Court

ELKTON — A 17-year-old boy charged with attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed a stranger on the street of a North East-area neighborhood – investigators are calling it an unprovoked, random attack – will be tried as an adult, according to a recent judicial ruling.

Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. denied a defense motion to transfer the defendant, Marquis E. Benson, of Townsend, Del., to juvenile court after hearing arguments from both sides during a Nov. 26 hearing. Penalties in juvenile court are less severe than those in adult court.

“The most terrifying thing about this case is they were looking to randomly target someone. They didn’t know the person. The scariest thing . . . it could have been anyone in this room if you were unfortunate enough to be in the location where the victim was,” Davis said from the bench. “There is an extreme public safety concern. The court doesn’t see any reason it would be appropriate (to transfer Benson’s attempted murder case to juvenile court).”

The victim, who is a 24-year-old North East-area resident, suffered puncture wounds to his lungs and diaphragm, Davis reviewed aloud from the bench.

“He damn near killed him,” Assistant State’s Attorney Nathaniel Bowen told the judge at one point during the proceeding, after gesturing toward the victim seated in the gallery and commenting, “The only thing worse would be if he weren’t here.”

The allegations

Benson is accused of randomly attacking the man on Aug. 23, after spotting him walking in the area of Champlain Road and Champlain Court in the Lakeside Mobile Home Park while he and three other people, including Benson’s 17-year-old brother, were joy-riding in a stolen Ford Escape, according to court records.

After stepping out the front passenger’s side door, Benson approached the man and allegedly stabbed him in the back with a knife, as the man started to walk away from him, court records allege.

Benson and his three companions allegedly sped away in the stolen vehicle, leaving the wounded man, police said. The alleged victim was taken to Christiana Hospital in Delaware, after he called family members for help, police added.

Maryland State Police troopers arrested Benson and his three companions at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 23, shortly after the stabbing, while chasing the Ford Escape in response to a stolen vehicle complaint, police said.

The foursome ran away after the Ford Escape crashed on Route 7 near North East during that pursuit, and troopers captured them in that area a short time later, police added.

Troopers then learned that doctors at Christiana Hospital in Delaware were treating a man who had been stabbed near North East in an incident involving a stolen white Ford Escape, which prompted an MSP investigator to interview the victim at that medical center, police reported.

Meanwhile, MSP investigators interviewed Benson and his brother separately at the North East Barrack. (Benson’s brother, who, according to court records, turned 18 one week after the incident, reportedly was charged as a juvenile.)

“(He) implicated his brother (Benson) as the passenger who stabbed the man . . . He also stated the four (occupants of the stolen Ford Escape) knew they were going to Lakeside to look for someone to fight,” according to court records, which indicate that Benson’s brother also told investigators that all of the occupants were aware there was a knife in that vehicle.

During his interview, however, Benson admitted only to a lesser involvement in the random attack, according to court records. Benson blamed the driver of the stolen Ford Escape – Joshua Ryan Warren, 15, of Elkton — for stabbing the man, court records allege.

“Benson advised he likes to fight people and he knew that everyone in the vehicle agreed to ‘jump’ the first person they saw while driving through the Lakeside trailer park. Benson stated he was implicated in the assault by punching (the man) in the face as hard as he could. Benson stated he knew Joshua Ryan Warren stabbed (the man) because, after the assault, Warren was looking for his knife and stated he lost his murder weapon,” court records allege.

Benson also told investigators that Warren made all of his passengers aware that the Ford Escape had been stolen in Elkton, according to court records. Police reported that the Ford Escape, which is valued at $20,762, had been stolen from an Elkton resident, who later identified the vehicle as his.

The man who suffered the stab wounds told an MSP investigator that “a passenger exited the vehicle and approached him,” seconds before knifing him, court records allege.

Charged as an adult

Benson, who remains in custody without bond, is facing seven charges in the adult court system, including attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and reckless endangerment, according to Cecil County Circuit Court records.

A minor who is accused of committing certain serious offenses, including, in this case, attempted murder and first-degree assault, can be charged as an adult.

Attempted first-degree murder is punishable by up to life in prison in adult court, while attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault carry maximum sentences of 40 years and 25 years in prison respectively.

In juvenile court, for comparison, the most serious penalty — called a “disposition” in that system — for a minor found guilty – called “delinquent” — of any charge is placement in a juvenile detention hall until that person turns 21.

If a minor is charged as an adult, that person can make a motion for a reverse-waiver, which, if granted, would transfer his or her case to juvenile court.

Elkton-based lawyer Christina Schlecker made such a motion on behalf of Benson on Nov. 26.

A judge must consider five standard factors when deciding if a minor should remain charged as an adult or if that minor should be transferred to juvenile court.

On that list are the defendant’s age, his mental and physical maturity, his amenability to treatment, the nature of his offense or offenses, his participation in the offense or offenses and the safety of the community.

Schlecker argued that Benson has a “slight build” and has a visible issue with one of his eyes.

The defense lawyer maintained that Benson is amenable to treatment and that he never received the mental health care he needed during a brush with the juvenile court system in Delaware.

“Someone dropped the ball and he slipped through the cracks,” Schlecker told the judge.

Referring to that juvenile court case, in which Benson was placed on probation, Schlecker remarked, “Delaware didn’t find him dangerous enough to lock him up.”

Bowen countered, however, that Benson’s juvenile court case in Delaware included charges relating to the teen “robbing children of their Halloween candy with a BB gun.”

The prosecutor remarked, “I’m assuming it was dark,” before opining that the young victims likely believed the gun brandished by Benson was real.

Bowen also reported that Benson was facing charges in Cecil County’s juvenile court system and that they stemmed from an incident in which the teen allegedly waved a BB gun at someone during an argument. That incident occurred while Benson was on probation in his Delaware juvenile court case, Bowen noted.

(In response to a separate motion made by Bowen during that Nov. 26 hearing, the judge transferred Benson’s juvenile case relating to his alleged BB gun brandishing to adult court.)

Bowen also argued that Benson, despite his slight build, turns 18 in February. At the time Benson allegedly committed the attempted murder near North East in August, he was 17 and a half years old.

In addition, while arguing that Benson should remain in adult court, Bowen focused on the nature of Benson’s purported offenses on Aug. 23.

Bowen emphasized that Benson stands accused of committing a random act of violence and that it involved him allegedly stabbing a stranger with a knife — causing life-threatening injuries to the victim and resulting in the attempted murder and first-degree assault charges against Benson in adult court.

Before denying Schlecker’s defense motion to move Benson to juvenile court, Davis explained that he considered the “nature of the offense and the safety of the public.”

Benson’s alleged accomplices

As for Benson’s alleged accomplices on Aug. 23, two of them also are charged as adults, while his brother has been referred to juvenile court.

Warren, the alleged driver of the stolen Ford Escape, is charged with three felonies — first-degree assault, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and theft of more than $1,500 and less than $25,000 – and four misdemeanors, court records show.

His preliminary hearing is set for Friday. Warren turns 16 in February, court records indicate.

Elkton resident Jordan K. Fields, who turned 19 in September, is charged with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment and two mirroring conspiracy offenses, court records show.

Charging documents indicate that Fields occupied a rear passenger seat, beside Benson’s brother, in the Ford Escape at the time of the incident.

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