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By Lucy Hadley 5-09-2017

Bresha Meadows, a 15-year-old charged with aggravated murder in the death of her abusive father, may not serve jail time, as part of a tentative plea agreement announced yesterday. This resolution would avoid trial — her record would be sealed and then expunged, and Bresha would be required to complete nine months of mental health treatment.

In the early hours of July 28, 2016, Bresha shot her father with his gun while he slept on the couch. Relatives say this action put an end to years of abuse, accounts that are corroborated with police and child services accounts. In 2011, Brandi Meadows, Bresha’s mother, filled a police report accusing her husband of constant emotional, financial, and physical abuse during 17 years of marriage. She told Fox News, “[Bresha is] my hero. She helped me — she helped all of us so we could have a better life.” According to her lawyer, Ian Friedman, Bresha’s brother and sister — witnesses to the shooting — will testify that Bresha acted in self-defense.

The case has attracted international attention. A hashtag, #FreeBresha, created an online movement last fall, and her case has become a touchstone for conversations on the criminalization of domestic abuse survivors, especially black girls. Religious congregations organized “Pray4Bresha” vigils and a “Pray4Bresha Sunday” in October, when congregations lifted up Bresha’s story in sermons and prayer.

On Monday, activists, students, and family members gathered at the Trumbull County Family Court to support Bresha. The pre-trial proceedings happened behind doors, but supporters waited in the court room with “Free Bresha” buttons. Donations from these supporters and others have been vital, Martina Latessa, Bresha’s aunt, told Sojourners. Latessa said these funds had helped Bresha’s family pay for an attorney, her short stay in mental health treatment, and day-to-day expenses while the 15-year-old has been in detention. Speaking to the faith community’s support, Latessa said “It’s very important, the prayers. Bresha said she can feel it, it’s a huge empowerment.”

To these family, friends, and supporters, Bresha has become something of a hero, the face of a long-overdue conversation on domestic abuse, self-defense, and empowerment. But not everyone sees her case this way. Jonathan Meadows’ family says Meadows, Bresha’s father, was not abusive. Meadows’ sister Lena Cooper described the shooting as the act of a disturbed child, and said that the act was “ cold, calculated.”

And the court system is not treating this as an open and shut self-defense case. The prosecutor is charging Bresha with aggravated murder, defined by the state of Ohio as “purposely and with prior calculation and design [causing] the death of another.”

Her case has remained in juvenile court. If convicted of aggravated murder, Bresha can only be incarcerated until she is 21.

She has already been incarcerated for 284 days. Average pre-trail detention time for juveniles is 10-12 days.

Friedman filed for Bresha’s release from Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, arguing that detention was cruel and unusual in Bresha’s circumstance because the facility is not equipped to treat her PTSD and depression. “You have a child who by all accounts has sustained extreme trauma from a life of exposure to abuse, and then you take her and put her in a jail without professional mental health care,” Friedman told Sojourners. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

In a May 5 written order, Judge Pamela Rintala denied Bresha a release with a bond, stating the child would not be able to get the in-patient treatment she needs in the short time before her May 22 court date.

Nevertheless, Friedman and Bresha’s family are optimistic regarding the tentative plea deal. After discussion the deal with the judge on Monday, Friedman told reporters at the courthouse, “Under any circumstance, [even] if the allegations here were to be found untrue, unfounded, she still is gonna need treatment, I don’t think any reasonable person believes this just ends and she goes back to school and everything is all fine and good. A treatment sentence meets the desires of the family, and we as council would be comfortable with that as well.”

But organizers with Free Bresha voiced concerns with the deal. In a statement on their website, organizers said, “We maintain that being forced to be at a facility is not freedom and it is not care.”

On May 22, all parties involved will finalize the plea resolution. If the details of the tentative plea deal cannot be resolved between all parties, the case will go to trial in October.

Lucy Hadley is a Campaigns and Communications Assistant for Sojourners.

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