EVERETT — A Snohomish County judge on Thursday sentenced a mentally ill teenager to 24 years in prison for bludgeoning his guardian to death last year.
Gina Latshaw didn’t give birth to Brad George but she was his mom. She had raised the boy since he was a toddler and spent years trying to find the right help for him. He was neglected as an infant and showed symptoms of mental illness from an early age.
Latshaw, 37, never gave up on her son.
“I think what I’ve agreed with myself is I’m going to make things better then what they are now,” George said Thursday. “I am sorry.”
George, 17, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder before he was sentenced. Lawyers had agreed to recommend the 24-year sentence.
Under the law, George can petition to be released after serving 20 years because he was convicted before he turned 18.
“There’s just something broken,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern said. “That poses a great danger to folks if it goes unmitigated or untreated.”
George may be held at a juvenile detention center until he is 21. He will then be moved to adult prison. The lawyers agreed that for the next few years George would be better served by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, which provides opportunities for aggressive behavioral treatment specifically for juveniles.
There is no guarantee that he will be safe to be released after 20 years, but it is his best chance, Stern said.
“I have some hope that his mental illness is not static or permanent,” defense attorney Natalie Tarantino said.
Superior Court Judge Michael Downes was told that lawyers have been working behind the scenes for a year to resolve the case. They have spent little time litigating the case in court. Instead they have sought out the advice of forensic psychologists and others who specialize in the treatment of mentally ill juveniles. The experts agree that the next few years are critical for George.
“Despite his lifelong struggles with mental illness and his paranoid and delusional belief at the time of the murder that Ms. Latshaw was going to hurt or kill him, Washington law provides no statutory mental defense for Mr. George’s actions that day,” Tarantino wrote in court papers.
Latshaw was beaten to death with a dumbbell while she slept in her south Everett apartment. Police found her body Feb. 8, 2014, after George called 911 to report that he returned from school to find the door to the apartment open.
The next day George confessed and told detectives he used a coat hanger to disable the security bar Latshaw had recently installed on her bedroom door. Detectives found the dumbbell in a garbage can outside the apartment. A matching dumbbell was discovered in George’s bedroom.
The teen tried to cover up his involvement by staging a break-in. He tossed Latshaw’s purse in a dumpster and threw other property into nearby bushes.
The teen told detectives that he had negative thoughts before the killing, including suspicions that Latshaw was poisoning him with bleach.
Latshaw had been the teen’s biggest advocate, always searching out the right doctor and medicine. He came into her life in 1999 when she started dating his dad, who at the time had custody of three of his four children.
The boy’s father, a drug addict, was sentenced to prison in 2002. The children’s biological mother was in and out of their lives. The next year Latshaw sought custody of George and an older sister, telling a judge she wanted to provide them with a stable environment.
It was a challenge with George. By the time he was 5, Latshaw had him evaluated by a mental health professional. He was showing disturbing behaviors.
He was becoming more aggressive, hitting, kicking and banging his head on walls. Latshaw told a mental health clinician that the boy had talked about killing himself and her.
His teachers worried that his behavior was preventing him from making friends. George, they said, treated people like inanimate objects.
His behaviors, the clinician concluded, were consistent among children who have been abused or neglected as infants.
She kept him in therapy and he worked with a mental health specialist at school. He was admitted to a hospital in 2010. He reported having hallucinations and was diagnosed with homicidal ideation. He pulled off the wooden arm of a chair and threatened a nurse.
At 15, he was convicted of assaulting a staff member while attending Overlake Speciality School in Bellevue.
Latshaw’s family and friends said the Everett woman was devoted to her son. She was a compassionate advocate who believed there was a better way.
Her son kept his head bowed Thursday. He looked up as he was led away and found his sisters sitting in the courtroom. They told him they loved him.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dianahefley.
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