State announces murder charges against three youths in March triple homicides

FIle photo: Bill Gladson speaks during a meeting of the Litter Task Force at Marion County Growth Services in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted May 17, 2023 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty

Three Marion County youths have been indicted on murder charges for their roles in the March 30 slaying of three juveniles in Ocklawaha that stunned the region and drew national attention.

Fifth Circuit State Attorney William “Bill’’ Gladson has announced that two of the male suspects—one a 16-year-old and the other a 17-year-old–were indicted on three counts each of first-degree murder. The third suspect, a 12-year-old boy, was indicted by the grand jury on one count of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of three Marion County juveniles. The three suspects were also indicted on charges of robbery with a firearm and tampering with physical evidence.

Gladson has indicated that all three will be charged as adults in Marion County Circuit Court, an unusual step for a 12-year-old criminal suspect. Fifth Circuit Public Defender Michael Graves told the “Gazette,” “I’m not saying it’s never happened. I just don’t know of a time myself when a 12-year-old has ever been tried for murder as an adult.”

Walter Forgie, the spokesperson for the state attorney’s office, cited two times a 12-year-old has faced murder charges as an adult elsewhere in Florida: once in Broward County and once in the Pensacola area. Forgie also pointed out that his office has charged 13-year-olds as adults for crimes in the past.

At a first appearance Tuesday morning, Graves’ office was assigned to represent the minors. However, Graves told the “Gazette” that because of a conflict of interest the office will recuse itself from representing the suspects, who will be referred to conflict counsel.

All three defendants are being held without bond in the Marion County Jail. Circuit Judge Robert W. Hodges has been assigned the case.

The loss

According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Layla Silvernail, 16, died April 4 after being shot and critically injured March 30 on SE 183rd Avenue near Forest Lakes Park. A 17-year-old male was found shot to death on March 31 along SE 188th Court, and Camille Quarles, a 16-year-old girl, was found dead from gunshot wounds in the trunk of a partially submerged vehicle near Malauka Loop Trace.

Authorities said they are withholding the names of the male victim based on the family’s request under Marsy’s Law, which provides protections for crime victims and their families.

According to public records from the sheriff’s office, the three victims knew the three youths charged with their deaths.

Lisa Windsor, Layla’s grandmother, with whom she had been living, said Tuesday she was aware of the first-degree murder charges and the state’s intent to charge the three minors as adults. Windsor said she was too overcome emotionally to comment in a phone interview.

“Maybe in a few days,” she said as she became choked by emotion.

Asked about how she is doing, Windsor replied, “hanging in there.”

Windsor told the “Gazette” previously the other two victims “may have used Layla because of her car.”

Layla had completed 10th year of home schooling and planned to finish 11th grade this summer, Windsor said.

“Layla was an all-around good kid; she was never in a gang,’’ she said. “Layla wanted to be an attorney…She was a loving, caring person and she was my world.”

The indictment process

Forgie told the “Gazette” that the grand jury heard evidence on Monday, May 15 and issued the indictment for first-degree murder charges against all three suspects. The state attorney’s presentation to the grand jury included evidence collected in the crimes of all three teens collectively.

According to the grand jury’s indictment, Assistant State Attorney Toby Hunt advised the grand jury through the process. As is standard, no defense attorney was present to provide the grand jury with any mitigating information during the presentation.

Forgie told the “Gazette” that generally speaking, the state attorney’s office does not delve into any of the social elements of a juvenile’s background before bringing charges against the suspect and does not usually present any of that information to a grand jury. Instead, prosecutors stick to “legal elements associated with the crime.”

The indictment provided to the “Gazette” had the victims’ names redacted, making it impossible to determine which of the suspects were charged with the specific murders. All the murder charges involved a firearm, however, but no detail was given as to who pulled the trigger.

What is the background of the charged teens?

The “Gazette” obtained criminal records for of prior each of the minors.

We will not publish the minors’ names until more facts and circumstances about their participation in the crimes become known.

The 12-year-old had no prior felony charges. The 16-year-old is facing unrelated charges within the past year of armed carjacking as well as car theft and for removing an electronic monitoring device. The 17-year-old is facing felony charges from the last year for battery on a school district employee, auto theft, and theft from a dwelling.

The “Gazette” spoke to the mother of the 16-year-old suspect, who asked her name not be published due to fear of retaliation against herself and the teen’s two younger siblings. She said the siblings already have been harassed because of their connection to the suspect.

The mother said this is the first time she’s ever been away from her son, and his siblings are all missing their older brother, too.

Reflecting on the notification by law enforcement to the families of the three victims, she said, “I could have gotten that same call.”

Of her son’s alleged involvement, she said, “He got messed up with the wrong crowd and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. My son would never kill anyone. He wasn’t raised that way. All he ever wanted to do was play video games in his room.’’

She feels the grand jury process was unfair because her son’s identity has already been disclosed by the sheriff’s office and media outlets. “How can you tell me that the grand jury wasn’t biased against my son? The story made national news,” she said.

The sheriff’s office has not shared details of the 16-year-old’s alleged involvement in the murders as it has for the other two suspects. The state attorney’s office has indicated it won’t be able to share more details for a few more weeks.

Public reaction

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods held a series of press conferences in April that brought national attention to the death of the three teens. At an April 7 conference, Woods indicated that evidence pointed to all six youths being involved in gang activity but “at some point, these three individuals turned on our three victims and murdered them.”

He added the weapon used in the shootings was obtained “from car burglaries.”

With that national media attention also came criticism for Woods’ handling of the conferences, including his interjecting of political commentaries on gun control and school discipline into the events. His office even videotaped a “perp walk” of two of the suspects, including the 12-year-old who was shown without a shirt. The videotape was posted on the sheriff’s office’s social media sites and disseminated to the media hours after two of the suspects confessed to the crimes while being interrogated without legal counsel.

Online reaction to the indictments was swift.

In response to the sheriff’s Facebook post on Tuesday echoing the state attorney’s announcement of the indictments, Shelma Pearce commented, “They (sic) will be a lot upset about the 12 year old being treated as adult but if he had the gut to pull the trigger and kill someone…” to which Susan Smith replied, “cannot get death penalty, only life..but death might be preferred.”

Another Facebook commenter, Cynthia Leedy, wrote, “You know, I see the age of the youngest perp and it just saddens my heart. I have a 12-year-old son and I just cannot fathom him having such a blatant disregard for another human.” To which Elizabeth Flower Cutright replied, “it makes you wonder what was going on because someone clearly let that child down.”

Luis Villar posted in response, “It’s good seeing these indictments of these three criminals. But is also sad to see the failure of all the parents. Everyone in this case was under 18 years. Is our society failing?”


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