Two of the five teenagers charged in the brutal beating of a Butler High School student will be tried as adults and, if convicted, could spend time in adult prisons.
Judge Willie Saunders has transferred the cases against Berten Blockett and Brandon Mansson -- ages 16 and 14 at the time of their arrests -- to Superior Court. There, they could face prison sentences seven times longer than those of the other three teens arrested in the March 1 attack on 16-year-old Terence Reese. Saunders declined to move those cases.
Saunders' order, filed Friday in Richmond County Juvenile Court, says there are reasonable grounds to believe all five teens committed the acts against Reese, but the public's interest to try Blockett and Mansson as adults outweighed other concerns.
He cited "the very egregious nature of this offense and the community's interests in combating a rash of teen and gang-related violence."
Mansson and Blockett "readily admit to their involvement in this crime," whereas with the other three, "there are questions as to the relative involvement of these juveniles in this incident," the order says.
"I'm glad that we finally have a decision," said Richmond County Assistant District Attorney Natalie Spires, who along with the families and the five defense attorneys had been waiting since a May 21 hearing. "I'm glad that Terence and his family aren't hanging in the balance anymore. They kind of know a little bit more about what will happen."
The other three teens -- Ross Nipple, 15, Joshua Plowright, 14, and Mark Daniel Musick, 14 -- are charged with designated felonies, so while their cases will remain in juvenile court, they are still open to the public.
Despite this, Saunders instructed juvenile court staff to deny requests to view his signed order Friday. Georgia law grants public access to court files in open juvenile cases.
A message left for the judge by The Augusta Chronicle was returned by a staffer who said he had no comment on the order. A second message, asking specifically about the law allowing file access and his stance to the contrary, wasn't returned.
The order, which the newspaper obtained by other means, said that while the victim testified that he doesn't know Mansson and doesn't believe he was present during the beating, Mansson admitted to kicking him while he was on the ground. He told investigators that Reese had disrespected Blockett, his cousin.
Saunders noted that a forensic psychologist who evaluated Mansson said he met the criteria for a conduct disorder. The same psychologist found Blockett to have "an arrogant and hostile demeanor" with a propensity for using aggression to solve problems, calling for restrictive placement and intensive therapy.
In Superior Court, the two face sentences of one to 20 years for the aggravated battery charge and five to 15 years for the gang charge. If given lengthy prison terms, they would likely start their sentences in juvenile facilities, then be put in the state Department of Corrections system after they reach adulthood.
The other three, if convicted of the same charges in juvenile court, could be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice for a maximum of five years, with the department deciding at what point they could be released or placed on probation.
Authorities allege that four of the suspects -- Blockett, Plowright, Mansson and Musick -- are members of the Apple Valley Posse gang, based off Mike Padgett Highway. Nipple claimed to be in the Bloods gang.
Investigators said Blockett wore a belt with "AVP" written on it, and downloads from Musick's and Nipple's cell phones found pictures of Nipple flashing gang signs and Musick in gang attire.
The teens are accused of ruthlessly beating Reese on March 1 in an activity called "locking down the block," in which they attack anyone who entered their territory.
Reese had just walked a female friend home from school and was walking along Circular Drive on his way to the Peach Orchard Road Save-A-Lot to be picked up by his mother, Taanja Reese.
On Friday, his mother said she believed each of the suspects should be tried as adults but was happy to see the case moving forward.
Within the next month, she said, her son will have to undergo another surgery in which doctors will have to break his jaw and reset it to correct his bite. Reese's jaw was wired shut for weeks after the initial beating.
"We're a little disappointed, but I guess everything is going to work out," Taanja Reese said.
Juvenile court proceedings will resume for Plowright, Nipple and Musick on June 18.