CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — A juvenile court judge in Cape Girardeau, Mo., ruled Wednesday that the 17-year-old female suspect in the July 24 beating of a local lesbian resident will be prosecuted as an adult.
During the ten minute hearing, Judge Scott Lipke ordered that Mercedes M. Ayers be transferred out of the juvenile court custody and into the custody of the adult court.
Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle filed a class B felony charge of first-degree burglary for entering the victim’s home with the intent of assaulting her. However, the second charge of third-degree assault, which is normally a misdemeanor, was upgraded because Swingle believes the assault was a hate crime due to the victim’s sexual orientation.
The misdemeanor carries up to one year in the county jail and up to $1,000 in fines, but the upgraded charge carries a more stringent penalty of one to four years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Swingle said he intends to prove the hate crime requirement that the suspect was “knowingly motivated” by Terry’s sexual orientation.
“In Cape Girardeau County, thankfully, hate crimes are rare,” Swingle said. “We have maybe one a year at the most. In proving the motive, we have to prove it just like any other fact — have testimony and evidence to prove the motive, either by eyewitnesses or confession. So that’s our allegation, and we intend to prove it.”
A probable-cause statement prepared by the prosecutor’s office said that police responded July 24 to a call to a fight in progress.
According to court documents, the victim, Jeana Terry, told law enforcement officials that Ayers pulled her from the home and, along with Ayers’ two younger siblings and some of their friends, beat her while yelling anti-gay slurs.
Terry and her partner, Lisa Lange, told investigators that Ayers came to the door uninvited that night, reported the Southeastern Missourian.
Terry opened the door, the report says, and Ayers grabbed her by the arm and pulled her onto the porch and attacked her. Terry attempted to escape and yelled to Lange to call 911. Ayers allegedly pursued, punching Terry as several other juveniles — including two of Ayers’ younger siblings — joined in.
Terry never hit back, the report says, instead attempting from the ground to block the repeated blows and stomps to her head and body. Ayers allegedly yelled racial slurs at Terry during the beating and made comments about Terry’s sexual orientation.
Ayers was ordered held on a $10,000 bond.