Andrew Balcer has spent the last week at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and not at home.

Just a week ago, the 17-year-old was arrested and charged with two counts of knowing or intentional murder in connection with the deaths of his parents, Antonio and Alice Balcer, both 47. Winthrop police found their bodies following an early-morning 911 call.

In less than a month, he’ll turn 18. On that day, the state of Maine will consider him an adult. But for now and until the court system decides differently, he’s a juvenile, and different rules apply.

“It’s because (juveniles) are different from adults,” Ned Chester said. Chester, a partner in the Portland law firm Chester & Vestal, has focused his practice primarily on juveniles. He has no connection to Balcer’s case. “Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone.”

A week following the murders, few details about what happened inside the home that night have emerged. A judge last week sealed from public view the affidavit that describes the police version of events, and the Maine Office of the Attorney General has also prevented the release of autopsy results that would give the cause and manner of death.

In both instances, the criminal justice system cited Andrew Balcer’s status as a juvenile as the primary reason for keeping the details out of the public eye.

What police have said is that at 1:45 a.m. Monday, police were called to the home at Pine Knoll Road and arrived to find Antonio and Alice Balcer dead. Just hours after describing the deaths as “highly suspicious,” they arrested Andrew Balcer, a Winthrop High School senior described by school officials as a high performing student.

STILL DEVELOPING

The notion that juveniles are different from adults started to emerge more than a century ago, as social reformers started to see children as more than just “small adults.”

Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh, said considering children different from adults in the criminal justice system is a fairly recent phenomenon. The center is the research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and is the oldest juvenile justice research group in the United States.

The first juvenile court was created in 1899 in Chicago.

“A hundred and fifty years ago there was no psychology,” Sickmund said. There was also no recognition that the brain continues to develop through childhood and adolescence into early adulthood.

“There is a whole science about brain differences,” she said. “Juveniles are not good at making decisions and they are not good at understanding consequences. They are more emotionally charged in stressful situations and that also clutters their thinking.”

Or, as Chester the attorney puts it: “The smart part of the brain is not connected well to the rest of the brain.”

On the whole, instances of teens and youth committing violent crime are relatively rare. In the case of teens killing parents, known as parricide, there were only 251 cases of a mother or a father being killed in the U.S. in 2015, according to FBI statistics.

COMMUNITY LOSS

Even so, murders by juveniles and young adults in the last decade have shocked the communities of central Maine and have marked them with grief and loss.

In November 2005, 14-year-old Marlee Johnston left her Fayette home to walk her two dogs and never returned. Patrick Armstrong, also 14 at that time, pleaded guilty in 2006 to her murder, and he was sentenced to serve 16 years of a 25-year prison sentence at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham to be followed by four years of probation. His earliest release date is May 2021.

In July 2007, John A. Okie was arrested and charged with the murders of Alexandra Mills, 19 of Wayne, and of his father, John S. Okie, in their family’s Newcastle home. Mills was his former girlfriend and a classmate at Kents Hill School. Just 20 at the time of his arrest, Okie is now serving two consecutive 30-year terms at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

In August, Colby Hodgdon, who was 17 at the time, pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter in the stabbing death of his father, Steven Hodgdon, in his Troy home in March 2015. Hodgdon was sentenced to eight years, all suspended, and four years of probation that will run consecutive to a separate juvenile misdemeanor case that was closed to the public.

That’s just three instances of violent crime committed by juveniles or young adults in the region, but there are others.

‘TERRIBLY TRAGIC’

The common thread among juveniles and young adults is that they are incapable of mature judgment, said Carlann Welch, a clinical psychologist with a practice in Portland. “What research tells us is they are less able to self-regulate. They’re not as able to say, ‘This is not a good idea.'”

Teens and young adults tend to have a different perception of risks and rewards, and they tend to focus more on the benefit than on the risk, Welch said.

Beyond that, Chester said there are generally two large categories of kids who commit offenses.

“This is kind of a gross generalization,” he said. One is the persistently antisocial kid who never moves beyond that. It’s a very small group, he said.

“The other is the rest of us,” he said. “You make some stupid mistakes and you grow out of it.”

The question is how justice ought to be applied.

Some states like Florida apply adult punishments to juvenile offenders. The state sends 4,000 to 5,000 juveniles to adult correctional facilities every year, and it has done so since the mid-1980s. That’s long enough to track the data, and the result, Chester said, is more violent adults being released at the end of their sentences. “It’s not smart to criminalize every kid.”

Maine is fortunate in that it doesn’t have that many violent offenses, Chester said.

“The question is, does the juvenile justice system have the programs and assets that it can provide what a child needs so that child is not a threat to society, and is that child amenable to that?” he said. “That’s what the statute comes down to.”

In Balcer’s case, the Winthrop teen will undergo a diagnostic psychological evaluation, a requirement of state law as the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam, has requested a bind over hearing that would allow Balcer to be treated as an adult in court, but that has not yet been scheduled. Balcer’s initial appearance is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 17.

In Winthrop, which was home to the Balcer family for more than a decade, the community is saddened.

A member of the Exiles Motorcycle Club in Pittston said Antonio, known to many as “Rev” because of his religious beliefs, was “a great father” and someone people turned to in times of need. Alice, known as Ali, worked at the Winthrop Veterinary Clinic and before that the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, where she was remembered as a “tireless advocate” for animals in the community.

Antonio and Alice met while serving in the Coast Guard and later settled in Winthrop, buying the home at 10 Pine Knoll Road in 2000.

Immediately following Andrew’s arrest, school officials described him as an “academically superior student” with Superintendent Gary Rosenthal saying staff and teachers saw no signs that would point to trouble in the home.

“It’s terribly tragic,” Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Winthrop Board of Selectmen, said. “I don’t think people will perceive this community any differently as a whole. As we have seen with incidents all across the country, (crimes like these) are based more on individual circumstances than on the community.”

In this instance as in other losses Winthrop has suffered, she said the community tends to come together and its members are strong in supporting one another.

“That’s not going to change,” Fuller said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ