Friday, February 24, 2006
Posey To Be Held Until Age 21
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
ALAMOGORDO Cody Posey got his second chance Thursday a juvenile sentence that was met with jubilation by supporters and grief by some relatives of the three family members the 16-year-old was convicted of killing.
Senior prosecutor Sandra Grisham had called Posey, 14 when he killed his father, stepmother and 13-year-old stepsister on the Hondo Valley ranch of ABC newsman Sam Donaldson on July 5, 2004, a "mass murderer," a "cold-blooded killer" with psychopathic traits who could not be saved.
Grisham sought a maximum adult sentence of 60 years for the three killings and four counts of evidence tampering.
But in handing down the sentence, Children's Court Judge James Counts said he had no discretion to impose an adult sentence, because prosecutors had failed to prove Posey was not amenable to rehabilitation.
Counts ordered Posey who had asked the judge Wednesday to give him a chance to "better myself" with psychiatric treatment in a juvenile setting held by the Children, Youth and Families Department until the age of 21. Counts recommended the boy receive therapy at the state-run Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center in Albuquerque.
The sentence drew applause from one side of the packed courtroom and, outside, whoops and honking car horns.
As Lincoln County sheriff's deputies led Posey away from the Otero County courthouse where sign-carrying supporters had held vigil throughout the three-day-long sentencing hearing, the smiling boy said: "Thank you to everybody."
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell said Posey told him after sentencing: "Don't worry, Mr. Mitchell, I'm not going to disappoint anybody."
"All we ever wanted was for him (Posey) to remain in the children's system and get help," Mitchell said. "Now he gets that help."
Mitchell said he could not recall another case in New Mexico in which a judge gave a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder a juvenile, rather than adult, sentence.
First Judicial District Attorney Henry Valdez, in a telephone interview from his Santa Fe office, said, "I don't think there's been a comparable case in my memory, not an individual like that with multiple victims."
Posey was three months and 14 days short of turning 15 at the time of the killings. Had he been 15, the judge would have been required by state law to impose an adult sentence for the first-degree murder conviction.
"This was very unusual," said Alamogordo attorney Regina Ryanczak, a former state District Court judge in Las Cruces in the late '90s. "I think Counts did a very brave thing."
Posey garnered international sympathy after he and other witnesses provided graphic testimony, broadcast on Court TV, that the boy had endured years of escalating emotional and physical abuse, primarily at the hands of his father.
Testimony included descriptions of the boy being verbally demeaned, punched, whipped, slapped, hit with rocks and hay bales, and menaced with hay hooks. Posey testified that the night before the murders, his father had used a heated welding rod to try to force him to have sex with his stepmother.
A jury convicted Posey on Feb. 7 of first- and second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, respectively, for the shooting deaths of his stepsister, Marilea Schmid; 44-year-old stepmother, Tryone Posey; and 34-year-old father, Delbert Paul Posey. But at least seven of the jurors wrote Counts seeking leniency for Cody Posey.
After the judge announced the sentence, Roswell resident Corliss Clees, the boy's aunt and legal guardian, said her phone "never stopped ringing people from Canada, from Mexico, from Switzerland, from Holland, saying they wanted the best for Cody, they wanted to help him."
Delbert Posey's brother, Verlin Posey, who maintained the stories of abuse were lies, said he was "heartbroke that the judge could discount the lives of my brother's family, especially that little girl."
Verlin Posey called the sentence a "gross miscarriage of justice."
"This is not over for Cody," said Shanda Posey, Verlin's wife. "Cody's going to have to live with this for the rest of his life. If he seen anything at all in Marilea's face the day that he killed her ... he deserves to replay that image every night, and I hope he does."
Letter of the law
Cody Posey testified that, after a final argument with his father outside their home, he went inside and first shot his stepmother as she lay on a living room couch. When his father rushed in, followed by his stepsister, the boy, hidden behind a refrigerator, shot them each in the head.
Tom Sullivan, the Lincoln County sheriff when the killings occurred, said Thursday the sentence "sends a message to the children of Lincoln County that you can murder your parents, you can shoot your sister in the eye if she tattles on you. No matter how serious the crime, as long as you are a juvenile, you'll never have to go to prison."
But, in announcing the sentence, Counts said the juvenile sentence "is not a finding that the killings were justified. The jury verdict does not support the idea that the killings were justified."
Counts went on: "If the Legislature wants adult sentences for every 14-year-old convicted of first-degree murder, they can change the law. But as the Children's Code is now written, it starts out with the assumption that children who commit crimes, even very serious crimes, should be treated differently than adults who commit those crimes."
Posey's supporters said the judge's decision means that the boy, with no prior record with the juvenile justice system, will finally get the help he needs after enduring an abusive home and a tumultuous life that included seeing his mother die after a traffic accident when he was 10.
"He's a good kid. They pushed him too far," said Jacob Schmid, Marilea Schmid's biological father. He added, "What we wanted for Cody was a chance, a chance to grow up, to be someone. Judge Counts gave him that chance."
Counts said the "weight of the evidence" led him to conclude that Posey suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, both treatable conditions, at the time of the killings.
"Additionally, there is evidence that the situational nature of the violence makes it less likely the respondent would pose a future danger to the public," Counts said.
Twelfth Judicial District prosecutors Grisham and Janice Schryer declined to comment on the sentence, and District Attorney Scot Key was in a trial in Carrizozo.
Posey will be sent first to the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center in Albuquerque before going to Sequoyah in 30 to 60 days, said defense attorney Vera Ockenfels.