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Johnson County prosecutor wants to try 14-year-olds as adults for murder. That's rare

A wooden park sign inside a grassy park is surrounded by trees. The sign read "Park Hours Sunrise-Midnight, Alcohol Prohibited.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Black Bob Park in Olathe, where 19-year-old Marco Cardino was found dead Saturday of multiple gunshot wounds.

Six teens are facing felony murder charges after a killing in Black Bob Park in Olathe. The Johnson County District Attorney is seeking to try four of them as adults — but in Kansas, it’s exceedingly uncommon for 14-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults.

Six teenagers have been charged in the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old Smithville man at an Olathe park on Saturday, and the Johnson County District Attorney’s office is seeking to try four of them — all 14 years old — as adults. The other two teens are 13 and can’t be tried as adults under Kansas law.

The district attorney's office has confirmed that the six teens face felony murder charges in the death of Marco Cardino, who was found with multiple gunshot wounds shortly before 4 a.m. in Black Bob Park.

Three of the teens whom District Attorney Steve Howe is seeking to try as adults are males; one is female.

Here’s a brief explanation of the law governing when and under what circumstances juveniles can be tried as adults in Kansas.

How often are juveniles prosecuted as adults in Kansas?

Not very often. Statewide just 24 juvenile cases were transferred to adult court out of more than 6,200 dispositions in the fiscal year ending in June 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available. In Johnson County that year, just six cases were transferred to adult court. And it’s exceedingly uncommon for 14-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults, according to criminal defense attorneys who handle juvenile cases.

“I had a case that I handled in Johnson County recently, but I think he was 15,” says Kate Zigtema, a Johnson County attorney who specializes in juvenile cases. “I had one in another jurisdiction, but sadly that one didn’t proceed to a hearing because the child killed himself.”

How is a juvenile prosecuted as an adult in Kansas?

In what’s known as a “waiver” procedure, the district attorney may file a motion requesting the court to authorize prosecution of a juvenile as an adult under the applicable criminal law. A judge then determines whether there's enough evidence to prosecute the juvenile as an adult.

The presumption of juvenile status does not apply, however, in certain situations. For example if the alleged offense was a so-called person felony such as robbery, rape or murder, the presumption doesn’t apply. Likewise if the juvenile is facing a felony charge and has been previously convicted of a felony.

What are the disadvantages of being prosecuted in adult court?

Conviction in adult court can result in a much more severe sentence than a conviction in juvenile court. If you’re convicted in juvenile court — it’s called an “adjudication” in Kansas — and committed to a juvenile correctional facility, you can be sentenced to anywhere from three months to several years, up to a maximum age of 22 ½ years old. In adult court, you can be sentenced to life in prison.

It’s also much more difficult to expunge an adult conviction. If you’re adjudicated in juvenile court, you can ask the court to expunge your record two years after completing your sentence if you’ve stayed out of trouble (traffic tickets excluded) during that time.

And compared to an adult conviction, a juvenile adjudication is less of a barrier to getting a job. For example, many job applications ask if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. If you’ve been adjudicated as a juvenile, the answer is “no.”

Are there alternatives to prosecuting juveniles as adults?

Yes. The district attorney can move to have a case designated as an “extended jurisdiction juvenile prosecution,” which exists midway between the regular juvenile court process and the adult prosecution process.

In such a proceeding, a juvenile is given both a juvenile sentence and an adult sentence. The adult sentence is stayed pending successful completion of the juvenile sentence. If, however, the juvenile violates the terms of his or her juvenile sentence or commits a new offense, the adult sentence may be imposed in some circumstances.

Updated: May 20, 2022 at 9:46 AM CDT
This story has been updated to reflect confirmation from the Johnson County District Attorney's office that all six teens charged in the case face felony murder charges.
Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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