Crime & Courts

Younger teen joins 17-year-old girl charged with murder in Central Avenue homicide

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A 15-year-old has become the second person charged with murder in connection with an October homicide on Central Avenue, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police announced Monday.

The teen’s name was not released due to age.

Jessica Dawn Smith, 29, was shot and killed on Oct. 17, police have said. She was pronounced dead at the scene behind a laundromat, according to the Observer’s news partner, WBTV.

Nearly two months after Smith died, on Dec. 12, police charged 17-year-old Yamina Rookard with robbery with a dangerous weapon and murder. She was still in Mecklenburg County Jail on Monday afternoon, according to jail records.

At least four other 15-year-olds have been charged with murder in Charlotte in 2018, according to records maintained by the Observer. Several cases involved teens working together to commit robberies that turned deadly, according to police.

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North Carolina is the only state in the country that automatically prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults for all kinds of charges.

That’s scheduled to change in December 2019, when 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors and low-level felonies will go through the juvenile justice system instead.

But for teenagers charged with murder, that shift won’t necessarily make a difference. If a judge finds probable cause for a juvenile’s first-degree murder charge, the teenager is automatically transferred to adult court.

At least a dozen older teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 have been charged with murder in Charlotte this year, records show.

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.