Boy, 14, charged with murder, rape in teacher's death at Md. detention center

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010

A boy who was 13 in February when he allegedly beat a teacher to death in a state juvenile detention facility in Prince George's County was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder and first-degree attempted rape.

During a hearing in Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro, Prince George's prosecutors said they had filed papers seeking to try the teen, who turned 14 this month, as an adult.

Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. scheduled a hearing on that issue for Aug. 27. If the teen is tried as a juvenile and found to have been "involved" -- the equivalent of guilty -- he could be held until he is 21. If the case is moved to adult court and he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

The Washington Post does not generally identify juveniles who are charged with crimes unless they are charged as adults.

No new details of the slaying of Hannah Wheeling, 65, emerged at Wednesday's hearing. The teenager, dressed in a white T-shirt and casual pants, said little.

He is accused of killing Wheeling, a general studies teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility. He has been a suspect since shortly after the incident. He was being held in the detention center on burglary charges and after the killing was moved to a more secure facility.

Two law enforcement sources said Wheeling was last seen giving the suspect a test at 4 p.m. Feb. 17. About an hour later, another staff member saw the suspect running up a set of stairs; the boy appeared anxious and sweaty, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.

Wheeling, of Bel Air, Md., was found beaten to death outside the facility's Murphy Cottage just before 8 a.m. the next day. In addition to being bludgeoned, she had been strangled with a "ligature," or some type of cord, the sources said. Near her body, the sources said, investigators found a concrete block they think was used in the beating.

Also found were three shirts of the type issued to Cheltenham residents, one with the suspect's name written on the neckline, the sources said.

Each of the shirts had blood stains. DNA tests showed Wheeling's blood was on at least one of the shirts.

A state police spokesman said at the time of the incident that Wheeling died from multiple blunt-force trauma. Despite his age, the teenager was big enough to have overpowered her, law enforcement sources said.

The killing raised questions about a facility with a difficult past.

The suspect had been staying in Murphy Cottage, which is outside the fence at Cheltenham. It houses about 20 boys with no known history of mental illness or violent crimes such as murder, assault or sexual offenses, said Jay Cleary, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, which runs Cheltenham.

A source familiar with operations at Cheltenham said the youths at Murphy Cottage are supposed to be in view of a staff member 24 hours a day.

Investigators think Wheeling arrived for work about 8 a.m. Feb. 17 and never left the grounds.

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