Autism not a defense in Long Branch family murder case, expert says
LONG BRANCH — One of the few things known about the 16-year-old boy accused of gunning down his parents, sister and family friend on New Year's Eve is that he has a developmental disability. But attorneys representing the accused murderer will not be able to rely on that factor alone to defend him in court.
Scott Kologi is charged with killing his father, Steven Kologi, 44; his mother, Linda, 43; his 18-year-old sister, Brittany; and family friend Mary Schultz, 70.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said he intends to try the boy as an adult, which will happen only when a judge agrees to waive the case up to criminal court.
Former Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said moving the case to an adult courtroom as opposed to keeping it in the juvenile justice system would greatly increase the punishment the boy could face if convicted. An adult convicted of murder would face a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison, while a conviction in juvenile court would result in just a couple of years behind bars.
"Essentially, the difference is that where an adult court is about punishment and deterrence, the juvenile justice system is about rehabilitation of the offender," Bianchi said. "The idea there is they're going to try and rehabilitate him as a juvenile offender, as opposed to the adult system ... where it's merely punishment."
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Kologi has been described as a special-needs student, and being on the autism spectrum, according to media interviews with neighbors, family friends and his grandparents. Bianchi said that even if the boy does fall on the autism spectrum that does not mean he will escape a murder conviction.
"We don't know what this term 'autism' means," he said. "Everybody's throwing that out there as if he's autisitic, therefore it's a defense. That's not accurate. Whatever his issues are, they have to be to a point where he does not appreciate the difference between right or wrong."
With Kologi still awaiting his first court hearing, Bianchi said there were still many questions that need to be answered about how the case will be prosecuted and how he will be defended. That includes whether his public defender could use his mental health as a defense.
"The insanity defense means at the time the crime was committed the person could not appreciate the rightfulness or wrongfulness of their conduct," Bianchi said. "If a judge or a jury down the road believes that the person could not form an intent because they were suffering under such mental disease and defect [...] and that he couldn't appreciate the difference between right or wrong, it would be not guilty by reason of insanity."
At a news press conference on Tuesday, Gramiccioni said the teen’s psychological or developmental disabilities have not been a consideration for prosecutors.
Bianchi said prosecution and defense experts will look at circumstances such as the boy's conduct before and after the slayings. They will look to answer questions like whether he tried to hide something or whether he tried to escape.
"The reason I ask those things is because that shows that the person understands what they did was wrong," Bianchi said.
If a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Bianchi said they would usually face a so-called Krol hearing where their mental health would be evaluated. They would then be admitted to a psychiatric facility "until a time comes when a psychiatrist and the judge agree that the person is no longer a danger to themselves or others, and when that happens they're released."
"It's obviously a huge tragedy, terrible, it almost speaks of some sort of mental health condition," Bianchi said. "But just because you're mentally ill, doesn't mean you're just getting off the hook. It's gotta be so profoundly mentally ill that the jury would believe, or the judge would believe, or the prosecutor believes that this person could in no way shape or form appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct."
Kologi's first court hearing is now set for Wednesday.