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Woman, Now 41, Charged As Juvenile

October 29, 1998

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Susan Marie Watson was 14 years old when someone shot her sleeping mother to death. No one was ever charged.

Now, 27 years later, the mystery may be solved, though its answer creates an even knottier problem. Watson has confessed to killing her mother, but authorities don’t know whether to try her as a teenager or an adult.

``The laws aren’t written for this kind of case,″ said Robert Schwartz, director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

Watson, 41, of Schenectady, N.Y., admitted last week that she shot her mother, Maylon Johnson, because she didn’t believe the girl’s complaints that family members were sexually abusing her, authorities said.

Police had reopened the case after Watson’s younger brothers asked about the investigation.

For now, Watson is charged in juvenile court with the Oct. 3, 1971, killing in the family’s Newark apartment.

At the time of the killing, Watson had told police she found her mother’s body and saw a man leaving the scene, police Sgt. Derek Glenn said.

Watson, a keyboard operator and mother of three, was initially taken to the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark, where she was separated from younger inmates.

``She was treated as anyone else charged with a juvenile (crime) at that time,″ said Michael O’Brien, acting division manager of Family Court in Newark.

A Family Court judge on Monday ordered her moved to an adult facility. But where she should be held is the least of the court’s dilemmas.

Under law in effect in 1971, a juvenile charged with murder could not be tried as an adult if he or she was under 16 at the time of the crime.

Philip A. Ross, a lawyer who runs a juvenile justice clinic at Seton Hall University School of Law, said that means Watson would have to be tried as a juvenile. Today, a juvenile can be waived to adult court.

But Ross did not know how to resolve a possible sentence. Under the 1971 law, a juvenile convicted of murder would be held in a juvenile detention center only until he or she turned 21.

``I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a situation quite like that,″ Ross said. ``I don’t know how they’re going to handle it.″

Today, a juvenile could go to jail for up to 20 years.

Schwartz, of the Juvenile Law Center, wondered if any court even has jurisdiction. In most states, he said, juvenile courts no longer can prosecute anyone over the age of 18 or 21.

A defense attorney might argue that ``there’s nobody with the authority to try her,″ Schwartz said. ``It’s one of those slip-through-the-cracks kind of things.″

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