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Psychiatrist: Juvenile route can’t rehabilitate teen

HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona teenager facing second-degree murder in the 2020 shooting death of a fellow teenager cannot be rehabilitated through any form of treatment available in juvenile court, a Philadelphia psychiatrist testified Friday in Blair County Court.

Dr. John O’Brien II, presented as a rebuttal witness during a hearing to decide if Logan Persing’s criminal charges should remain in adult court, said Persing has never been able to sustain improvements in his behavior.

“The offense itself,” O’Brien said, referring to the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Devon Pfirsching, “occurred on a night when Persing had to pretend that he was compliant with his curfew.”

Persing was 16 years old on Feb. 25, 2020, when he and two other teengers, Owen Southerland and Damien Green, allegedly lured Pfirsching to an alley on the 100 block of Fourth Avenue as part of a plot to rob him of cash and marijuana.

Altoona police charged Southerland, the one accused of firing the fatal shot, with first-degree murder.

Persing, Green and a fourth teenager, Omeda T. Davis Jr., are facing second-degree murder charges.

Persing’s quest to have charges transferred to juvenile court began in February with two days of testimony before President Judge Elizabeth Doyle. Testimony was scheduled to finish Friday, but because it didn’t, two more hours are to be scheduled.

When the proceeding concludes, Doyle will have time to review the matter before deciding where Persing’s criminal charges are to be addressed.

Drexel University psychology professor Kirk Heilbrun of Philadelphia testified in February that Persing has a “moderate risk” of future violence, but said that risk could be reduced through intervention.

Heilbrun pointed to Persing’s improved behavior and schooling since he’s been incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove which houses juvenile offenders.

O’Brien said that based on his evaluation, he believes Persing “has demonstrated the ability to learn in a structural setting and to follow the rules in a structural setting.”

When First Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith asked if Persing had learned to “walk the walk and talk the talk,” O’Brien said he agreed and that Persing’s current compliant behavior isn’t likely to continue outside a structured setting.

“I don’t find Mr. Persing’s record supports rehabilitation,” O’Brien testified. “He’s been afforded a variety of opportunities … and exhibits ongoing difficulties despite them.”

Through cross-examination, Dickey suggested that O’Brien spent too little time with Persing, that his evaluation should have included an interview with Persing’s mother or other family members. Dickey also pointed out that O’Brien’s report includes nothing positive about Persing.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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