Boy's mental health issues come to light after parents' shooting

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comApril 27, 2013 

In Juvenile Court Thursday, two parents and their son sat three feet apart without speaking.

The 15-year-old boy faced two counts of aggravated assault for shooting his father and stepmother in early April. Police and family friends said the boy was frustrated because the parents asked him to sack up an old comforter when he wanted to look up a Bible verse for a friend who told him she wanted to be saved.

The father, who was shot once in the right hip, used a walker during Thursday's hearing. The boy's stepmother, shot in the abdomen and through the right wrist, wore a cast on her forearm.

The boy never looked toward his parents. The father, Randal Stanley Askevich, stared at the back of his son's head while comforting his wife. The boy's stepmother, Kristi Lynn Askevich, cried quietly into her left hand.

It wasn't the first time the boy had stood before Muscogee County Juvenile Court Judge Warner Kennon. He had been in Juvenile Court in 2011.

Columbus police were well acquainted with the Askevich's home on Olde Towne Drive before the 15-year-old shot his parents with their 9 mm pistol.

Since December 2010, police had been called to the duplex seven times before the April 12 shooting, according to reports obtained through Georgia's Open Records Act. The reports detail the son's mental health history and repeated attempts to run away, as well as a burglary.

Randal Askevich declined a Ledger-Enquirer interview request Friday. Family friends have said the couple is devoted to helping the teen overcome his illness, despite the challenges.

Columbus psychologists who regularly deal with juveniles in the criminal justice system declined comment when contacted for this story, either because they had dealt with this case in particular or others so similar that they did not feel comfortable offering an analysis.

Troubled history

Columbus police reports show the difficult issues the family has faced.

On Christmas Eve 2010, an officer stopped the boy at the Gateway Road Walmart. Then-12, the boy told police his father "smacked" him so he was running way from home, intending to stay at Midland Middle School for a couple of days.

The officer noted the boy acted much younger than his age.

The family had just moved to Georgia, the father told police. He admitted to spanking his son, but not inappropriately. The boy had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and took medication, the father said, but had to be monitored to make sure he swallowed it.

The officer reported no signs of neglect or abuse.

Four more times between Jan. 3 and Feb. 2, 2011, the Askevichs reported to police their son was missing or had run away. Each time they told police of the son's struggle with medication and mental illness.

On Jan. 3, 2011, the 12-year-old ran away again, this time on his mountain bike. Parents told police he was being treated for depression and suicidal tendencies and was known to inhale glue and paint and drink alcohol.

After police found the boy at Cooper Creek Park, his parents took him to The Bradley Center, a mental health facility operated by St. Francis Hospital. Less than two weeks later, on Jan. 14, 2011, the parents told police their son was taking 50 milligrams of Vyvanse, which treats ADHD and experimentally is used for major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. The boy also took 300 milligrams of Bupropion, an antidepressant, and 4 milligrams of Risperidone, primarily used to treat schizophrenia in people with autism.

That day, police charged the boy with being ungovernable after he hid in a Cooper Creek Park restroom until his father found him. He was not taken into custody but was released to his parents.

On Jan. 18, 2011, the stepmother called police because her son had not returned home from school. Again he went to Cooper Creek Park, where police found him.

Kristi Lynn Askevich told police the boy had been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, and she expected he would keep running away from home. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the childhood disorder is characterized by at least six months of behavior that meets at least four categories, which include frequently defying or arguing with adults, purposefully annoying others and being easily angered.

Less than a month later, on Feb. 2, the parents again reported him missing. The case was cleared at 4:35 a.m. Feb. 3, though police didn't say where they found the then-13-year-old.

According to the report, Randal Askevich told officers his son was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two police reports indicated the son had a traumatic history. On Christmas Eve 2011, Randal Askevich told officers his son's ADHD stemmed from emotional issues brought on by an abusive biological mother.

On June 15, 2011, the parents reported that the son's biological mother had been calling them and threatening the boy since June 1. The mother, whom police said was living in Cleveland, Tenn., has no parental rights, according to paperwork Randal Askevich said had been filed in the Indiana court system.

The mother threatened to come to Columbus to get her son, and the 13-year-old was scared of her, the father said.

The shooting

In a preliminary hearing on April 15, Judge Andrew Dodgen ordered the boy held without bond in the Youth Detention Center until a formal hearing could be conducted. Testimony revealed that in 2011 the boy had been through Juvenile Drug Court, a program to divert minors from drugs and crime.

Some following this case have wondered why it was not advanced to adult court, as authorities have that option in violent felonies.

Columbus has an adult mental health court designed to divert the mentally ill to treatment rather than incarceration. Muscogee County has no juvenile mental health court, but that's because juvenile court already is a diversion program aimed at rehabilitation more than punishment, said Robert Wadkins, chief public defender for the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.

"The whole purpose of juvenile court is rehabilitation and guidance, which sometimes comes in conflict with the law," he said.

Juvenile Court is where this case belongs, not only because of the child's age, but also his illness, Wadkins said. "It would be a very strange thing to try to move it now…. I feel sure that whatever action that the juvenile court takes will involve testing and mental, medical, and psychological help, that sort of thing."

The law does not hold children to the same standards as adults claiming mental illness, he noted:

"The best way to put it is, for adults, the law presumes everyone to be sane … and 'sane' encompasses a whole lot. Well, in juvenile court, that is an easily rebuttable presumption, a lot easier than it is in adult court, where if you claim any kind of insanity, the burden is on you to prove it instead of the state. The Juvenile Court doesn't operate on that same sort of framework. It presumes you're a juvenile."

Lacking experience and maturity, juveniles are not expected to be as rational and restrained as adults. But even for juveniles, mental illness can be hard to establish, Wadkins said.

"I had a guy one time that pulled a little girl's pants down. He was 14," Wadkins said. "We actually proved that his synapses closed down every 20 seconds, and he has to start all over. Everything just shut down, very briefly, about every 20 seconds. It took a battery of forensic doctors and brain surgeons and all that to do the tests, but the DA handling the case wanted to crucify the kid, so we had to go through all that.... They put him in a home in Atlanta, a nice place, and he's done very well."

The Georgia law advancing juvenile felony cases to Superior Court is aimed at "incorrigible little imps," Wadkins said -- recidivists who commit egregious crimes with no evidence of mental illness.

The 15-year-old's Juvenile Court hearing Thursday was cut short when Kennon learned a court-ordered psychological evaluation had not been conducted until the morning before. He continued the case and said the court would reconvene once the results were available.

In a voice mail Thursday afternoon, Kennon said he was "disappointed" that the evaluation had not been performed during the 10 days before the hearing.

"It was quite a surprise to me that that psychological had not been done. It was to have been done in those 10 days," he said. "It will be set down soon because I can assure you I am after them to get this done."

-- Tim Chitwood contributed to this report.

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