciplinary record at adult prison was not relevant to whether he’s amenable to juvenile treatment.”
Another prosecution witness, Eugenia Roberts, the principal at the Coatesville Alternative Education Program, said Waltson enrolled there in September 2012 but did not last long. Roberts said after Waltson refused a teacher’s multiple directives to turn his computer on, the teen threw a container of Muscle Milk on it that splattered on tables and walls.
Roberts said Waltson was suspended for a day but ended up leaving the same month when his grandmother moved to Florida. Roberts said Waltson apparently missed his friends, returned to the area, and re-enrolled at the school in March, enrollment that was again short-lived.
Waltson walked by a kid on the bus and threw a book at him, Roberts testified. She said the victim did not want to press charges, but Waltson was prohibited from returning to school without contact from his father, who had been given her cell phone number, she said. She said Waltson, who knew he would not be permitted in the building, showed up anyway and was driven home by a faculty member.
In one of the hearing’s testier exchanges, Bush asked Roberts whether anyone had checked to see whether Waltson was delivered to an empty residence. She explained that he was not enrolled at the school at that point, prompting Bush to suggest that if Waltson hadn’t been dropped off, perhaps the crimes would not have occurred later that month. “You can’t blame that on the school,” Roberts replied.
Chester County Detective James F. Ciliberto testified that he interviewed Waltson the day of his arrest and that the teen maintained “a very belligerent attitude,” cursing and repeating: “I’m a juvenile; you can’t arrest me.” Ciliberto strongly disputed Bush’s contention that most defendants respond in a similar fashion.
Stephanie Ackley, a corrections counselor at SCI Pine Grove, testified that her facility runs a young adult offender program, which offers an alternative disposition for youth charged in the adult system. Under questioning by Bortner, she said most of the participants have averaged three placements as juveniles. “How can I find in the commonwealth’s favor, given her testimony?” the judge asked.
Burack responded that Waltson “graduated very fast” from minor offenses to a felony robbery with a gun. Burack said one of the most troubling limitations of the juvenile system is that it guarantees release at age 21. That time period is insufficient to treat someone with Waltson’s background, putting the public at risk, he said. “He wasn’t acting like a child that day,” Burack concluded. “He should be held accountable for acting like an adult.”
Bush countered that the risk to the public would be greater if Waltson interacted with hardened criminals, citing research that shows a higher recidivism rate for youth imprisoned in the adult system. “We don’t want to create career criminals,” he said.