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Teenagers Plead Not Guilty in Slaying of 12-Year-Old

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two teenagers charged with beating 12-year-old Rodney Haynes to death entered not guilty pleas Wednesday as friends of the victim again castigated the county for mixing younger and older children in the same group homes.

“Rodney was 85 pounds. He was a little kid,” said Jim Lampley of Compton, whose wife was the boy’s guardian, after attending the hearing in Sylmar. “Those were two grown men in there.”

The two defendants were identified as Brandon Sewell, 16, and Gregory Jones Smith, 17. Each was charged with murder under state juvenile laws. Their court-appointed attorneys declined to comment.

Los Angeles County Juvenile Judge Morton Rockman said he will decide next month whether the two should be tried as adults, as prosecutors requested.

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“We have looked at the underlying facts of the case, the status of the minors including their age, and their criminal history as well as whether there have been previous attempts at rehabilitation,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby. “Based on that evaluation we believe they would be more appropriately dealt with under the jurisdiction of the adult court.”

Presby declined to say why the boys were being held in the Calabasas group home and refused to say whether they had criminal histories.

The killing has focused attention on how well the county monitors the children it sends to group homes, such as Passageway in Calabasas, where Haynes joined Smith and Sewell six days before his death.

Investigations of Haynes’ death--and how his case was handled--are now underway by the California Department of Social Services, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the county Probation Department.

Andrew Juels, who runs five Passageways group homes, said he is cooperating with investigators and has agreed for the time being not to accept any more children into the five homes he operates.

But he insisted the slaying of Haynes was an “aberration,” and said there were no signs the two teenagers under his care were capable of such dangerous or violent behavior.

Sewell and Smith allegedly beat Haynes to death because they considered him a “wise guy,” police said the two told them. His body was dumped in a trash bin behind a Calabasas shopping center.


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