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Judge to decide teen’s trial court

Green, charged in Pfirsching killing, seeks to be tried as a juvenile

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Whether an Altoona teenager will be tried in the fatal shooting of a classmate in the adult or the juvenile court now rests with Blair County President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle.

Doyle completed a second day of hearings on where Damien Green, 16, will face charges of second-degree murder and robbery in connection with the Feb. 25 fatal shooting of 15-year-old Devon Pfirsching, a 10th grader at Altoona Area High School.

On Dec. 28, Doyle heard from a forensic psychologist, Alice A. Applegate of Pittsburgh, who concluded Green was not a principal participant in the robbery and murder of Pfirsching.

“Damien was an afterthought. … He was peripheral,” Applegate said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, after reviewing Green’s school records, she reaffirmed her recommendation, stating that nothing has changed her opinion that the judge should decertify Green as an adult and refer him for treatment in the juvenile system.

Applegate was placed on the witness stand by Altoona attorney Daniel Kiss, who is arguing that Green, by serving time in the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove over the next 4.5 years — until he turns 21 — can receive the treatment he needs to re-enter society.

Blair County District Attorney Pete Weeks and First Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith countered the defense testimony by calling forensic psychiatrist, Dr. John S. O’Brien II, of Philadelphia, who found Green was not amenable to treatment that would significantly change him within the next few years.

Green, he said, “acts weak.”

The teen complains about physical problems such as a bad back. He admitted being a problem in school and talked about having dyslexia or a problem reading.

But in testing him and in reviewing his behavioral problems in school, O’Brien found Green to be a very different person.

Green’s school records were the primary subject on the second day of the hearings.

Those records showed Green was aggressive and bullying with classmates, that he got into fights, disrupted classrooms and was in juvenile court stemming from a fracas during a football game at Mansion Park in September 2018.

The incident at Mansion Park was a matter of controversy during Tuesday’s hearing because it landed him in the juvenile court.

Three months later, the court released him and expunged his record after he went through a treatment program.

The prosecution wanted to get into the details of what occurred at Mansion Park because it allegedly would show Green’s increasing violence as his behavior deteriorated in school.

Kiss objected to the prosecution’s attempts to “relitigate” the Mansion Park incident.

The school record showed there was an incident, but Kiss maintained that the facts of the case had never been established and that the prosecution was out of bounds now by trying to bring up an incident that had been purged from the record.

O’Brien testified that Green has adopted a pattern of complaining about his health as a way to gain attention in a dysfunctional household, but he said Green, in reality, “sees little need to change his behavior. He appears satisfied with himself.”

O’Brien said that since Green was sent to the Pine Grove facility, Green’s grades have significantly improved and he is able to perform at a high level.

On cross-examination, Kiss said that O’Brien’s assessment shows that in a setting with supervision and among other juveniles Green can improve his behavior, but O’Brien disagreed.

He stood firm on his recommendation Green should be tried as an adult.

Green in February was arrested with two other teens, Owen Southerland, 15, and Logan Persing, 16. A fourth teen, Omedro T. Davis, 16, was charged in April.

According to the criminal charges, the teens plotted during a meeting on SnapChat to rob Pfirsching of marijuana.

On the night of Feb. 25, they allegedly lured the victim to an alley on the 100 block of Fourth Avenue.

Southerland allegedly was carrying a Glock handgun that was given to him by Davis, according to the charges, and when Pfirsching arrived for the marijuana deal, Southerland put the gun against the teen’s head and told him to drop the marijuana and run.

Pfirsching fought back, and Southerland, the charges state, pulled the trigger.

Green ran alone from the scene while Southerland and Persing ran away together and later discussed how to cover up the crime.

Police on the next day received a lead as to who committed the homicide.

It came from a 15-year-old student, who testified Tuesday.

He was in the restroom at the Altoona Area Junior High School the day after the shooting when Green came in with two others. He heard Green talking to the other teens, but was unable to identify them. Green talked about how the robbery was planned, and how Southerland pulled a gun and killed Pfirsching.

The student, who was a friend of Pfirsching, reported the conversation to police, and when confronted by police, Green revealed many of the details of the homicide that eventually led to the arrests.

Several junior high school assistant principals testified Tuesday, outlining Green’s erratic behavior in school.

While Green received dozens of disciplinary referrals, he refused to attend after-school or Saturday detentions.

He disrupted a classroom by interrupting a teacher and then mocking her, and he slapped classmates on the back of the neck.

In one incident described by Assistant Principal David Campbell, Green was seen by a guidance counselor trying to trip a female student. The counselor tapped him on the back and he “exploded,” telling the school official not to touch him.

Doyle over the past two months has refused to send Southerland’s charges to juvenile court.

Davis has agreed to be tried in the adult court, and Persing is awaiting a decertification hearing.

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