A 16-year-old accused in a July stabbing death was bound over to the grand jury as an adult during a preliminary hearing Thursday in Jefferson County Juvenile Court.
Juvenile Judge Samuel Kerr found probable cause that Jalontay Johnson was involved in the July 25 stabbing death of 17-year-old Demitrius Thomas in an alley in the rear of the 3000 block of Lawson Avenue.
Murder cases involving juveniles are automatically bound over by state law to an adult court in Ohio if a judge finds probable cause the juvenile was involved. Kerr made that ruling after hearing testimony from two witnesses Thursday and arguments from Sam Pate, assistant prosecutor, and defense attorney Steve Stickles.
Kerr also ruled that Johnson would continue to be housed in the county's juvenile detention center.
Pate argued the evidence showed Johnson was the culprit, while Stickles argued the defendant was acting in self-defense.
"If found guilty by an adult court (Johnson) could be sentenced to 15 years to life," Kerr said before arguments and testimony.
William Isaac of Steubenville testified he was in his garage repairing his lawn mower around 10:30 p.m. July 25 when he heard someone yelling for help.
He proceeded to the alleyway, where he didn't see anything.
He testified he again heard someone yell for help and again proceeded to the alley, and again saw nothing, he said.
"Then I heard someone yell, 'Help, he's trying to kill me,'" Isaac said, adding he then called 911. "I yelled, 'Get off of him.' I walked into the center of the alley south and saw an individual backing out of the bushes."
Isaac said he witnessed an altercation at that time and followed the individual toward Plum Street.
"I followed the individual when I was on the phone with 911," he said.
Isaac said he also witnessed an individual in a white, bloody T-shirt covered in blood moving in the bushes.
Steubenville police Detective John Lelless took the stand and testified police found bloody clothing on top of a garbage can in the 400 block of Union Avenue shortly after the incident. He said the suspect went to the police station with his uncle the day after the incident. He said Johnson gave a statement that "he and (Thomas) were walking down the alley and (Johnson) began to stab (Thomas)," said Lelless.
During cross examination, Lelless said the suspect admitted he was drinking brandy and smoking marijuana shortly before the altercation.
The detective said Johnson may have indicated he was acting in self-defense.
When asked about the weapon, Lelless said Johnson led police to a wooded area near State Street, where a knife with an open blade was found.
"Did Mr. Johnson admit to tossing the knife?" asked Stickles.
"Yes," replied Lelless.
During closing arguments Stickles argued the prosecution hadn't met the burden of proof for murder and that Johnson could have acted in self-defense. However, Kerr ruled there was probable cause, and Johnson would be tried in an adult court.
He set Johnson's bail at $500,000.