12-year-old girl accused in infant's death ruled incompetent to stand trial

12-year-old girl accused in infant's death ruled incompetent to stand trial
Zuri Whitehead was allegedly beaten to death by a family friend. (Source: Family)
Zuri Whitehead was allegedly beaten to death by a family friend. (Source: Family)
At age 11, the girl appeared in juvenile court days after the February killing. (Source: WOIO)
At age 11, the girl appeared in juvenile court days after the February killing. (Source: WOIO)

LAKE COUNTY, OH (WOIO) - The 12-year-old Wickliffe girl accused in the death of 2-month-old Zuri Whitehead headed back to court Thursday for a competency hearing. After hearing from psychologists representing both sides, a judge has ruled the girl incompetent to stand trial.

The child is charged with murder.

The juvenile's mother was babysitting Zuri at her home in the 1500 block of Ridgewick Drive in Wickliffe on Feb. 6. According to police, after the sitter fell asleep on the couch around 3 a.m., the child took Zuri upstairs and beat her to death.

The child, 11 years old at the time, then brought the baby back downstairs and woke her mother. The mother says she called 911 as soon as she saw Zuri bleeding with a swollen head.

Zuri died of extensive internal injuries.

Thursday's competency hearing began with testimony from psychologists. One for the state said the 12-year-old was competent to stand trial, while two for the defense said she was not. In the end, the only opinion that matters is that of the judge.

"She was able to understand and appreciate the charges, penalties, and pleas. She was able to understand and appreciate trial participation roles," said Dr. Lynn Luna Jones.

Jones is a psychologist who testified for the state. She believes the girl, while below average in some areas of intelligence, is average in understanding information that is presented to her either visually or verbally.

Testimony also revealed the girl heard voices, urging her to kill herself or others.

The defense tried to challenge the finding of competency.

"Why have you not made that diagnosis?" a member of the defense team asked Jones.

"Because she does not have any documented history of being diagnosed with any kind of history of psychotic disorder," Jones responded.

A defense expert found the 12-year-old scored basically the same as the state's psychologist, but came up with the conclusion that she was not competent.

"There were times that she threatened to stab a teacher. You know, this wasn't just a kid having problems with the mother," said Dr. Jeffrey Rindsberg.

Since the girl was not found competent by the judge, Ohio law allows a year of treatment to bring her up to that level, if possible.

Court administrators say the judge based the decision on information from all three psychologists. The one psychologist, who found the girl to be competent, saw the child one time and did not speak to the child's parent. On the other hand, the two psychologists who independently found the girl to not be competent, saw the child on eight different occasions and not only spoke to the child's parent, but also to the child's grandparents. In addition to the two psychologists, the child's Guardian ad Litem also recommended to the judge that the child be found not competent.

According to court administrators, the judge also ordered that pursuant to law, the court will delay dismissal of this case for 90 days and a referral will be made to the Department of Job and Family Services. The judge "strongly suggested" to the department that they consider filing a motion to determine if the child is abused, neglected or dependent.

In the interim, the child will remain in the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center until a suitable placement is found.

Zuri's great aunt, Barbara Goodman, says the family is "hanging in there" and taking the decision in stride. She added they are worried that after the juvenile spends 90 days in juvenile detention, she will just be released to go home. However, the prosecutor's office told the family they will be speaking with them more in the future.

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