LIMESTONE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A Greene County teenager allegedly admitted to killing a grandmother and her 7-year-old grandson with a hammer April 24 and told a detective he planned the killing, reports obtained by News Channel 11 reveal.
The 16-year-old suspect, whom District Attorney Dan Armstrong wants to try as an adult, “admitted to hitting the victim in the head multiple times with a hammer,” one of two juvenile petitions from Greene County Juvenile Court reads. “He stated he began planning to kill the victim earlier the same afternoon,” it adds.
The petitioner in the statements is Detective Jeff Davis.
The statement is one of two that are nearly identical, with the names of victims Sherry Cole, 59, and Jessie Allen, 7, redacted. The second statement reads that the suspect “admitted to striking the victim in the head with a hammer and had began planning killing earlier the same afternoon.”
The bodies of Cole and Allen were found outside their home just after midnight on April 25 by Greene County police, who stated that bloody tools were found near them.
Davis’s juvenile petitions both state the victims had apparent head trauma when found. Referencing the alleged admission of thinking about the killings earlier in the afternoon, each statement includes the sentence, “This act was premeditated and intentional.”
Armstrong has said that if the suspect is tried as an adult — which he favors given what he called “the nature and brutality” of the crimes — he could receive a much more severe sentence if convicted.
“I think it’s necessary to file to transfer him to an adult court. That’s the only punishment that really meets the crime,” Armstrong told News Channel 11 in an interview Wednesday, April 27. “Depending on what the grand jury returned as the charge, let’s say they were to return two first-degree murder counts, at that point I would have the option of life without parole.”
Juveniles, regardless of being tried in adult court, cannot be sentenced to the death penalty in Tennessee.
Armstrong said this case weighs heavy on the Greene County community.
“I can’t imagine what the family is going through to know one of the victims is 7 years old. It’s hard enough to deal with the manner in which they were killed,” Armstrong said.
The teen suspect’s first court appearance is set for May 12, for a juvenile detention hearing. After that, he faces a transfer hearing on whether the case will be moved to adult court.
As Johnson City defense attorney Grace Studer explains, in juvenile cases results of a mental evaluation could prevent a transfer to adult court.
“The relevant inquiry here is whether he is somebody who would need to be committed to a mental institution. If the answer to that is yes, then he cannot be transferred,” said Studer.
Studer is not the suspects defense attorney, but works juvenile defense cases often. She says if kept in juvenile court, the potential sentence for the suspect would be more focused on rehabilitation.
“I never want to diminish a crime. Obviously, there are victims here and it’s a very serious crime. Let’s also look at the child and see what is going on here. This is not normal behavior for a 16-year-old. Is there a mental component? What was home life like?” asked Studer.
Judge Kenneth Bailey issued a gag order in the case at the request of the suspect’s public defender, Todd Estep, making it unlikely more documents in the case will be released soon.
Members of the media also will be unable to attend any upcoming juvenile court hearings.