A Delaware teen found delinquent of negligent homicide and conspiracy for the 2016 death of a classmate will serve time in a juvenile facility.
In April, two juvenile girls, whose identities are withheld because of their ages, received delinquent verdicts for their involvement in the death of 16-year-old Amy Joyner Francis during a fight at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington.
On Monday, Family Court Judge Robert Coonin ordered the main attacker to a secured residential program for girls for six months, followed by aftercare and two years of probation from age 19. Another girl, found delinquent of conspiracy, received 18 months of community supervision.
Both girls are required to complete community service focused on youth who have been bullied, are banned from social media and cannot come in contact with each other or Amy’s family.
“Our hope is it will address the needs of this offender, and recognize the dramatic and impactful action she had upon the Joyner Francis family,” said state prosecutor Sean Lugg. “Amy can never be brought back, but this is something that will hopefully give closure to all involved, and allow for this community to heal and move forward.”
Video evidence, viewed multiple times in court, showed the attacker dragging Joyner Francis into a bathroom stall and beating her.
An autopsy determined Joyner Francis died of sudden cardiac arrest brought on by the physical and emotional stress of the attack, due to a large atrial septal defect and pulmonary hypertension.
In court, state prosecutor Phillip Casale read a statement from Joyner Francis’ mother.
“There are no words to express the pain (the family) feels on a regular basis….Amy and I were best friends and I love her immensely, and miss her more than I can describe,” it reads.
She writes that Amy was a well-respected and kind-hearted individual, was a good student who dreamed of becoming a doctor or finding a career in criminal law, and spent her free time at church and with her family.
“I’m proud of the person she’s become and how she lived her life with dignity and class,” she wrote.
She said community service would be an “easy way out” for the defendants, and not receiving time in a facility would “be a crime.”
Casale said while the Children’s Department recommended community service for both girls, the State believes this type of punishment is not enough.
“The court must consider the public interest in this case,” he said. “We as a society have a responsibility to teach youth right or wrong.”
Defense attorneys for the two defendants said despite the pre-sentencing office’s suggestion the girls do not show remorse, they have received counseling, are remorseful, acknowledge their actions and want to use their experience to make a difference in the community.
Defense attorney John Deckers said his client has already faced significant consequences for her actions. He said never before has a juvenile case received so much media attention, and the girls have received backlash from the public because of it. Deckers also said her education has been derailed while she’s been on house arrest for more than a year.
“This is an extremely sad case. It’s natural, it’s normal, it’s human, to feel empathy toward victims. These same people can empathize with the family of (the defendant). Any one of those children could be our own,” he said.
“Children should not be judged on the worst thing they have done. They are capable of becoming caring, productive members of society.”
Prosecutors asked Judge Coonin to issue a Level 5 sentence, requiring a higher level of supervision. However, that would require the defendant to be housed in Indiana, as Delaware does not have such a facility for juvenile girls. Instead, the judge felt a level 4 was more appropriate.
Coonin said the case has taught everyone about the affects of social media, saying it “takes the human element out of being human,” and interfered with the defendant’s ability to develop a “sense of humanity.” Before giving his sentence, he said “words alone can’t undo the hurt you’ve done…words on your behalf are not enough.”
Defense attorney John Deckers declined to comment to members of the press. He is expected to file an appeal for his client.
Former Wilmington City Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey Walker, who is acting as a spokesperson for Joyner Francis’ family, said the defendants deserve tougher sentences, but the family didn’t expect anything more in family court. She added that the defendants have not apologized to the Joyner Francis family.
“I don’t think there’s ever going to be anything such as closure as it pertains to this situation because Amy will never come home,” she said. “So while one of the assailants gets to be at Grace Cottage and her family can visit her on a regular basis, that’s not something Amy’s family can do.”