As the attorney representing three teens charged with burning Hephzibah High School's JROTC building to the ground in June argued for leniency at a Juvenile Court hearing Wednesday, Judge Jennifer McKinzie countered with a dose of tough love that seemed to silence any hope the teens had for getting off easy.
"(The adults in the case) are looking at 30 years and the max in this court is 30 days," said McKinzie. "The leniency happened because they are juveniles."
Two adults, James Schlein and Antonio Maurice Sinkler, are being tried in Superior Court.
The three young men -- each one of them now felons -- were led away by bailiffs to serve the next month in confinement -- the maximum sentence for their charge of second-degree arson. The teens, brothers Jerry, 13, and Ryan Taylor, 15, along with 13-year-old Demontrez Miles, will be on high-intensity probation for the next five years. They were also sentenced to 100 hours each of community service.
But perhaps more than the confinement, the most difficult question for the court was how to make the teens pay for the $348,340 in damage they caused to the school. Part of the burden will fall on the parents, McKinzie said.
"I want everybody to know up front that it's the parents' responsibility when their children make bad choices," she said. "There is going to be some payback."
That decision was, at least partially, postponed so the attorneys for the teens could speak with the defendants' parents about their financial assets. Meanwhile, McKinzie said the teens would have to immediately begin paying $25 a month to the school.
As if to drive the seriousness home, McKinzie said the teens, who will spend Christmas and New Year's in confinement, should have no expectations about receiving holiday cheer.
"Any amount of money you get ... you must give to restitution," she said to the parents. "(The defendants) have lost the privilege to have any Christmas gifts."