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Court is considering whether a 15-year-old accused of homicide should be tried as an adult

By the age of 13, Nigel Thompson had been hospitalized twice at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital.

Nigel Thompson had been in UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital twice before he turned 13.

His medical records indicated that he had suicidal thoughts, threatened his family, and brought a gun to school in his backpack. A juvenile court found him guilty of theft and assault.

On Feb. 13, 2023, eight months after receiving community service and probation with electronic home monitoring, Nigel left his home and shot Damonte Hardrick, 17. fired a gun into a building.

Damonte Hardrick, 17, was killed.

Nigel was charged as an adult with criminal homicide and firearms charges.

He was 14.

Lawyers are debating whether Nigel should be tried as an adult or have his case moved to juvenile court, where jurisdiction would extend until he turned 21.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kim Berkeley Clark heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday.

Assistant District Attorney Todd Williams argued that Nigel’s case should stay in adult court due to insufficient time to rehabilitate him before he turns 21 and ensure public safety.

“His behavior has only gotten worse,” Williams said.

However, defense attorney John Shaffer Jr. stated that Nigel has shown improvement during his 13 months in jail, engaging in therapy and performing well in school.

“When given appropriate tools and resources, he was able to improve,” Shaffer said. “He is actively trying to better himself.”

Clark will announce her ruling on April 29.

“This is not an easy decision to make,” she said.

‘Not enough justice’

Clark must consider seven factors, including the threat posed by Nigel, the impact on the victim and community, and the efficacy of treatment, to decide whether Nigel’s case should be transferred to juvenile court.

The decertification hearing took place over two days.

On the first day, Damonte’s mother spoke to the court.

Shawntia Hardrick described her son Damonte as a great kid who liked to tell jokes and wanted to be an engineer.

Damonte was a good student and played basketball and football.

“He had a great spirit,” she said.

Damonte was at a friend's house the night he was killed.

“He just got done doing school work all day,” she said. “He just went out for a second.”

Damonte didn’t even know Nigel, she said.

“He got shot in his head by a kid,” Hardrick said. “If he died from a car crash, it would have been different.”

Her three younger children looked up to their big brother, she said.

“Every time I turn around in my house, someone is crying,” she continued. “I thought it would get easier with time. It’s not getting easier. It’s getting harder.”

She keeps her children in the house now.

“They’re afraid to go to the park,” she said.

Hardrick expressed that the potential six years Nigel could spend in custody, if the case were transferred to juvenile court and he was found at fault, is not enough time.

She said that is not sufficient justice for her child and that no one showed concern for his life. She emphasized that they are discussing a 14-year-old with a gun.

She questioned the reason for him having a gun and why he should be sent to a juvenile system for committing an adult crime.

She expressed that the situation is unjust, wrong, and lacking in justice.

During the same hearing, Nigel's father also provided testimony.

Giovon Thompson mentioned that he and Nigel's mother separated before their son was born.

According to Thompson, Nigel's mother struggled with drug addiction and was unable to care for him, resulting in Nigel being placed in foster care with Allegheny County Children, Youth and Family Services.

Around the ages of 6 or 7, he moved in with his paternal grandmother and then transitioned to live with his father around age 12.

Thompson testified that Nigel began associating with the wrong crowd and running away from home.

Thompson stated that he made efforts to support Nigel.

He expressed his continuous attempts to guide Nigel onto the right path, acknowledging the challenges of reaching teenagers at times.

Dueling doctors

Dr. Michael Crabtree, a psychologist who assessed Nigel for the defense, described a challenging childhood during his testimony on the second day of the proceeding.

Crabtree testified that Nigel witnessed his mother's drug use, including finding her overdosed with a needle in her arm.

Crabtree mentioned that Nigel performed adequately in elementary school, but his academic performance declined significantly during sixth and seventh grades.

Subsequently, Nigel was admitted to Western Psych, as stated by Crabtree.

He was discharged with a diagnosis of adjustment disorder — disturbance of emotion. Nigel also admitted to using alcohol and marijuana.

Crabtree diagnosed Nigel with major depressive disorder.

Reading a letter to the court, Crabtree shared Nigel’s counselor's observations at the jail, noting the teen’s growth and maturity.

The counselor detailed Nigel's participation in classes, positive response to feedback, strong effort, and involvement in group and individual therapy.

Crabtree stated that this indicates Nigel is progressing in the right direction, emphasizing that, at 15 years old, he is receptive to treatment and could be effectively rehabilitated before turning 21.

He noted that Nigel’s youth allows for more time for rehabilitation.

However, Dr. Bruce Wright, a psychiatrist who assessed Nigel for the prosecution, disagreed.

Similar to Damonte’s mother, Wright expressed doubt about the possibility of rehabilitating Nigel before he ages out of the juvenile court system.

Wright stated, “It’s challenging to anticipate his situation in his mid-20s,” adding that previous attempts at rehabilitation have been unsuccessful.

Juvenile probation records revealed that Nigel allowed his electronic monitoring bracelet to shut down five times, missed appointments frequently, and tested positive for marijuana 31 times.

Wright diagnosed Nigel with unspecified disruptive impulse control and conduct disorder, along with unspecified depressive disorder.

‘I’m misunderstood.’

Wright mentioned that he does not see a link between Nigel’s mental health problems and the alleged crime.

He also testified that Nigel lacks understanding about the accusations against him.

Wright stated, “Without insight, it’s difficult to be rehabilitated,” emphasizing the necessity of a person's willingness to undergo rehabilitation.

During questioning by Shaffer, Wright acknowledged that Nigel expressed feeling misunderstood and unfairly labeled as a criminal, admitting that he could have behaved better and taken responsibility for his mistakes.

The prosecution argued that the shooting caused fear in the community and recommended keeping Nigel's case in the adult system.

The prosecutor, Williams, characterized the crime as heartless and stated that Nigel demonstrated complete disrespect for the juvenile justice system while on probation.

Shaffer explained that Nigel faced challenges after being released from Western Psych and during probation due to returning to the same unsupportive environment where he previously struggled.

Shaffer mentioned that Nigel has thrived in the structured environment of the jail and predicted that he would likely continue to do well in a facility designed for juveniles.

Shaffer expressed belief in Nigel's potential for rehabilitation.

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