ELKHART — An Elkhart teenager will be charged as an adult with the September 2018 murder of Jaren Minies.
Alphonso James III, 14, was waived to adult court following a hearing Friday in front of Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine. Police say he fatally shot 18-year-old Minies on Sept. 12 during a deal to trade an Xbox for a handgun.
He is accused of shooting Minies seven times as a struggle for a gun broke out in the back seat of a vehicle, which was parked in front of a residence in the 1700 block of South 10th Street. Witnesses drove Minies to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Multiple witnesses picked James out of a photo lineup, including the occupants of the vehicle and a nearby resident who said James showed up at his back door, gun in hand. James was found in New York state and transferred to Elkhart County in July.
Domine heard from a sheriff's detective who investigated the shooting and from a juvenile probation officer who recommended taking James out of the juvenile court system. They shared what witnesses said about the incident and addressed James' prior criminal history, which includes charges in St. Joseph County and in Ithaca, New York.
James will likely have his initial hearing on the murder charge Thursday in Elkhart County Circuit Court, Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker said.
As he was lead into the courtroom for the hearing and helped into a seat, James asked why his mother wasn't there. Domine told him she didn't know why, and later remarked, when giving her waiver decision, that the court was robbed of having any of the information the woman might have given.
James was 13 years old at the time of the shooting.
Investigators determined that Minies had arranged to trade his Xbox to James for a handgun, according to Lt. Mike Carich with the Elkhart County Sheriff's Office. Two friends picked Minies up in a vehicle and they met James, who said he wanted to test out the video game console before making the trade.
They drove to the 10th Street residence and James went upstairs with the front seat passenger from the vehicle. Carich said James allegedly told the man that he intended to rob Minies of his gun and the man tried to talk him out of it.
The man's mother also had a short conversation with James while he was in the home. James was introduced to her as the son of someone they knew, according to Carich.
The two men came out of the residence and got back in the car. The driver and front seat passenger told police they heard a struggle in the back seat between Minies and James, followed by several gunshots.
James got out of the car and ran away, according to investigators. A nearby resident told police a man he later identified as James came to his back door asking for help.
The man said James had a gun and pointed it at him, but he convinced James to hand it over. The man turned the gun over to police.
Carich said police recovered two guns connected to the shooting, a .380-caliber handgun and a 9mm. The guns were tested and found to match evidence found at the scene, which included eight .380 casings and one 10mm casing.
'Just a child'
James has had a number of contacts with the law in the past two years, according to Juvenile Probation Officer Brittney Turley. He also escaped from home detention twice by removing his ankle monitor.
His pending charges in St. Joseph County include child exploitation and possession of child porn, both Level 5 felonies, Turley said. In that case, James and another male teen are accused of raping an unconscious girl, recording it and putting the video on Facebook in March 2018.
Also in March 2018, James had a juvenile referral after he was allegedly found in a vehicle that had a gun in it during a traffic stop. He admitted to a charge of resisting law enforcement and was adjudicated in the juvenile court system.
He absconded from home detention in April 2019 and was later arrested on a warrant. He was charged with giving a false name to investigators when he was arrested, and admitted to that charge but never showed up for probation as ordered, Turley said.
He absconded again and wasn't found by police until he was charged with a near-fatal assault in Tompkins County, New York, later in 2018, she said. The victim was kicked, punched and stabbed.
James was sentenced to 18 months in a secure facility after another adjudication, but was transferred to Indiana to face the murder charge only a few months into the term.
James' attorney, Kelly Stansbury, said the teen seemed to run from responsibility. He asked Turley if she had any concerns about his mother's ability to supervise him.
"He was able to abscond from home detention twice and she had no idea where he was," she said. "That tells me she couldn't adequately supervise him on her own."
Despite that, she said James' mother said she would prefer if he stayed in the juvenile system.
"She said he was just a child and children make mistakes," Turley said.
'Not gonna make it'
Becker argued that James was making adult decisions in the stabbing and the alleged shooting. She said measures like home detention, electronic monitoring and keeping him in a strict environment had all been tried and he refused to comply.
"He's not gonna make it to 15 if he's left on his own," she said.
Stansbury remarked on the difficulty of making his case, that it would be best if James stayed in the juvenile system, because there were so few people in his corner and because of a pattern that shows he doesn't care. Stansbury said it seemed like there hasn't been time for anything to sink in for him.
"There hasn't been that investment of trying to find what can be successful in the juvenile system," he said. "We don't look at any child as a lost cause (but) in terms of treating him like a child, that is being ended."
He said whatever Domine decides, he hoped she could remember that James is only 14 and has a lot of time ahead of him.
Domine deliberated only a short time before coming back and announcing her decision to waive James. She said it may be in his interest to stay in juvenile court, but the evidence suggested sending him to the adult system was the only way to protect the community.
"Help was handed to you, but you ran," she told him.
James was booked in the Elkhart County Correctional Facility after the hearing. He may have a hearing later to set a bond amount, but Domine said she was inclined to have him held without bail.
She said she'll order that the Elkhart County Public Defender's Office continue to represent him.