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The 15-year-old, sentenced to a treatment center where she could leave daily, got high and pregnant.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published February 8, 2008
DADE CITY - She was 15 when she tried to drown her little brother. Then she ran away and slashed her wrists.
Instead of sending the teen to prison for attempted murder, the system sent Victoria Rupple to get help.
She came back high on drugs and pregnant at age 16.
The system had sent the teen to an adult treatment facility where Victoria was free to just walk out the door.
And for that, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa apologized Thursday.
"I know that this court and the system has not done a great job of keeping you from future and further harm," the judge told the girl. "Obviously you played a great role in that, but I don't think we took pre-emptive steps to prevent that from happening.
"This time, we're taking pre-emptive steps."
Then Siracusa laid out exactly what the system would do this time to help, and guard, Victoria.
The judge held himself, the system and the teen accountable. Then he decided someone else had to be held accountable, too.
"Ms. Rupple," the judge asked, "who is the father of your child?"
Victoria was supposed to be babysitting Michael, then age 9, on that Aug. 12, 2006, day - the day her brother was found face down in a tub full of water.
He recovered, but Victoria ran away to Tampa. She was found months later and spared prison in a 2007 plea deal. She was put on probation until she's 21 and sent to live in a treatment facility.
But she had been charged as an adult with attempted murder. Her public defender said that made it difficult to place her with other juveniles.
She ended up at Still Standing, an unsecured adult facility in St. Petersburg. Curfew was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Except for that, Rupple could leave if she wanted.
A positive drug test landed her back in court last month. That's when authorities learned she was three months pregnant, too.
In court Thursday the judge blessed the new treatment plan created by the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender and State Attorney and the teen's counselors:
Victoria will be sent to DeSoto Dual Diagnosis Correctional Facility in Arcadia. It's a secured, high-risk juvenile facility with mental health and substance abuse treatment. But she will remain at the Pasco Juvenile Detention Center until a bed opens up for her.
She could be at DeSoto for a year to 18 months, depending on her progress. The judge also ordered her to get more treatment after her release, to finish GED and parenting classes, to get a job and obey a curfew until her probation ends at age 21.
If she violates her probation again, if she fails a drug test again, then Victoria could be sent to live at a maximum-risk juvenile facility until she's 21. If Victoria's troubles continue, there is the possibility that she could serve the adult sentence for her crime: up to 30 years in prison.
Victoria initially resisted the DeSoto program, her lawyer told the judge, for this reason:
That facility won't let her keep her baby there. The newborn will have to go to relatives or foster care.
"Because of my charge," Victoria asked the court, "are they going to take my kid away?"
Did she mean court-ordered termination of parental rights? The judge had no answer for her. But he did order her to write a 5-10 page paper on how she planned to care for her child.
But none of the adults in her life think Victoria can or should raise the child. Not her father, Shane Rupple, and not her lawyer.
"With all the stuff she's dealing with," Assistant Public Defender Dillon Vizcarra said, "maybe it's best she not be allowed to."
Vizcarra said his client is taking her medication and coming to grips with her situation.
But authorities are still wary of Victoria.
At the juvenile center, they intercepted a letter with a photo inside that was mailed to Victoria from a friend.
Siracusa read it aloud in court: "I thought I should mail it to you so you have a picture of your baby's daddy."
The judge held up the photo.
"Who is in the picture?" he asked.
"I don't know," the girl said.
"You don't know his name?" Siracusa said.
Victoria said she didn't know, or didn't remember. She said she lied to the man, told him that she was 19.
"I don't care if you lied about your age," the judge told her. "This adult needs to take financial responsibility for your child."
He could face criminal charges as well. But Victoria's juvenile probation officer told the judge that investigations by the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office into who impregnated the girl have stalled because of her.
Victoria won't cooperate, and nothing the judge said changed that.
"You're taking responsibility for your actions," the judge told her. "Everyone else needs to, too."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 869-6236.
[Last modified February 7, 2008, 21:55:17]