A judge ruled today against moving to juvenile court the case of a teenage girl who allegedly slammed a brick twice into the face of a 20-year-old female Temple University student.
The ruling means that Zaria Estes, 15, could face up to 20 years on felony charges of aggravated assault for the March 21 incident on 17th Street.
“This is one of the worst, most unprovoked, vicious assaults that I have ever seen committed, particularly by teenage girls,” said Judge Benjamin Lerner.
Estes, along with codefendants Kanesha Gainey, 16, and Najee Bilal, 15, allegedly attacked three female Temple students in separate attacks along 17th Street, near Temple University’s campus.
The final and most violent attack was the brick-smashing incident at 17th and Norris streets, which directly led to Temple deciding to extend their police patrol this week.
“As a direct result of this incident and after meetings and discussions, Temple University extended our patrol borders out to 18th Street … effective Labor Day,” Temple University Police Captain Edward Woltemate testified at the hearing.
Police reports after the initial incident said that the girls identified themselves to other girls who they were inviting to join in the violence as a flash mob.
Prosecutor Paul Goldman said witnesses have said they saw the girls running by and say to them, “Hey, do ya wanna knock some bitches down? Do ya wanna knock a bitch down with us?”
The victim, who Metro will not identify, read a victim impact statement at the hearing.
“I never considered myself a victim until I became one,” the victim said.
The victim described undergoing oral surgery without anesthesia after the attack — during which a doctor pulled out and then replaced her teeth.
Her jaw was broken and she had metal braces woven into her jaw and teeth for a month, during which time she could only consume food through a straw, she said. She missed classes for two weeks.
Since the attack, the victim said, she quit a job and moved back home because it was “too difficult to walk around Temple’s campus without having a panic attack.”
“I go over the attack in my head almost every day,” she said. “I’m constantly reminded of the attack, every day when I look in the mirror.”
The victim’s mother began crying as she described the condition she found her daughter in at a hospital on March 21.
“She was covered in blood. Her lips were big and purple and blue and she had no teeth,” the victim’s mother testified.
“She used to smile all the time and laugh all the time and she was fearless and she was gonna conquer the world… She used to have this light in her eyes, and that light is gone.”
The victim’s boyfriend, 20, a Temple student who was present during the attack and who also gave a statement, said he has experienced repeated flashbacks to the attack.
“I did not think that another human being was capable of acting so inhumanely,” the boyfriend said. “I do not understand how anyone can act so maliciously.”
“Despite what these individuals have put [the victim] and I through, I want them to know that I forgive them,” he said.
Estes’ attorney, Bill Davis, protested that the attack was not typical behavior by his client and that Bilal and Gainey, who both also allegedly punched and hit this victim, led the attack.
“She was hanging out with some wild girls and she got wild,” Davis argued. “My client was with a group of teenage girls she wasn’t usually involved with … She wasn’t in the forefront, she wasn’t leading the charge.”
But prosecutor Goldman argued that Estes should still be charged as an adult.
“She knew what she was there to do,” Goldman said. “They went to Temple University that day to do something horrible. … To them, it was a game. It makes them feel good about themselves.”
“It was incredibly bizarre, incredibly dangerous, incredibly sad, incredibly immature. They went up to Temple University to go and punch girls … just like a pack of predators looking for where they could find the most prey.”
Estes’ mother, who had previously testified that the family moved from West Philadelphia to Roxborough to find “a better environment” for Estes as the girl was a victim of bullying, began weeping in the audience as Lerner announced that he was denying the decertification motion.
In explaining the decision, Lerner read part of the statement Estes made to detectives.
“They all ran up to both Temple students. Neesh punched her in the face. Naja ran up and hit her too. The girl with the braids already had a brick in her hand. I took it, threw it and missed. … I picked the brick back up and went over to the girl and swung and missed. Then I swung two more times and hit her both times,” Lerner read.
“When you intentionally pick up a deadly weapon and the first attempt fails and you’re persistent enough and vicious enough to follow up on it, pick up the brick after it’s fallen and swing again, and even after you miss, to show your determination to do the greatest bodily harm, to persist in using the brick … that’s a whole different ballgame than what those other girls did,” he said. “Decertification is denied.”
Gainey and Bilal both had their decertification motions granted to have their cases moved to juvenile court, under an agreement that both will plead guilty to aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime in juvenile court and each serve two years in juvenile detention with no home visits.
After two years, they will have to apply to be released from juvenile detention, and could potentially be held up until the age of 21.
Estes will return to court for a status date on September 26.
“Now we’re making decisions as to what’s next,” Goldman said after the hearing.
Davis did not immediately respond to requests for comment on how Estes, who is currently free on bail, will respond to the judge’s decision.