WARREN, Ohio ― A juvenile judge is considering whether to release Bresha Meadows from jail while she awaits trial later this month. A ruling is expected next Monday.
Bresha, a 15-year-old Ohio teen, is charged with aggravated murder in the death of her father, Jonathan Meadows. She has been incarcerated since her arrest last summer, 279 days ago. Her lawyer, Ian Friedman, maintains she acted in self-defense to protect her family from her father’s unrelenting violence. Jonathan’s family denies that he was abusive.
At a hearing on Wednesday morning here in Warren, just 60 miles southeast of Cleveland, Friedman asked Judge Pamela Rintala to release his client pending trial, arguing that she is not receiving adequate mental health care in the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center where she is jailed.
Bresha has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Her mental condition is being “exacerbated by the continued lack of receiving treatment,” he said. “We have seen the worsening conditions.”
Bresha quietly sat at a table facing the judge with her hair in pigtails, taking notes on a yellow notepad. Once in a while, she stole a glance behind her at the crowd filling the courtroom ― many of whom were her family members and supporters.
Her case has become something of a cause célèbre, with criminal justice reform advocates pointing to her as an example of how black women and children are punished by the state for simply protecting themselves.
In 2011, Bresha’s mother, Brandi Meadows, filed a police report and protective order against her husband, telling authorities that she was afraid for her life.
“In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”
Several people close to the family told HuffPost that they believe Bresha’s father may have sexually abused her.
A campaign in support of the teen has spread on social media, organized under the hashtag #FreeBresha. More than 28,000 people have signed a petition calling on prosecutors to drop charges. The family is also raising funds to help support the teen when she is finally free.
In February, Bresha underwent a 30-day mental health evaluation at an adolescent treatment facility in Cleveland, returning to jail afterward.
A report prepared by its staff indicated that she is being harmed by further detention, Friedman said, and recommended she receive therapy twice a week.
He asked Judge Rintala to release Bresha into the custody of her maternal aunt, Martina Latessa, who is a Cleveland police officer. Under the conditions of release he proposed, Bresha would be monitored using GPS tracking. Latessa’s home was identified as the best place for the teen because of its location. It is in Cleveland, an hour away from Warren, and is in proximity to mental health facilities where Bresha could be treated.
“Why not help a child?” Friedman asked, adding that further detention “just doesn’t make any logical sense, except to be punitive.”
Assistant county prosecutor Stanley Elkins objected to Bresha’s release, arguing that she is already receiving adequate mental health care in the juvenile jail. He also said she could be a flight risk.
Her trial date is scheduled for May 22. She is charged with aggravated murder, and has pleaded “not true,” which is equivalent to a not-guilty plea. She is being tried as a juvenile, which means that even if she is convicted, she can only be imprisoned until her 21st birthday.
Bresha’s mother said she was disappointed the judge did not render a decision Wednesday.
“I just want her to get the treatment she needs,” she said. She added that she would be able to visit Bresha that night, and would reassure her not to worry too much. Court dates make Bresha nervous. More than anything, she said, Bresha wants to come home and return to her high school. She wants things to go back to normal.
Latessa, Bresha’s aunt, said she hopes the judge will allow Bresha to come and live with her so that the healing process can begin.
“I would like to see her released to me so that we can continue her recovery, and get her calm and relaxed for her trial coming up,” she said.
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
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