A South Portland teen accused of planning a school shooting will be tried in juvenile court.

Prosecutors had hoped to move part of their case against Tristan Hamilton, 17, to adult court. Hamilton is facing one count of criminal solicitation for murder for allegedly planning a shooting at South Portland High School, a plot that they say he shared with as many as 10 others.

Judge Peter Darvin announced his decision Tuesday afternoon after hearing two days of evidence and testimony about the teen’s alleged behavior – burning Pride flags and setting off Molotov cocktails – and his apparent white supremacist beliefs.

The hearing only set out to determine whether Hamilton would be tried as an adult. The judge stressed to the courtroom that it was not a final fact-finding trial.

“We’re here because you placed yourself in this situation,” Darvin said to Hamilton. “But I find the state has not met its burden.”

The case will now move toward what is expected to be a two-day trial. Though the court has not yet scheduled it, Darvin said Tuesday that he hopes to bring the case to a resolution “very quickly.”



The majority of Tuesday’s hearing was taken up by Darvin meticulously walking through his reasoning to keep Hamilton in juvenile court. The judge had to consider four criteria laid out in state statute: the seriousness of the crime, characteristics of the minor, public safety concerns and whether punishments available through the juvenile system would be adequate.

Darvin rejected the defense’s argument that the charges against Hamilton were not serious enough to warrant a move to adult court. And he remained skeptical that the teen’s apparent endorsement of racist ideas was just a phase or a cry for attention.

“I’m not assuming that Tristan has disavowed or rejected the hateful ideologies that have been associated with him,” Darvin said. “I’m not viewing this as an identity crisis.”

He said Hamilton may or may not have been on the path to carrying out an attack before his arrest, and that he and the public “will be left wondering what might have happened.”

Yet he disagreed with with prosecutors’ claim that Hamilton could not be adequately adjudicated in the juvenile system. He cited the teen’s lack of a criminal history (besides another pending charge in juvenile court), his consistent school attendance and his stable home life as evidence that rehabilitation remains a possibility.


And while Hamilton went to court several times last fall for violating his release conditions, he has not done anything since his arrest last spring to threaten public safety, Darvin said.

In a closing statement she gave before Darvin issued his ruling, Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Michelle McCulloch took aim at the findings of two clinical psychologists – one hired by the defense and one recruited by the court – who recommended keeping Hamilton in juvenile court. She pointed out that both experts were missing some key case materials when they issued their opinions, including reports detailing Hamilton’s violations of his release conditions.

McCulloch also highlighted the report from the state’s witness – a threat assessment expert who expressed concerns about Hamilton’s apparent fixation with Nazi iconography and the Columbine shooters.

“To use her phrase, her terminology, it was ‘gobsmacking,’ ” McCulloch said.

She said prosecutors were not necessarily interested in sending Hamilton to an adult prison, but they wanted to impose a longer probation period than the juvenile system allows. (Juvenile sentences cannot extend past an offender’s 21st birthday.)

Mark Peltier, Hamilton’s defense attorney, has argued that the state’s case is built on weak evidence and his client poses no threat to the public. On Tuesday, he focused on inconsistencies in the testimony of Logan Rall, Hamilton’s friend and former classmate, who served as the “crumbling foundation” of the case, Peltier said.


“It’s like a fish he caught last summer – ‘It started as a minnow and then grew to a marlin.’ ” he said of Rall’s testimony. “But there was never a fish. None of this happened.”


Hamilton was arrested in April following a SWAT raid at his home, where police found the teenager had weighted body armor, Nazi flags, odes to the Columbine gunmen and access to several firearms. Police told the judge last week that officers found a black-and-white composition notebook in Hamilton’s car that contained doodled references the teen made to “Doom,” a first-person shooter video game from the 1990s that a detective said the Columbine shooters played.

Prosecutors presented dozens of pictures police took from the notebook in which Hamilton had drawn stick figures shooting each other, and one of what the detective believed was a lynching. There were several dark and disturbing messages scribbled in capital letters throughout the notebook: “Take back our future.” “Kill them all.” “No mercy.”

Throughout Hamilton’s bedroom, police found several flags and posters with Nazi symbols and other white supremacist phrases that they also saw in online groups they said Hamilton was a part of.

Peltier, the defense attorney, told the court last week that whether or not Hamilton had items displaying offensive or hateful views “isn’t the crime.” He said the state did not have enough evidence to justify a solicitation charge.

Hamilton has not been allowed onto the South Portland High School campus since his arrest and he’s been barred from social media use. He has been under house arrest and 24-hour adult supervision since December, when police learned he was still exchanging messages with members of an online neo-Nazi chatroom.

Prosecutors have since agreed to keep a separate arson charge in juvenile court and dismiss a misdemeanor-level terrorizing charge.

Staff Writer Emily Allen contributed to this report. 

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