Cape Cod Murder Tragedy Spurs Call For Change In Massachusetts Juvenile Offender Laws- Part One

By now, many have read or heard of the gruesome, recent murder of a 16 year-old boy in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The body of Jordan Mendes was found buried in a ditch on Jennifer Lane in Barnstable on Tuesday night, December 16 2008. According to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, Mendes had been stabbed and shot to death shortly after noon on December 15 2008. The next day, his body was doused with gasoline, rolled in a carpet, set on fire, and then buried, smoldering, in a dirt hole. Police have arrested three individuals for this murder.

But if the facts couldn’t get any worse, investigators allege that two of the victim’s killers were 13 year-old boys – and that one of the 13 year-olds was the victim’s half-brother. The two 13 year-olds are Kevin Ribeiro and Mykel Mendes; Mendes is the victim’s half-brother, and they share the same father, one Manuel Mendes. Manuel Mendes is a convicted cocaine dealer, who is currently serving a 35-year federal prison sentence for cocaine trafficking. The third defendant is 20 year-old Robert Vacher. According to a criminal complaint in Barnstable County District Court, investigators allege that Robert Vacher stabbed and shot Mendes, while the two 13 year-old defendants supplied the gun and the knife, and were present during the murder. The three defendants allegedly stole $10,000.00 from the victim, who was alleged by the defendants to be a drug dealer, and bought a silver BMW with the cash.

Any reasonable person would expect that all these defendants should be put on trial for murder (presumably in the first degree,) and if found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, spend the rest of their lives in prison. But it gets complicated from here – and unpleasant. Because two of these three defendants are under the age of 14, they cannot be tried as adults in Massachusetts. This is due to the state’s Juvenile Offender Law, which provides that while defendants aged 14 and older can be tried as “youthful offenders” and sentenced as adults, juveniles under the age of 14 are shielded by this statute from: 1) A public trial; and 2) If found guilty of this charge (or any criminal charge,) such juvenile defendants can only be held in state custody until a maximum of age 21. If these two 13 year-olds were 14 or older, they could be charged as youthful offenders in open court, and incarcerated past the age of 21. Under the existing law, they can’t.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what, if anything, should be done about this type of criminal law situation.