Bresha Meadows, a 15-year-old Ohio girl accused of killing her allegedly abusive father, no longer faces the prospect of life behind bars.
On Thursday, her lawyer Ian Friedman announced that her case will remain in juvenile court. If her case was transferred to adult court ― an option that was looming until the prosecutor decided to take it off the table ― Bresha faced a possible life sentence in prison.
On July 28, police say Bresha picked up her father’s gun and shot him in the head, killing the man who she said brutally beat her mother and terrorized her family for years.
She’s been held in a juvenile detention center in Warren, Ohio, ever since, charged with aggravated murder. She pleaded “not true,” which in juvenile court is equivalent to a not guilty plea.
“I am obviously thrilled with the decision by the prosecutor to keep Bresha’s case in the juvenile court,” Friedman told The Huffington Post. “This doesn’t change our position that this was a self-defense scenario and we will press on with our effort to get Bresha home with her family right away. Today is a great day.”
With her case remaining in juvenile court, even if Bresha is tried and convicted of aggravated murder, she can only be held until her 21st birthday. She would also remain in a juvenile facility, and would not spend time in an adult prison.
Martina Latessa, Bresha’s aunt and a Cleveland police officer, said she was elated about the decision.
“We didn’t know for months what was going to happen,” she said. “Now we know she will not spend the rest of her life in prison, no matter what.”
She said she’d just been on the phone with Bresha’s mother and broken the news to her.
“She was crying, saying, ‘My baby is not going to be gone forever,’” she said. “It takes a lot of pressure off of Bresha. Now she has hope. She has a future. Now she knows this is not forever.”
In the lead-up to the fatal incident, Latessa said Bresha ran away from home and went to her, opening up about her father’s violent behavior. Bresha told her that her father was abusing her mom, she said, and that he had threatened to kill the entire family.
“The nightmare she was born into had a profound impact on her, to the point where she was suicidal,” she said.
Bresha is accused of killing her father with his own gun ― a weapon that Friedman said her father used to intimidate and threaten the family.
Relatives of the deceased have denied claims he was abusive.
During the four months that Bresha has been incarcerated, a national movement to free her has picked up steam. Over 100 domestic violence organizations have endorsed a call to drop the charges against her and grant her an immediate release. A petition with the same request has over 24,000 signatures.
“I am relieved that prosecutors decided not to try Bresha as an adult. She is not an adult. She is still a child,” said Mariame Kaba, an organizer working with the #FreeBresha campaign, a group of individuals and organizations raising awareness about her case and the intersection of domestic violence, race and incarceration.
“I continue to be concerned that she remains incarcerated which is only further traumatizing her,” she continued. “The #FreeBresha campaign calls on prosecutors to drop the charges against her and to release her now. She doesn’t deserve more punishment.”
Erin Davis, executive director of Juvenile Justice Coalition, an organization advocating for youth involved in Ohio’s juvenile justice system, said she was glad to hear that Bresha’s case will remain in juvenile court.
“Unfortunately, the research shows that youth who are transferred to adult court often have worse outcomes and are more likely to reoffend than youth who are kept in juvenile court,” she said in an email.
Still, she expressed concern with how much time Bresha has already served, and encouraged the juvenile court system to act with haste.
“Bresha, her family, and the community all need closure on what happened,” she said. “We can’t keep a fifteen-year-old in limbo for this long without a clear path forward.”
Studies estimate that between 3.3 million to 10 million children in the U.S. are exposed to domestic violence in their homes every year. Witnessing abuse against a parent can be highly traumatic for a child, and can lead to depression, anxiety and suicide attempts.
Bresha’s next hearing is on Jan. 20, at which time she will have spent almost six months behind bars. Friedman said he would be requesting her pretrial release on that date.