Friday, August 05, 2005

My Role As A Guardian Ad Litem to a 14 Year-Old Accused of Murder

Fifteen year-old Michael Hernandez sits in the Miami-Dade County Jail facing first-degree murder charges in the stabbing death of his friend Jaime Gough. The crime occurred when Michael was 14, and he was immediately transferred to adult court, and is facing life in prison.

I am not his defense lawyer, but his his court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem. A role that carries with it the responsibility of assuring that Michael's case is being handled properly and that the decisions being made by his defense team and him, are in his best interest.

This week, Miami Herald reporter Fred Tasker wrote an expose entitled "Kids who Kill."

Below is my printed letter to the editor in response:

I thank Fred Tasker for his July 30 Tropical Life piece, Kids who kill. This heart-wrenching and devastating aspect of society affects families of both the victim and defendant in ways that other crimes do not.

What are we to do with kids who kill? And should we charge them as adults? When and how do we determine that a young person who commits an adult offense is now an adult?

Michael Hernandez was 14 when he was arrested and charged with the murder of Jamie Gough at Southwood Middle School. He was transferred to adult court. Later a judge ruled that Michael had a mental illness. He now sits in an adult jail where he receives an hour or two of school a day but no treatment for his mental illness. Now 15, Michael is deteriorating rapidly.

I am Michael's court-appointed guardian ad litem. It is easy to say that he should spend the rest of his life in prison if he is convicted because his crime was "adult." The hearts of everyone on Michael's defense team go out to the Gough family everyday for its unspeakable loss. This is not an issue about Michael as much as it is an issue of determining what we as a society are going to do with kids who kill.

BRIAN TANNEBAUM, Miami


I welcome your thoughts on any aspect of this case or issue.