Orion teen released days before slaying
November 07, 2012
The 16-year-old Lake Orion teen charged with the Pontiac homicide on Oct. 23 was recommended for detainment on other charges less than a week before the killing.
Allegedly, the teen, Donald James of Orion, invaded a Pontiac home with the intent to steal drugs, guns and money, according to Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe. He and an accomplice entered the building armed and when the occupants appeared armed, a shootout erupted. In the ensuing firefight, one of the residents suffered a shot to his head, killing him.
James fled the scene after his accomplice was hit with a shotgun blast that knocked him unconscious. That night, both were apprehended.
James was charged on Oct. 19 with breaking and entering a vehicle with intent to steal and concealing the stolen property. He had no prior criminal history.
James, a high school junior who moved to Orion in Dec. 2011, pleaded guilty and prosecutors at the time requested he be confined. The boy's mother objected and requested that she be allowed to supervise her child under a house arrest.
Oakland County Circuit Court Referee Michael Hand consented and authorized James' release.
"The hearing I represented him at, he entered a guilty plea and the prosecutor asked for him to be detained, but based on several factors I argued he would be fine on home detention. The referee agreed with me," said Susan Loveland, James' court appointed defense attorney.
"He pleaded guilty, the parent gave us some history on him. He wasn't disobeying curfew or doing too badly in school and these are all things the court is supposed to look at. He had a good school record. He was a bright kid, he had never been in trouble before and his accomplice was older and had a criminal history along the lines of carjacking."
Loveland said the impression she got from James and his mother was that he was associating with the wrong crowd and was encouraged to participate in crime.
In addition, James had lived with his grandmother during the alleged theft and the mother was offering to take him back under her wing for greater supervision. Based on those representations, Loveland and Hand argued for James' release.
"His crime was nonviolent. He hadn't been sentenced yet and in juvenile delinquency the goal is not punishment but rehabilitation - it's a little different for non-adults," said Loveland. "The way we saw it was this was a kid that just slipped off the track, but, well, we were all wrong. I was devastated - my mouth fell open and I started crying when I found out. I cannot believe it."
Prosecutor Paul Walton believed one reason the teen was viewed favorable was that his parent appeared before court for her son - an action he said can be rare.
"One note I saw said that they felt having the mother come in and say she would supervise influenced the decision," said Walton. "There are a lot of cases where parents just don't show up at all. She said he had no priors and he was doing well in school, but then he went out and involved allegedly himself in a murder."
James had a pre-exam conference on Nov. 1 to determine the next steps that face James and the other alleged participant, 17-year-old Pontiac resident Jonathan D. Hickerson.
Hickerson remains hospitalized for gunshot wounds suffered in the shootout. The conference was adjourned until Nov. 29.