By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer
2 hours, 28 minutes ago
FRESNO, Calif. - An 11-year-old girl who threw a rock at a boy during a water balloon fight escaped jail time Wednesday on a felony assault with a deadly weapon charge after lawyers worked out a deal in the emotionally charged case.
Maribel Cuevas was ordered to meet with her young victim and talk about the fight under the deal — reached on the same day the girl was to stand trial in juvenile court. She did not have to plead guilty, and the charges will be dismissed if she stays in school and keeps out of trouble.
Maribel spent five days in juvenile hall and a month under house arrest after throwing a 2-pound rock at 8-year-old Elijah Vang, cutting his forehead after he pelted her with a water balloon in April. The gash required Elijah to receive stitches.
Police responded with three cars while a helicopter hovered overhead, and said they arrested Maribel for resisting arrest and scratching an officer's arm. Police described the rock as "jagged" and measuring 5.5 inches by 3.75 inches.
Top brass on the force defended the response, but others took up Maribel's cause, saying it was no way to treat a childish crime. Supporters gathered outside the court, chanting "Free Maribel," and singing "We Shall Overcome."
As she awaited her hearing, the girl dressed in pink sweat pants, a white sweat shirt and pink flip-flops was handed a bouquet of flowers.
Maribel's father, Martin Cuevas, said in Spanish after the proceeding that his daughter was not a criminal and had acted in self-defense.
"I think everything will be fine," Martin Cuevas said in Spanish. "This way she'll be able to stay with my wife and me and go to school normally."
As part of the agreement, the two children, with their parents present, will talk about what happened. The girl's lawyer said his main goal was to prevent her from pleading guilty to a crime.
"They did not require any admission of wrongdoing, and once that obstacle was removed, the case was settled appropriately," said defense lawyer Richard Beshwate Jr.
Elijah's family, which has since moved away, declined to press charges, but were prepared to testify for the prosecution.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Griggs said her office decided to proceed without a trial because of the girl's age and because the Vang family wanted the matter resolved so they can return to their neighborhood "in a way that is safe so all these children can coexist together."
Kimberly Nystrom-Geist, a court commissioner who presided over the hearing, said the order requiring Maribel and Elijah to talk about what happened "would be the most appropriate resolution to this matter. It allows Maribel to go back to the neighborhood and make amends."
In an interview Wednesday, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer stood by the actions of his officers.
"It has always been our intention to ensure that the right thing is done. The right thing is not always the popular thing," he said, adding the department has nearly completed its internal review.
"If we truly love our children we need to hold them accountable," he said.