Vehicular homicide suspect, 17, seeks move to juvenile court

Last updated: April 15. 2014 11:24PM - 2189 Views
By - rdupuis@timesleader.com

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WILKES-BARRE — A judge will have until May 5 to rule on whether a 17-year-old vehicular homicide suspect’s case should be moved to juvenile court.

Tyler Duda was 16 at the time of the July 5 incident that left Nanticoke resident Nicholas Zurilla, 59, dead after he was struck by an SUV outside his home at 340 W. Union St.

Duda, of Kingston Township, has pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle, third-degree murder, accidents involving death, driving without a license, speeding, reckless driving and failing to stay in lane.

Duda’s decertification request was the subject of a two-day hearing before Luzerne County Judge Lesa Gelb, which began Monday and concluded Tuesday afternoon.

Testimony over the two days included appearances by a number of experts for both sides, with Duda’s mental health and behavioral issues a key focus for both sides.

Duda is represented by Luzerne County First Assistant Public Defender Demetrius Fannick and Public Defender Cheryl A. Sobeski-Reedy. The prosecution is represented by assistant district attorneys Mamie Phillips and Stephen Lentz.

Duda’s lawyers have said the juvenile justice system will provide treatment, rehabilitation and supervision for which Duda is a proper candidate because of his age, mental capacity, maturity level and adolescent decision-making abilities.

A Pittsburgh psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution Tuesday questioned that view, saying he believes Duda would not be able to receive adequate treatment in the three-and-a-half years remaining before he turns 21 in November 2017.

“I think he’s not amenable to treatment within the juvenile court jurisdiction,” Dr. Bruce Wright said.

“His behavior, even while incarcerated, has been dangerous. He attacked another inmate,” Wright said. “If he is allowed to leave a structured setting, that risk will be significantly magnified.”

Wright also told the court that he does not believe Duda is bipolar, as others testified, and that with an IQ of 94, he may be below average, but Duda is “not borderline intellectually or mentally retarded,” in Wright’s words.

Duda stands accused of taking his mother’s 2013 Ford Edge without her knowledge and was out joy riding with Donald Kinney Jr., 16, in Nanticoke on the way to visit a female friend.

A state police reconstruction of the crash alleges Duda was traveling in excess of 70 mph when he struck Zurilla, arrest papers say. The speed limit on West Union Street is 25 mph.

While Wright said Duda does not have cognitive disabilities, the psychiatrist said he believes the defendant has demonstrated a lack of ability “to think introspectively.” Wright also said Duda’s answers to him about substance use, sexual activity and harming himself differed from what he told other examiners, and Duda said he not believe he needed treatment.

Wright’s testimony and background came under heavy fire during cross-examination by Fannick, who pointed out five other professionals testified they believe Duda is bipolar — and Wright only met with Duda once, while the others met with the teen on multiple occasions.

“I saw him once, that’s correct,” Wright said.

Fannick also noted youths make up a very small percentage of Wright’s own practice, and the doctor is not board-certified in adolescent or youth psychology.

Defense and prosecution attorneys have until Tuesday to submit briefs to Gelb.

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