Two of three girls were found delinquent in last year’s Howard High death.
Two of three teens charged in the 2016 death of a Howard High School student were found delinquent in Family Court in Wilmington Thursday.
Following a two-week non-jury trial surrounding the death of 16-year-old Amy Joyner Francis, Family Court Judge Robert Coonin ruled her attacker delinquent of negligent homicide, a felony.
Another girl was ruled delinquent of conspiracy, a misdemeanor, while a third girl was found not delinquent of conspiracy.
All of them are 17 years old and charged as juveniles.
“Had everyone raised their child the way the Joyner Francis family raised theirs, we would not be here today,” said former Wilmington Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey Walker, who is acting as a family spokesperson.
“The message being sent is there’s consequences for your actions. At the end of the day, we cannot brutalize someone in the bathroom and lead to their death and there’s no consequences for their actions.”
Video evidence viewed multiple times in court showed the attacker dragging Joyner Francis into a wheelchair accessible bathroom stall and beating her several times.
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.
During the trial state prosecutor Sean Lugg used video and text messages, as well as testimonies, to argue the three girls planned the attack over a misunderstanding about something Joyner Francis texted to a friend.
“I hope the result today begins the healing for the community, for Howard High School, and that sense of normalcy, I hope, will soon return to that school,” he said.
Defense attorneys argued throughout the case the girls could not predict the fatal outcome, as no one knew about Amy’s rare condition, not even her doctors. They also allege Amy played an equal role in the altercation, and that prosecutors have exaggerated the incident.
On Thursday Coonin said despite a heart condition, she would still be alive if it weren’t for the attack.
“While it may be true that Amy Joyner Francis, due to her condition, would have died from a multitude of stressors. (But) until such an event occurred, if at all, she had a right to live one more day, one more week, one more month or year, until her time, without a contributing cause of another,” he said.
Coonin said the aggressor struck the first blow without warning, and carried out punches to the upper torso and face, and a kick to the face, while holding her down by her hair.
“I purposely use the word ‘attack,’ because that is what the evidence established; not a fight between two teenagers squaring off to settle some mutual grievance, but rather, an act of violence initiated and carried out by [the defendant] over a perceived slight on social media,” he said.
While Coonin said he understands juveniles do not perceive the same consequences as adults, he points out that 84.1 percent of Delaware high school students do not engage in fights because they understand it’s inappropriate.
He said while the extent of the injury may not be specifically intended or contemplated, the attacker should have perceived the risk of injury or death by virtue of the tile floor, walls and fixtures.
“Had a death resulted from internal bleeding after striking her head on the floor would that result in any way change the risk that the assault itself created?” Coonin said.
“Clearly this question must be answered in the negative. It is within the realm of contemplation that a physical assault intended to cause injury could in fact result in death; that is death was clearly a risk of respondent’s conduct.”
Another girl was ruled delinquent of conspiracy because she is heard on video stating “we gonna get her” the day before the attack, Coonin said.
The third girl was ruled not delinquent because there’s no evidence she made threats to Joyner Francis, and is even shown pulling the attacker off her during the incident, he said.
Defense attorney John Deckers, who represented the defendant delinquent of negligent homicide, said he feels deep sadness for everyone affected by the incident—the family and friends of Joyner Francis, Howard High students and staff, and his client and her friends and family.
“Anyone who knows children understands sometimes teens are pressured into activity contrary to what mother and father teach every day in the home,” Deckers said.
“[My client] has a family who loves her, she’s a good child, this is the first fight she’s gotten into in her life, she has parents who love her, they are productive members of society, she has grandparents who love her, she has a family that’s rooted in faith. She has a difficult road ahead of her, for sure, and that’s why we feel deep sadness for everybody affected by this, not just the family and friends of Amy, but also the family and friends of our client.”
Sentencing will take place May 23.