LEWISBURG, Pa. – A judge ruled Thursday that three teenagers will be tried as adults in a rock-throwing incident last summer that severely harmed an Ohio schoolteacher who watched the daylong pretrial hearing as she wore a plastic helmet to protect her still healing injuries.
Judge Michael Sholley said he was not willing to put them back into the juvenile system, where they would age out in less than three years, when an adult could get as much as 25 years for the most serious charges they face. Now 18, they were 17 last July when a rock was dropped from an Interstate 80 overpass and crushed the head of Sharon Budd of Uniontown, Ohio.
Budd said she agreed with the judge's decision and noted she never saw defendants Keefer McGee, Dylan Lahr or Tyler Porter look her in the eye.
The court proceedings were "saddening and sickening," said Budd, who faces a seventh surgery in the coming months. "It's hard to hear all that. I just think that when you're 17 or 18 years old, you know consequences of your actions."
The defense called psychologists and a psychotherapist — one testified in private — as they argued the defendants were good candidates for rehabilitation and that jail or prison time would do more harm than good.
Psychologist John Kelsey said Porter seemed to understand the seriousness of the crime and predicted that with treatment there would be no chance of something similar happening again.
Anthony Butto, McGee's psychotherapist, said he had a strong family and had expressed sorry and empathy for Budd.
"Putting someone like Keefer McGee in jail would almost guarantee that something bad is going to happen to him," Butto said. "He's not going to be a good person coming out."
Lahr's psychologist, who did not appear in open court, said Lahr faces a set of challenges and recommended he be sent to a treatment facility, said his lawyer, Bruce Manchester.
"The impact on the Budd family is horrific. No ifs, ands or buts. Horrific. That is a major consideration to be taken in by the court. But that I submit has to be balanced off against what is going to take place with or without the court's intervention," Manchester said, noting all three defendants are likely to be out of custody eventually.
Sholley said that if it wasn't for modern medicine, the three defendants would probably have been facing some sort of homicide charges instead of aggravated assault.
A fourth defendant, Brett Lahr, who was 18 at the time, began serving jail time earlier this month even though Sholley hasn't yet accepted his no contest plea to a conspiracy charge. The prosecutor said that could happen in June.
Budd's husband Randy, who supported the judge's decision, said after the hearing that punishment "can be a very good fix."
"And after the punishment, they always have the opportunity for rehabilitation if that didn't do it," Randy Budd said.
The four were arrested shortly after the nearly 5-pound rock crashed through the windshield of the vehicle in which the Budds had been riding. They were driving through Pennsylvania, late at night, on their way to see a show in New York.
Sharon Budd has required intensive treatment and a series of surgeries to address severe brain injuries and massive damage to her skull. She said Thursday she has begun to ponder an eventual return to the classroom — she taught middle school language arts before the attack.
During a preliminary hearing in August, McGee testified for the prosecution that he and the other three planned to do some damage but did not anticipate they would cause the injuries that Sharon Budd suffered.
Union County District Attorney Pete Johnson said that despite the juvenile court request, McGee has continued to cooperate with prosecutors.
The defendants face charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy, trespassing, propelling missiles into occupied vehicles, agricultural vandalism and reckless endangerment.