A judge has scheduled a hearing date for Jesse Osborne, the teen accused in the deadly Townville Elementary School shooting, to determine whether the boy will be tried as an adult.
The 10th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, issued a statement late Friday indicating that Osborne’s hearing has been set for the week of February 12 at the Anderson County Courthouse.
Osborne, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, is accused of killing his father, 47-year-old Jeffrey Osborne, in their Townville home Sept. 28, 2016, then taking his truck to the school about three miles away. Investigators say the teen opened fire on the playground, wounding two 6-year-old students, hurting a third student, and shooting a first-grade teacher. Six-year-old Jacob Hall died of his injuries three days later. His tiny body was dressed in a Batman costume for his wake.
The prepared statement from the Solicitor’s Office on Friday briefly outlined how media may request access related to Osborne’s hearing. But the statement indicated that Solicitor David Wagner does not intend to answer additional questions about the proceeding.
“Due to the laws governing juvenile criminal matters in Family Court, this proceeding will be closed to the public and our office is unable to provide any additional details in reference to this hearing or this case until final disposition of the waiver hearing,” Friday’s statement read. “The Solicitor’s Office will not be commenting further or responding to press inquiries following this release.”
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The seriousness of the charges against Jesse Osborne and his age at the time of the shootings are among key factors that a judge will consider when determining whether to waive, or transfer, his case from family court to general sessions, or adult criminal court.
Chrissy Adams, the late 10th Judicial Circuit solicitor, said after the shooting in 2016 that she would seek to have Osborne tried as an adult.
When Wagner took office in January 2017, he said that he, too, would follow that course.
Because of his age, Osborne’s waiver hearing will be held in Family Court.
Family Court Judge Edgar Long signed an order this week saying that the number of reporters given physical access to the courtroom for the proceedings will be limited.
A Family Court judge has the authority to, but is not required to, waive to adult court a child of any age who is charged with murder, according to a guide to South Carolina’s juvenile justice system. The guide was created by the Children’s Law Center at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
The U.S. Supreme Court has identified multiple factors that a judge may consider when determining whether to send a child’s case to adult criminal court. Those factors, according to the justice guide, include whether a waiver is necessary to protect the community, “whether the offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated, or willful manner” and whether the alleged offense was against people or property. Other factors a judge may consider are a child’s level of maturity and whether he or she has other criminal history.
Josh Gupta-Kagan, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, spoke to the Independent Mail about waiver hearings in a September interview.
“The judge’s finding in whether to send a case to adult court is referred to as a waiver decision, but it’s essentially a sentencing decision,” said Gupta-Kagan. “If a child’s case remains in Family Court and is not waived to adult court, he is in a situation where he is dealing with the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and could be in custody until his 21st birthday and then released. If his case is handled as if he is an adult, he faces the sentences adults face, and those could be decades long.”
It is exceedingly rare for a case involving a child defendant to be waived up to adult criminal court in South Carolina, Gupta-Kagan said. Statistics from the state Department of Juvenile Justice show that in 2015-16, only three cases involving children were waived up to circuit court.
Field Dunaway, one of the attorneys representing Jacob Hall’s parents Renae and Rodger, said Friday that the Halls plan to attend Osborne’s waiver hearing. Feb. 12 is Renae Hall’s birthday, Dunaway said.
“The Halls are relieved that there is finally a firm date for them to know this is going forward,” Dunaway said in an interview Friday. “Of course, it is their hope that this defendant is tried as an adult.”
Jesse Osborne’s attorney, Frank Eppes, did not immediately return a message Friday seeking comment about the hearing.
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