Judge Denies Petition to Move Case to Juvenile Court

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LANCASTER, PA — A Manheim Township teenager charged with killing her older sister on February 22, 2021, had her decertification petition to move her case to juvenile court denied by Lancaster County Judge David R. Workman on July 18th.

The case involving defendant Claire Miller, now 16, will remain in adult court. Homicides are not considered delinquent acts in Pennsylvania, but minor defendants can petition to have the case heard in juvenile court.

Judge Workman filed his opinion on July 18, 2022, following a decertification hearing from June 27 to June 29, 2022.

Miller was 14 at the time she stabbed her 19-year-old sister, Helen, seven times in the face and neck. Miller called 911 and reported that she had killed her sister to police around 1:00 a.m. at her family’s home in the 1500 block of Clayton Road in Manheim Township.

The court considered seven factors in determining whether a transfer from adult court would serve the public interest:

  • The impact of the offense on the victims;
  • The impact of the offense on the community;
  • The threat to public safety or any individual posed by the child;
  • The nature and circumstances of the offense allegedly committed by the child;
  • The degree of the child’s culpability;
  • The adequacy and duration of dispositional alternatives available under this chapter and in the adult criminal justice system;
  • Whether the juvenile is amenable to treatment, supervision or rehabilitation as a juvenile consider the flowing factors: age, mental capacity, maturity, the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the child, previous records (if any), the nature and extent of any prior delinquent history, including success or failure or any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the child, whether the child can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction, probation or institutional reports (if any), and any other relevant factors.
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Defense counsel argued and presented testimony during the hearing that Miller had a psychotic break that led to the killing, namely auditory command hallucinations coming from a woman that Miller attempted to silence by stabbing.

“In reality, however, the stabbing occurred to the victim,” Judge Workman wrote.

In his opinion, Judge Workman mentioned the victim as vulnerable and defenseless, with a cognitive disability in cerebral palsy and inability to move without assistance. The parents were also considered as victims and Workman mentioned their desire to support Claire and see her get treatment for her mental health.

The impact on the community was significant, with some 400-600 community members offering support and the defendant’s school providing support and counseling to students. But the negative effect “stretches well beyond the local community,” Workman wrote.

Assistant District Attorney Amy Muller represented the Commonwealth in the proceedings and argued that Miller had not shown definitive progress in her mental health. It would not be possible to determine a timeline for which Miller would be mentally healthy, and in turn the public’s safety would be threatened.

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Muller presented evidence that the defendant texted a group of friends admitting to killing her sister and before calling police, turned off the family’s alarm system, threw or otherwise placed her phone into a neighbor’s snowbank after calling 911, and made multiple callous statements to police in the subsequent interview after the homicide.

“If she’s not treated as an adult or held in a state prison, she has a high chance of reoffending,” Muller argued during the final day of the hearing.

Workman sided with the Commonwealth’s argument Monday stating “it is not in the public interest to transfer Claire Miller to the juvenile court.” Miller was remanded to the Lancaster Youth Intervention detention program where she will remain until the next Interest of Justice Hearing, time and date to be determined.

Detective Steve Newman of the Manheim Township Police Department filed the charges which were approved by Assistant District Attorney Christine Wilson.

Assistant District Attorney Elaine Preli assisted in the proceedings.

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Information is subject to change at any time as additional details may emerge. Information, a criminal complaint, or an arrest is not a declaration of guilt. A suspect, arrestee, or defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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