Dog cruelty suspects may get youth status

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Two Selma youths who allegedly poured lighter fluid over a dog before tying it to an old bed frame in the woods and setting it on fire will be considered for youthful offender status in the case.

Johnnie Bell Jr. and Jonah Edwards, who are both close to 20 years of age, are charged with dog/cat cruelty first degree.

The dog/cat cruelty first degree charges against Bell and Edwards stem from the death of Roger and Missy Cook’s dog, Killer, who was found badly burned underneath their house Sept. 29, 2002.

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Joseph H. Hagood III, attorney for Edwards, said that if the youthful offender status is granted by Judge Jack Meigs then Edwards’ court record would be sealed.

Hagood also said that in a job interview Edwards could truthfully answer that he had never been convicted of a crime if he was granted youthful offender status.

Blanchard McLeod, attorney for Bell, added that if his client received youthful offender status then instead of Bell serving a possible one to 10 years in jail he would only have to serve a maximum of three years.

Hagood said that his client applied for the youthful offender status at his arraignment on Tuesday, and added that the arraignment is usually when youthful offender status is applied for.

Dallas County District Attorney Ed Greene, however, said that his office would be filing a motion this morning objecting to Edwards being granted youthful offender status because he’s on federal probation for child abuse.

According to the district attorney’s office, Edwards is currently on probation for putting a baby in a freezer in North Carolina.

Hagood said that Edwards should undergo a mental evaluation. He said the request for evaluation should be filed by week’s end.

McLeod said that a request for mental evaluation for Bell should also be filed in the near future. The evaluation would be done by the Taylor Harden Secure Medical Facility.

According to Hagood, Meigs will most likely make a decision on the mental evaluation before February.

McLeod said that if someone commits certain crimes in Alabama they are considered an adult at 16. Murder would be one example of such a crime.

For all other offenses, McLeod said, people are considered adults at 18.

However, McLeod added, some laws state that if someone is over 18 but under 21 a judge can consider them for youthful offender status.

Meigs signed an order Tuesday requesting the state probation and parole office to conduct an investigation of both Bell and Edwards and to provide a report to the court.

According to McLeod, the report will include a recommendation on whether or not Bell and Edwards should get youthful offender status.

Pauline Cook, probation officer for the state probation and parole field office in Selma, said that such a report usually doesn’t take more than 60 days to complete.

Cook said that the report is filled with any arrest record the subject might have. This information is gained from the Selma Police Department’s records unit and also the Dallas County Juvenile Service.

Legal facts of the case, provided by the district attorney’s office, are also part of the report, said Cook.

Cook also said that phone interviews with references the subject provided are conducted. Cook said that her office asks subjects to list three references such as teachers, neighbors and church members.