Lawyers

Urging juvenile trial, lawyer says boy not misplaced trigger

Psychological testing shows a Little Rock teenager accused of killing his mother is a good candidate for the rehabilitation services he would receive in juvenile court, lawyers for the 17-year-old told a Pulaski County circuit judge Thursday as they press to have the decision to try the boy as an adult overturned.

Prosecutors suggested that Kaelon Duwan Presley, who is charged with capital murder and evidence tampering, is a psychopath who will say whatever he thinks will help him get what he wants.

The sides met at a hearing Thursday before Judge Wendell Griffen, who said he will decide the question after taking written arguments from the prosecution and defense over the next two weeks.

Presley was 16 in December 2019, about 1½ weeks before Christmas, when police found his 37-year-old mother, Shondra Laney Miller, dead in the living room of the family home on Brush Creek Avenue. She had been shot in through the back right side of her head with the bullet exiting her left temple.

Officers had received two 911 calls around 8:30 a.m., about two minutes apart, reporting Miller had been killed. The first call came from police Sgt. Willie Davis who reported that he was on the phone with a student he had been mentoring and that someone had been killed at the house.

Miller’s girlfriend, Breanna “Bree” Barnes, 29, was the second caller, telling police that when she couldn’t get Miller on the phone that morning, she’d called Presley who told her his mother had been killed by an intruder, according to police reports.

Barnes said she had last seen Miller about 6:40 a.m. when she’d left to go to work and had tried to call her about 30 minutes later. Barnes showed police a photo she said Presley had texted her that showed the woman slumped over on the couch.

Detective Matt Harrelson testified Thursday that Presley had told Davis and Barnes the same story — that the family dog had gotten out of the house and that while he was chasing it down, someone went in through the back of the residence and shot his mother.

But before police had arrived that morning, Presley told a neighbor something different — that his mother had shot herself, the detective told the judge.

In custody, the teen told detectives that something his mother said had made him angry so he went and got a gun — a weapon he had been holding for a friend — and pointed the weapon at his mother as she sat on the couch playing with her phone and pulled the trigger accidentally as he “wiggled” it, Harrelson testified. Presley could not remember what his mother had said to him, the detective said.

Presley told detectives that he never intended to kill his mother and was remorseful to the point of tears that he had killed her, Harrelson told the judge.

A motion-activated surveillance camera at the back of the home showed Presley walking outside and throwing something, but police don’t know what it was, the detective testified.

Investigators have never found the weapon, he said. Presley told them that he’d given the weapon back to the friend, but when detectives questioned that boy, he said he never had a gun and knew nothing about it. Police also searched the friend’s house on Maureen Drive, about 7 miles from the shooting scene, Harrelson testified.

Presley also told detectives that he’d been abused physically and mentally by his mother, but that accusation was contradicted by the psychologist who examined the teen for the defense.

Benjamin Silber, who works for the State Hospital while maintaining a part-time practice, told the judge that Presley regretted his mother’s death but also admitted to him that he had lied to police about being abused by her. Presley did not testify Thursday, and Silber’s psychological assessment of the teen is the centerpiece of the defense’s case that the teen be tried in juvenile court.

Questioned by defense attorney Cheryl Barnard, Silber testified that, as an adolescent, Presley’s brain has yet to fully develop, particularly the areas that control his ability to plan and organize.

Presley will turn 18 in March, and the brain generally doesn’t mature until about age 25, the psychologist testified. He told the judge that the immature brains of children lack impulse control, making them prone to reckless conduct and emotional outbursts because they cannot fully weigh the consequences of their actions and consider potential outcomes.

Silber said his testing found Presley has the attributes that make him amenable to reform, among them a tendency for positive social involvement with adults, respect for authority figures, empathy toward others and definitive plans for a future where he envisions completing college to become a math teacher, architect or mechanical engineer.

Silber also told the judge that Presley has an IQ of 86, which is on the lower end of average, and further demonstrated that he knew right from wrong.

Silber said he did not do any personality testing on Presley when questioned by deputy prosecutor Michael Wright about whether he had examined the teen for psychopathy traits.

Screening for the condition is complex, Silber said. He testified that he saw no indicators for the condition in the testing and interviews he conducted, but acknowledged that psychopathic traits could be seen in the context of some of Presley’s responses and behavior.

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