Us Teenager Creates Ripples In Indian Judiciary
Joncarlo Patton posted a message on his Facebook wall on August 5: “In Dubai, leaving for Sri Lanka soon, then India, then home.”
Eight days later, his mother, Cindy Iannarelli, 51, of South Fayette in Pennsylvania, was killed, her throat slit with a knife. Joncarlo, 15, and a former High School student, was detained at Jodhpur airport while trying to board a flight to Delhi.
Police has now charge-sheeted Joncarlo and has firm evidence that he slashed his mother’s throat while she was sleeping at a luxury resort in Osian, 65 km from Jodhpur. Joncarlo, after killing his mother, stashed their blood-stained clothes in a bathroom, wrapped his mother’s body in a sheet and threw it into a nearby sand dune.
After his arrest Joncarlo accepted that he got into a fight with his mother, but denied killing her.
While Joncarlo remains under custody in Jodhpur’s juvenile home dozens of his more than 500 Facebook friends have posted their support, their belief that he is innocent and their hopes that he returns home soon.
But a few of the hundreds of posts he and his friends made between June 2009 and August 5 also reveal a strained relationship with his mother.
His mother was divorced from Joncarlo’s father, George Richard Patton of Bridgeville. The fight between Joncarlo and his mother was over his parents’ breakup, which occurred in 2003.
Joncarlo was scheduled to attend school in Italy but wanted to return home to live with his father, police said. His father withdrew him from school in June this year and the mother wanted him to be put up in an Italian school. The son enjoyed dual citizenship of both US and Italy.
In several Facebook posts, he referred to his mother as “satan” and “bitch”.
On September 17, 2009, as he began his freshman year at South Fayette, he wrote: “I am going to kill my mom,” without any further explanation.
The incident took place at Jodhpur, but 7,000 miles away the whole of United States is keenly monitoring the development in the case of murder of 51-year-old Cindy Iannarelli, a business consultant of Cecil in Pennsylvania, who was murdered by her own son Joncarlo Patton in a resort at Osian 65 km from Jodhpur.
15-year-old Joncarlo Patton has been sent to the juvenile home at Jodhpur’s Mandore Road after, he was charge-sheeted of killing his mother at Osian resort and dumping her body at the bottom of a sand dune. His fate rests in the hands of a judicial system that to Americans may seem unfamiliar and unpredictable.
After the charge sheet by the police, Joncarlo will have to face the juvenile court inquiry. In the juvenile court under the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, there cannot be any trial and after the charge sheet the juvenile court would take cognizance of the charge sheet and would ask Joncarlo to defend himself. A juvenile board comprising of two other members, who are well versed with child psychology and at least one of them would be a woman would inquire the charges against him and decide on suitable punishment. The state government under the JJ Act has the power to set up a committee to monitor the juvenile board’s function from time to time.
The JJ Act outlines a system that is sensitive to the needs and psychology of children, experts said.
India has overhauled its system in the past few decades—in part to fall in line with terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.
After the completion of the inquiry, if the committee is of the opinion that the said child has no family or ostensible support or is in continued need of care and protection, it may allow the child to remain in the children’s home or shelter home till suitable rehabilitation is found for him or till he attains the age of eighteen years.
Interestingly, it is for the first time that a foreigner juvenile has been charged with murder and that too of his own mother. There has not been another such instance in the history of Indian judiciary. And lawyers and law students of not only Jodhpur, but of the entire country are keenly following this case which would become an ideal case history.
Cindy was found with her throat slit on August 13 at the resort. The police said that Joncarlo was upset over his parents’ divorce and frustrated with his mother’s decision to move him to Italy. His father, George Richard Patton was divorced from Cindy in 2003. Joncarlo obtained a knife from the resort’s staff and killed his mother while she was sleeping. Police arrested him later that day at Jodhpur airport when he was trying to board a flight.
Under Indian law, he is not to be tried as an adult or detained in adult jails. The country outlawed the death penalty for juveniles in 1946. But in practice, the system falls far short of its goals and is inconsistent, said Arlene Manoharon, a Bangalore-based social worker and the coordinator of the Centre for Child and the Law at Bangalore University’s National Law School. Implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act is spotty and varies radically from state to state, she said, and added that there is little oversight to make sure states conform to its provisions.
“The law is progressive but the implementation of the law leaves a lot to be desired,” Ms Manoharon said.
Dr Sesha Kethineni, a professor of criminal justice science at Illinois State University who has written extensively about the Indian juvenile justice system, said the act has not even been put into practice in some Indian states.
Like its adult criminal justice system, India’s juvenile justice system is often overburdened, resulting at times in lengthy delays for children who await court proceedings. In Rajasthan, the Juvenile Justice Board has not been formed.
Because Joncarlo’s case will proceed under the close watch of the US Embassy and international media, Manoharan agreed that he likely will be shielded from many of the system’s flaws. Four members of the US Consulate in New Delhi were sent to Rajasthan following his arrest, but the US Department of State did not comment on their role.
“I shall exercise every right given under the Act. I have gone through the charge sheet and I could only say it has many lacunas. But as a defence lawyer, I would not discuss it in public. But I would raise the issue when the inquiry is conducted,” said Joncarlo’s lawyer Manish Vyas, who is noted for his expertise in criminal law.
Vyas said the juvenile home, where Joncarlo was sent on August 13, has sent an excellent report about his conduct in the juvenile court. “The parole officer’s report suggest that Joncarlo is a decent youth,” Vyas said.
The future reports will document his background, the fitness of his father to care for him, and what should be done to rehabilitate him, if that is found to be necessary. If he is convicted, the report will be used to help determine his sentence.
“At Jodhpur’s juvenile centre, Joncarlo lives in a typically guarded dormitory-like settings. He is a loner and looks depressed. He is finding it tough to interact with other inmates as he can speak only English. The food provided to him is not of his liking,” added Vyas.
Manoharan said the Indian juvenile judicial system is built to be ‘child-friendly’ and to avoid putting children in court-like settings that they may find intimidating. The presiding magistrate does not wear a robe, and the justice board members typically gather around a table with the child and his or her attorney.
The board begins an ‘inquiry’, similar to a trial. A prosecutor will present the government’s case, witnesses will testify and Joncarlo’s lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. Joncarlo then will have the opportunity to explain his position and to have witnesses testify in his defence.
The magistrate ultimately will decide whether Joncarlo is innocent or guilty. If he is convicted, the board members will pronounce an order, or a sentence.
But experts said it’s unclear what will happen if Joncarlo is found guilty of murder, because juveniles are rarely accused of such serious crimes. Legally, the maximum sentence that can be given out by the board is a three-year term in what is called a “special home” but they are more like boarding schools than jails or American detention centers.
“As with the rest of the system, however, those facilities fall short of their goals to provide intense psychological therapy and support that enable children to be successfully reintegrated into the society,” Manoharan said.
“We have yet to find one such institution that really functions in this manner,” she said. “I would not be very hopeful of the quality of care being provided in a special home.”
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur