Tulsa County Judge: 15-Year-Old Murder Suspect To Be Tried As An Adult

Friday, October 25th 2013, 3:29 pm
By: News On 6

A judge's reversal means a Green Country teenager could spend life behind bars if he's convicted of murder.

Joshua Mooney was 14 years old when investigators say he shot and killed Mary Escue in her parents' home in Jenks, last December.

Friday, a judge decided to certify Mooney to be tried as an adult, on charges of first degree murder, second degree burglary, and robbery with a firearm.

Tulsa County Judge Clifford Smith's decision is a reversal of the one he made this summer. At that time, he felt Mooney should be tried as a youthful offender.

As a youthful offender, Mooney's sentence would have been a few years at a treatment facility. Only if he failed the program, would he have been sent to an adult prison.

Earlier this week, News On 6 showed you a video of Mooney in jail, in the background of another juvenile inmate's Skype call. Mooney is seen laughing and holding his fingers up to his head like a gun, saying "head shot," while another inmate talks about him killing someone.

10/22/2013 Related Story: Skype Video Of 15-Year-Old Tulsa Murder Suspect Shows Disturbing Behavior

The District Attorney's Office believes that video, which they submitted during the appeal, played a critical role in the judge's decision.

The appeals court's decision to kick back Joshua Mooney's case to a Tulsa court allowed the DA to submit the Skype video as evidence.

"The video was a very critical addition to evidence that we already had," said Steve Kunzweiler, chief of the criminal division of the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office.

Kunzweiler said Mooney and other juveniles in the Tulsa County jail were joking about Mooney being tried as a youthful offender, and that the clip is Mooney making light of shooting and killing Mary Escue.

"He has parents, he's had attorneys, he has the guidance of courts, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out if someone is making light of the death of a human being," Kunzweiler said.

"To look at a couple-of-minute video and say this was the lynch pin of the case, I don't think that's right, I think that's inappropriate," said Mooney's defense attorney, Jack Zanerhaft.

The judge's decision, filed Friday, states that there isn't "a reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation," if Mooney is convicted.

Zanerhaft disagreed with the ruling and said the Skype video has no bearing on Mooney's guilt or innocence.

"It's also important to remember that this was just about the status of Josh Mooney as the case will go forward," Zanerhaft said.

The DA pointed to Mooney's past run-ins with the law--firing a BB gun at young children, stealing cars, and being put on probation for stabbing FFA show hogs.

Mooney's attorney said his client's past doesn't justify trying him as an adult.

"Kids who are charged as adults in serious crimes, when they come before the court, normally have much longer histories, much longer rap sheets, much more serious and violent contacts," Zanerhaft said.

The judge's ruling also says that Mooney can tell the difference between right and wrong.

6/18/2013 Related Story: Prosecutors: 14-Year-Old Murder Suspect Should Be Tried As Adult

While the state agrees, the defense sees this as a lesson to society.

"If, as a society, we would have seen the signs earlier, intervened earlier, maybe got him the proper treatment or intervened, maybe this tragedy - for both families - could have been prevented," Zanerhaft said.

The state brought in its own psychologist to run tests on Mooney. The state's psychologist placed Mooney in the "96th percentile in risk for future dangerousness," while the defense's expert held firm that he should be tried as a youthful offender, even after seeing the Skype video.

The defense's psychologist testified that the penalty for failing the treatment program - going to an adult prison - would likely be enough incentive for Mooney to change his behavior.

Judge Smith said in the ruling, the video, while "disturbing and outrageous," was not directly relevant to the certification proceedings, but it was relevant to assessing the defense expert's objectivity in her testimony.

"The court finds that the same potential negative reinforcement presently exists in a negative outcome of these certification proceedings and the defendant's behavior is still an issue," Judge Smith stated in his findings.

The defense says it plans to appealing the judge's decision.

Click here to read the four-page ruling