Lawyers for two teenage girls charged as juveniles in the fatal carjacking of a food delivery driver in the District will soon receive plea-bargain offers from a prosecutor, although a trial in the case remains possible, if not likely, according to discussions in court Wednesday.
The prosecutor, Bonnie Lindemann, gave no indication that her office is contemplating an attempt to transfer the older girl’s case to adult court, as D.C. law would allow under certain circumstances. As for the younger girl, she could not be prosecuted as an adult in the District for any crime because of her age.
When Leibovitz asked Lindemann whether she had given the defense lawyers proposed plea agreements for the girls, the prosecutor replied: “Not yet, your honor. We expect to be able to do that in the next day or two.”
Whether those proposals will lead to a resolution of the case remains to be seen. The defense attorneys said they have yet to thoroughly review the evidence against their clients, which they must do before deciding how to proceed. Leibovitz told them to return to court April 20 to discuss the status of the case.
The girls, who were allegedly armed with a stun device, are accused of carjacking a Honda Accord owned by a 66-year-old Uber Eats driver, who was thrown from the vehicle during a crash near Nationals Park and fatally injured.
A D.C. police detective said in court last week that the victim, Mohammad Anwar, a Pakistani immigrant who lived in Northern Virginia, was struggling with one of the girls and “hanging outside the car” through the open driver’s door when the Honda went out of control, struck a curb and overturned.
The girls are charged with felony murder, carjacking, armed robbery and other offenses. The Washington Post typically does not identify youths who are being prosecuted as juveniles. Leibovitz gave journalists access to the hearing, which was closed to the public, on the condition that they not report information hinting at the girls’ identities.
The two have pleaded “not involved,” the juvenile court equivalent of not guilty.
There is no way under D.C. law for authorities to prosecute the 13-year-old girl as an adult, even for murder, according to a manual on Superior Court procedures published by the city’s Public Defender Service.
As for the 15-year-old girl, it is possible for a youth that age to be transferred to adult court in a murder case, but the burden is a heavy one for prosecutors.
The focus of the juvenile court is entirely on rehabilitation, not punishment. A youth who is 15 can be prosecuted in adult court only with a judge’s permission. To gain that approval, authorities have to show that if the case was kept in juvenile court, there would be “no reasonable prospects for rehabilitation,” the manual says.
The law includes a list of factors about a 15-year-old’s background that a judge has to consider before ruling on a requested transfer to adult court. Whether the 15-year-old accused carjacker has a personal history that might warrant a move to transfer her to the adult system is not publicly known.
Kristen Metzger, a D.C. police spokeswoman, said one of the girls is suspected of being involved in an earlier carjacking, but she provided no further details.
A youth who is 16 or 17 and charged with any of four serious crimes — murder, forcible rape, first-degree burglary or armed robbery — can be prosecuted as an adult in the District at the discretion of authorities, according to the manual.
Although some states have tougher laws for dealing with juvenile offenders, the law in D.C. is similar to that of many jurisdictions.
Even the lexicon of juvenile court is different from adult court. The two girls are considered “respondents,” not defendants. After a trial, if youths are found “responsible,” meaning guilty, they can be held in a juvenile detention facility only until age 21, even in a murder case. If deemed rehabilitated, they can be freed much sooner.
In testimony last week, Detective Chad Leo of the D.C. police homicide unit gave few details on the beginning moments of the carjacking. He said the girls got into Anwar’s Honda at the Navy Yard Metro station and Anwar then drove a short distance to the streets close to Nationals Park. There, the incident turned deadly.
Basing his testimony on witness statements and video recordings, Leo said that Anwar wound up standing outside his car, with the 15-year-old in the driver’s seat and the other girl in the front passenger seat.
As Anwar was trying to force his way back into the Honda by climbing on top of the girl in the driver’s seat, Leo said, the 13-year-old reached across from the passenger seat, turned on the ignition and “manipulated” the gear shift. The vehicle lurched forward and accelerated down the block before crashing, Leo said.
Anwar, who lived in Springfield, Va., suffered broken bones and a head injury. His family said he immigrated to the United States in 2014 “to build a better life for himself.”
His death came amid a wave of carjackings that began last year in the District and in suburban Maryland, and is continuing this year, authorities said.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.