ST. GEORGE — A frustrated 5th District Juvenile Court judge granted a motion on Monday that allows a teenage boy charged with murder to hire a new attorney, delaying a certification hearing that could allow prosecutors to charge the boy as an adult.
Fifth District Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Higbee said he was advised last week that the juvenile's mother wanted another attorney to represent her son.
The juvenile has been jailed at a youth detention facility since his arrest on Jan. 25. The boy, now 15, is charged with the Jan. 10 rape, aggravated sexual assault and murder of Keely Amber Hall, 15, at a neighborhood playground in St. George.
During a probable cause hearing, a St. George police detective testified that Hall's partially nude and battered body was discovered by several youths cutting through the park after hours on their way home.
Police learned of the possible homicide from an anonymous telephone call placed a little after 3 a.m. by the two boys who found Hall's body. An autopsy revealed that Hall had been strangled and sexually assaulted. The detective testified that Hall met the defendant the same day she was killed.
Washington County prosecutors filed a motion in January asking Higbee to waive jurisdiction in the case and certify the boy as an adult. On Monday, Washington County deputy attorney Ryan Shaum said the state agreed to the delay out of "an abundance of caution."
"The victim's family is frustrated in the time delay," Shaum said. "We would like to set the hearing as soon as it is possible."
Defense attorney Ken Combs said his request to be released from the case, which the judge granted, stemmed from a "difference of opinion" with the boy's mother.
Higbee agreed to the change after checking with the juvenile to see if he wanted his mother to seek a new attorney.
"I don't know. They can do whatever they want," the boy told Higbee.
If the boy is certified to stand trial as an adult and is convicted, he would face from 15 years to life in prison.
"The reality is I am concerned about the timing of the certification hearing," Higbee said Monday, noting the victim's family has been at each hearing. "This is the second or third time we have delayed the hearing for this purpose. I am well aware this is a very important case for you and your son, but it is also very important for the victim's family. This is the last time."
Higbee assigned a public defender, Alan Boyack, to the case. A new hearing will be scheduled no sooner than 45 days, allowing Boyack time to review the evidence, the judge ruled.
The judge earlier granted a request to open the juvenile proceeding to the media and public with the restriction that no identifying factors of the defendant or his family be published or broadcast. If the boy is certified as an adult, those restrictions would be lifted.