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Attorneys for teen accused of killing 2 with car want case kept in juvenile court

SHARE Attorneys for teen accused of killing 2 with car want case kept in juvenile court
Marilee Gardner, 16, of Layton, appears in Judge Brent West's courtroom at the Ogden 2nd District Court on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.

Marilee Gardner, 16, of Layton, appears in Judge Brent West’s courtroom at the Ogden 2nd District Court on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.

Briana Scroggins

OGDEN — Attorneys for a 16-year-old Layton girl charged as an adult for deliberately crashing into another car, killing two people, filed a motion Wednesday asking to keep the girl's case in juvenile court.

Marilee Patricia Gardner is charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree felony murder. On June 30, police say Gardner slammed into the back of another car at almost 100 mph in an attempt to kill herself, but the crash proved fatal instead to the occupants of the other vehicle.

Maddison Haan, 20, of West Point, died at the scene, 3500 West and 6000 South in Roy. Tyler Christianson, 19, of Ogden, was rushed to McKay-Dee Hospital, where he succumbed to extensive injuries.

Gardner is a minor, but under Utah law, murder charges are automatically sent to district court as if the teen is an adult if he or she was at least 16 years old at the time of the alleged crime. Murder charges filed against a juvenile who is 15 years old or younger must be certified by a juvenile court judge before they may be transferred to district court.

Gardner turned 16 in April.

The motion filed Wednesday by defense attorneys Tara Isaacson and Walter Bugden calls the automatic certification statute unconstitutional, leaving no opportunity for the court to consider whether Gardner's case really belongs in adult court.

"Ms. Gardner is only 16 years old. She has no prior criminal history and no prior adjudications in the juvenile court. No determination has been made about whether public safety and the interests of the minor would be better served by having the charges adjudicated in juvenile court," the motion states.

Gardner's motion argues the case should be remanded to juvenile court or dismissed for the district court's lack of jurisdiction.

If she is convicted as an adult, Gardner faces potential prison sentences of 15 years to life for each of the murder charges. In juvenile court, Gardner could be found guilty and kept in a secure facility until she turns 21.

Scientific advances have granted deeper understanding of development of the juvenile brain, the motion argues, contending it is unfair to treat juveniles as adults in the justice system in all cases.

Attorneys will argue the motion at a Sept. 8 hearing.

Police say Gardner stole a Chevy Tahoe from her parents' home in Layton on June 29. She later told officers she had been on her way to meet a 17-year-old friend in Roy and was planning on "purchasing drugs, taking the drugs, and then crashing her mother's car with both of them inside in an attempt to kill themselves," charging documents state.

An officer spotted the Tahoe, which was dragging a plastic garbage can caught underneath it, and tried to pull Gardner over shortly after 1 a.m. on June 30. Instead, Gardner sped up, slamming into Haan's Hyundai Accent at an estimated 98 mph, charges state.

Gardner has a history of being suicidal and was recently hospitalized for treatment, according to the charges. Police say she has been reported as a runaway from her Layton home several times in the past.

Gardner is also charged with failing to stop at the command of an officer and failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving death, both third-degree felonies.

If the case remains in district court, Gardner may stay in custody at a juvenile facility rather than an adult jail until the case is resolved under changes made last year by the Utah Legislature.

If someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there are resources to help. Call the UNI Crisis Line at 801-587-3000, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero