Wake County DA outlines process for juvenile cases after deadly stabbing at Raleigh school

Sean Coffey Image
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Wake County DA outlines process for juvenile cases
The suspect in the deadly stabbing at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High case is a 14-year-old.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- In the wake of the deadly stabbing at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School that closed for two straight days, ABC11 sat down with Wake County's top prosecutor about the decisions made in homicide cases involving juveniles.

The suspect in the case is a 14-year-old who has been charged in the death of 15-year-old Delvin Ferrell.

Wake County DA Lorrin Freeman couldn't comment specifically on the Southeast Raleigh Magnet case given the strict confidentiality laws that surround juvenile cases -- but was able to shed important light on the process for deciding who gets tried as an adult -- and when that happens. In short, Freeman says first her office would need to decide to bring Class A felony murder charges against the suspect, then a judge would need to sign off at a probable cause hearing.

"If we were to choose to proceed on first-degree murder charges again and probable cause has to be found, that's a transfer that would happen," Freeman said. "I'm not going to speak specifically about what our strategy or our intent would be in this particular case."

Freeman couldn't say whether or not she intends to bring first-degree murder charges but did confirm that a probable cause hearing has not yet taken place. Those hearings typically take place in the first 15 days since the alleged crime occurs, but are often pushed later.

"Usually it is going to be certainly more than a couple of weeks before we know ultimately whether this case will be tried in adult court or not," Freeman acknowledged.

Add that up, and there's uncertainty about the case's future. The 14-year-old suspect -- whose name ABC11 is not released due to his age -- is currently being treated as a juvenile. Freeman asked for patience as these confidential hearings play out.

"A lot of times in the juvenile court process, there can be things that are going on in court, but because of this cloak of confidentiality, from the public perspective, the perception may be nothing's happening. It's not moving forward," Freeman said.

She acknowledged that in another recent, high-profile case involving a juvenile -- the case of the alleged Hedingham shooter -- there were months of the hold-ups the public wasn't privy to. Without divulging specifics, she said certain cases can require additional hearings for issues like the suspect's competency -- and then those hearings can lead to even more delays.

"Certainly in the Hedingham case, there were a lot of issues that because they happened in juvenile court, I'm not at liberty to talk about, but they did drag that out," she said.

We also asked Freeman about the videos circulating that appear to show the stabbings, and what may have led up to them -- as well as the potential ramifications if a potential self-defense argument were eventually presented by a suspect at trial.

"I want to be very careful not to talk specifically about any case that's within the juvenile system and a pending case," she said. "Generally in these types of cases, you get into a place of, you know, there may be some self-defense element, but it's not absolute self-defense. It may in some way mitigate what the ultimate outcome is."

The teen suspect did appear in court for the first time Tuesday on a juvenile secured bond hearing, where a lawyer is typically assigned and conditions for holding a suspect are laid out -- as are potential terms of release. Since that took place in juvenile court, ABC11 is still working to learn what came of that hearing.

RELATED | Mothers worry about traumatized students after deadly school stabbing at SE Raleigh Magnet HS

School board addresses SE Raleigh stabbing

Community advocates, city leaders weigh in on SE Raleigh HS stabbing