Why county isn’t prosecuting teen suspect in fatal Maple Valley hit-and-run as an adult

Sep 16, 2021, 1:02 PM | Updated: 1:19 pm
Maple Valley hit and run...
A memorial to Greg Moore, who was killed in a hit-and-run in Maple Valley in July. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

While the wife of a Maple Valley man killed in a hit-and-run over the summer wants to have the 15-year-old girl suspected of the crime tried as an adult, the King County Prosecutor’s Office points to several factors that would make that difficult.

Deputies identify 15-year-old girl as suspect in Maple Valley hit-and-run

The teen was alleged to have intentionally swerved a vehicle taken from a relative into 53-year-old Greg Moore. Moore was out for a run along the shoulder of the road, and was found after being struck just after 6 a.m. on the morning of July 18.

Because the girl is a minor, she faces up to six years in jail if convicted. As for why the county can’t simply choose to try her as an adult to yield a longer sentence, prosecutors are largely limited by state laws.

“When you’re 15, that’s a juvenile court case and that’s really it,” King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Casey McNerthney told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show. “If you’re 16 or 17 and you’re charged with murder, automatically across Washington state that goes to adult court — those are called ‘auto adult cases.'”

“If this were a 16-year-old, then we wouldn’t be in this spot,” he added. “But when you’re 15, or 14, or 13, that leaves a difficult decision for prosecutors.”

Why not attempt to send the case to adult court anyway, though? As McNerthney points out, there would still be barriers in place that could prevent a longer sentence regardless.

“It’s very unlikely that a juvenile court judge would approve the move to adult court, which is what has to happen; it’s not our choice here,” he clarified, noting that prosecutors would also have to prove the suspect explicitly intended to kill Moore. “And even if that does happen and there is a conviction in an adult court, superior court judges can and very often do sentence somebody along juvenile guidelines if the crime was committed when they were a juvenile.”

That said, McNerthney also understands the frustration from Moore’s wife, Michelle, who expressed to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that she believes proving the teen’s intent shouldn’t be difficult, given that “anyone above the age of 8 knows … if you hit a small person with a 3,000-pound car, the chances are pretty good that they’re going to die.”

But proving the suspect intended to kill Moore is more difficult than it seems.

“When people (say) ‘how can you hit somebody with car and not expect to kill them,’ I mean, of course, how is that not first degree [murder]?” McNerthney described. “But that doesn’t hold up in court — we can’t say, ‘well, of course that’s what would have happened.’ You’ve got to clearly show that in order to prove intent.”

The King County Prosecutor’s Office is instead charging the teen with two charges: second-degree murder and felony hit-and-run, which represents the “highest possible charge we can file with the evidence we’ve received so far.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Why county isn’t prosecuting teen suspect in fatal Maple Valley hit-and-run as an adult