WILKES-BARRE — Tyler Duda “is and continues to be a danger” to the community, and the vehicular homicide suspect’s case properly belongs in the Luzerne County Court system, prosecutors argued Wednesday.
A brief filed by the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office follows Tuesday’s filing by defense attorneys as county Judge Lesa Gelb weighs whether the teen should have his case moved to juvenile court.
Duda was 16 at the time of the July 5 incident that left Nanticoke resident Nicholas Zurilla, 59, dead after he was struck by an SUV outside his home at 340 W. Union St. Now 17, Duda and his lawyers are fighting to have his case moved to juvenile court.
A two-day decertification hearing was held before Gelb last week. Lawyers for both sides have now submitted their post-hearing briefs and the judge is expected to rule by May 5.
On Tuesday, Luzerne County First Assistant Public Defender Demetrius Fannick and Public Defender Cheryl A. Sobeski-Reedy, representing Duda, argued that Duda’s actions do not amount to malice, as required for a third-degree murder conviction.
They also argued that moving him to the juvenile system, with appropriate treatment, would maximize Duda’s chances of becoming a productive member of society.
Assistant District Attorney Mamie Phillips disputed that view in her Wednesday filing, arguing that Duda’s behavior continued to escalate despite previous attempts at treatment.
“The defendant was on medication for several years prior to the crash,” wrote Phillips, adding that Duda “had the benefit of treatment while in the community and on (previous) probation, and he chose not to take advantage of any help that was offered.”
Duda also had three hospitalizations, Phillips said, resulting from violence in the home — most recently for a case of simple assault against his mother, which led Duda into the probation system.
Duda stands accused of taking his mother’s 2013 Ford Edge without her knowledge and was out joy riding with Donald Kinney Jr., 16, in Nanticoke on the way to visit a female friend.
A state police reconstruction of the crash alleges Duda was traveling in excess of 70 mph when he struck Zurilla, arrest papers say. The speed limit on West Union Street is 25 mph.
Phillips also pointed to the opinion of a prosecution expert who testified that Duda was diagnosed with conduct disorder, a condition marked by defiant or impulsive behavior.
Based on Duda’s continued defiant behavior, even while incarcerated, that expert, psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Wright, testified that he cannot effectively be treated in the juvenile system in the time remaining before he turns 21.