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Murder, arson charges filed, judge to decide in July if 15-year-old stands trial as adult
The case of a San Juan Island boy accused of murdering his mother and then setting his home ablaze will be on hold for the next three months as attorneys for the defense and the prosecution prepare for a coming pivotal showdown in court.
Prosecutors last week filed formal charges accusing the 15-year-old of one count of murder in the first degree and one count of first-degree arson at an arraignment hearing in San Juan County Juvenile Court.
They filed a motion that also asks the court to release its jurisdiction so that the case can be transferred to superior court and the boy can be tried as an adult. On April 14, Juvenile Court Judge Don Eaton, who presides over superior court as well, approved an agreement in which the defense and prosecution asked for a three-month extension before the two sides weigh in on whether there’s sufficient legal grounds for the boy to be tried as an adult.
He ordered the 15-year-old to remain in custody without bail — he’s been in a juvenile detention facility in Port Angles since his April 7 arrest — and postponed accepting a plea pending a July 12 hearing in which the venue for the case is expected to be determined.
Everett-based attorney Robert O’Neal, with the Snohomish County Public Defenders Association, was appointed defense attorney three days prior to the arraignment hearing. Though he declined to comment on details of the case, O’Neal noted a defendant in a case before superior court has options that those in juvenile court do not.
“A jury trial is an option in superior court,” he said.
Prosecutors claim that the 15-year-old murdered his mother, Sharon Hammel, and then set fire to the family’s Park Street home in the predawn hours of April 4 to cover up the alleged crime.
According to court documents, the teen reportedly told officers at the time of his arrest, “I burned my home, but I didn’t kill my mom.”
He was taken into custody without incident.
Results of an autopsy by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner reveal that Hammel, 49, died of multiple stab wounds to the upper torso and neck, or possibly by a fatal blow to the head, which she suffered the night of her death as well, according to court records. Authorities believe Hammel most likely was dead before the master bedroom of her home was set ablaze.
Hammel’s son and a San Juan Island man, Ian Paterson, who rented a room at Hammel’s Friday Harbor home, escaped the fire without serious injury after flames erupted in the master bedroom.
Prosecutors, in support of transferring the case to superior court and trying the teen as an adult, contend the boy, if convicted, is unlikely to be rehabilitated given limitations of the juvenile corrections system and the violent nature of the alleged crime.
Maximum penalties for first-degree murder, a Class A felony, include confinement until the age of 21, for juveniles. Adults, if convicted of murder, face maximum penalties of life in prison, a $50,000 fine, or both; however the standard range of sentencing set by the state is 123-220 months in prison.