The Bowdoinham teenager who is accused of killing his grandmother last year will be tried as an adult.

Dominic Sylvester, now 18, is charged with depraved indifference murder in the 2018 death of Beulah “Marie” Sylvester. He was just shy of 17 years old when the 55-year-old woman was found unconscious inside the mobile home they shared.

Defense attorneys argued Sylvester was a victim of child abuse and neglect, and he has benefited from treatment at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, where he has been in custody since his arrest. The state argued Sylvester was the aggressor and would be a danger to the public if released at age 21, the maximum amount of time he could remain in the juvenile system.

If convicted of murder, Sylvester faces a sentence of 25 years to life in an adult prison.

Judge Beth Dobson heard four days of testimony earlier this year in West Bath District Court about Sylvester’s tumultuous childhood, the alleged crime and his life since his arrest. She issued her ruling Thursday with little explanation.

“This is a very extraordinarily difficult case on many levels: on a human level, on a legal level, emotionally,” Dobson said at the end of the hearing, according to a transcript. “The state of our society, it really rings a lot of bells.”

Neither the Maine Attorney General’s Office nor the defense attorneys commented on her decision.

A prosecutor can request to try a juvenile as an adult when the charge is murder or a felony – a Class A, B or C crime. The judge hears arguments on that request at what is called a bindover hearing, and the defense has the burden to prove the case should remain in the juvenile system.

Maine law requires the judge to consider four factors: the seriousness of the crime; the characteristics of the juvenile, such as his history, age and emotional state; the public safety risk; and the dispositional alternatives.

Dominic Sylvester arrives at the Sagadahoc County Courthouse on March 2, 2018, for his first court appearance in the killing of Beulah Marie Sylvester. Press Herald photo by John Ewing

The official charge in this case is depraved indifference murder, which alleges that Sylvester “did engage in conduct that manifested a depraved indifference to the value of human life and which in fact caused the death of Beulah Sylvester.” It means that even if he didn’t intend to kill his grandmother, Sylvester acted in a way that showed no regard for whether she lived or died.

The bindover hearing revealed new details about the grandmother and grandson from more than 4,000 pages of records from the state Department of Health and Human Services and other social workers, treatment providers, schools and police. Those documents are typically confidential, but two forensic psychologists answered questions on the witness stand about their contents.

They cited records that showed the state was involved in Sylvester’s life from birth, when his mother tested positive for alcohol and drugs. He was placed in his grandmother’s care when he was 10 days old, and spent his early years believing she was his biological mother.

The next incident mentioned in court was when the boy was 8 years old and Beulah Sylvester met with a school social worker to talk about his aggressive behavior. By the time he was 10 years old, the family was receiving what is known as wraparound services, and soon a community service provider was visiting the home regularly for counseling. Sylvester once tried to hang himself and was hospitalized for the first time when he was 11 years old.

While Sylvester went on to have years of contact with social workers and service providers, the two psychologists testified he was never removed from the home.

The defense honed in on episodes of abuse and neglect over the years – references to Beulah Sylvester’s drinking as a problem, the day her former boyfriend said he used plastic zip ties to restrain the boy, reports of violent discipline.

“It is not appropriate to prosecute Dominic as if he was an adult,” defense attorney Thomas Berry said. “Dominic’s conduct, though serious, was justified as self-defense. Dominic’s characteristics have improved dramatically now, perhaps for the first time in his life that he’s had structured socialization, nutrition, treatment and safety.”

But the prosecutor pointed to different violent incidents – threats Sylvester made against his classmates or his grandmother, the day Sylvester reportedly tried to choke her in front of a clinician, an outburst with a BB gun.

“The evidence is just overwhelming that Mr. Sylvester is a long-term violent offender beginning at an extremely young age, and while I do believe that the evidence will support that he was raised in a chaotic environment, that is not sufficient to meet his burden,” Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam said. “There will be no evidence that meets any definition recognized under the law of self-defense.”

The case will now go to a grand jury for indictment.

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