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Letters to the Editors

Attorney tells only one side of teenager's complex criminal past

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002

Editor: Re: Bollenback got the right sentence, letter by Lisa Herndon, Supervising Attorney, Citrus County State Attorney's Office on Sunday, Citrus Times.

We would like to thank Herndon for saying "fairness dictates that a full picture of the scenario be considered" in clarifying the past offenses committed by 17-year-old Adam Bollenback.

Lisa Herndon is a public figure, known throughout Citrus County. Because of this, the letter concerning Adam Bollenback was read widely. However, as citizens of the community and grandparents of Adam, not attorneys, we were left with numerous questions.

Did Herndon write from hearsay? Did she write what others would have her write? Did she check her facts? Is it possible that the facts are distorted?

She supports Circuit Judge Ric Howard's sentencing being within the law prescribed for adults. But, is Adam an adult, mentally or chronologically? No.

The 10-year sentence in adult prison appears based on Adam's "criminal episodes (that) began at the age of 13, and as all other juveniles, he was introduced into the juvenile court system." At the hands of juvenile authorities and the police, this bipolar young man had several problems to overcome.

Adam was charged with battery, a felony offense, for striking a teacher. Is this statement all it appears? Several things were happening to Adam at this time. He had become rowdy and in an attempt to quiet him, a teacher tried to guide him to a wall. Adam's flailing arms hit him in the stomach. A resource officer claimed Adam had swung five or six times. The teacher explained to him that everything was under control. But Adam was placed in a juvenile facility.

By the way, Adam did very well at this facility. Why wasn't this mentioned? After completing the program, he returned to Citrus High School on the recommendation from his counselors. He earned a place on the "A" honor roll. While attending the awards breakfast, a teacher asked, "What are you doing here? You don't belong with these kids." Adam was devastated.

Adam later faced a criminal charge for stealing a bag of potato chips from the school cafeteria. Adam stepped out of the lunch line with the chips to talk to a friend. He ate the chips, threw the bag away and got back into line to pay. A few minutes later, he was pulled from line and accused of stealing. Another felony. This episode became another criminal act by a juvenile, adding to the ultimate sentence of 10 years in adult prison.

Herndon wrote, "he assaulted his mother with a baseball bat." Adam assaulted a wall (not his mother) with a stick (not a baseball bat). People with bipolar can have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty. This time it was awaiting a decision of where he would be sent.

Herndon also wrote: "Bollenback acted out violently and battered a staff member." This staff member dislocated Adam's shoulder while he was at a Level 4 juvenile facility and was fired for violence and abuse administered by him on several other juveniles. Wouldn't it have been fair to mention this? But this incident added another felony charge to Adam's record.

Stealing a six-pack of beer has now surpassed all the varied criminal offenses he is being accused of. The beer was in a neighbor's opened garage and the charge was burglary. Eluding the police by leaving the police car shouldn't have happened. What could have possessed him to do this? Was it fear of the police? The letter said the police apprehended him. Adam surrendered to police voluntarily.

Yes, Adam has been guilty of many offenses and he must pay for them. Because of his age and his bipolar condition, he should be in a facility where he will be safe, medicated and regulated. It's not been easy so far and it won't be easy in the future. But giving up on a 17-year-old by putting him into adult prison where he will be hardened (if he survives the rapes and AIDS) is not the answer for this young man. Please try to save him, not waste him.

Herndon wrote, "Once a juvenile offender has been classified as an adult . . . that individual must always thereafter be treated as an adult offender." She earlier wrote: "With the advice of his lawyer, Bollenback demanded to be prosecuted as an adult." Why would Adam want to be prosecuted as an adult? He must have believed that because of his previous record in the juvenile system that perhaps adult court would be fair, looking only at the new charges.

The letter states, " At no time prior to the trial for burglary and escape was the court advised that Bollenback's criminal behavior was a result of a mental problem."

Earlier, Herndon wrote: " . . . He was again placed into a juvenile facility. This facility was specifically designed to treat mental/emotional and anger-related problems." If no one knew of the emotional/mental problems, what was he doing in this program?

During the trial, Howard requested recommendations for sentencing from the juvenile authorities. Once he received them, why did he ignore them?

Herndon wrote, "Florida Statute 921.002(1)(b) states, "The primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender. Rehabilitation is a desired goal of the criminal justice system but is subordinate to the goal of punishment.' " This statement is meant for adults, not a mentally impaired teenager.

Adam was tried and sentenced as an adult. It should have been just the adult charges and not the juvenile offenses he was sentenced for. He went to one program for 10 months. How many times does he need to pay for the alleged crimes?

Why did this judge, who Herndon said balances punishment with compassion, use this boy as a sacrifice? Why was he used as an example to other teens by having his "spirit broken?"

I ask the judge to reconsider this sentence. Everyone realizes Adam needs punishment, but one that is humane and sensible.

After the sentence, the owner of the home where the beer was taken said that had she realized his age, she would have given him a severe tongue lashing and sent him home.

The National Association for the Mentally Ill felt that his bipolar condition alone warranted him being sentenced to a facility where he would be offered safety, medication and rehabilitation.

Herndon wrote that Howard cannot legally speak for himself. That led me to believe he felt a need to defend himself.

Herndon is probably aware of things the people of Citrus Country are not privy to because she works with Howard. All we know is that his compassion did not show itself on the day Adam stood before him.
-- John and Fran McCain, Lecanto grandparents of Adam Bollenback

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