A Henrico County circuit judge overturned on Thursday a decision from a lower court, paving the way for prosecutors to try a 15-year-old charged in the murder of Lucia Bremer, 13, as an adult.
Bremer was gunned down as she and another girl were walking near Godwin High School around 4:30 p.m. on March 26. The Quioccasin Middle School student suffered nine wounds, according to testimony from a police detective on Thursday. It was the public’s first real glimpse into what happened that day and into the boy accused of killing her.
Dylan A. Williams was 14 at the time of the shooting but has since turned 15. Authorities had not identified him, citing his age, and up until this point, proceedings in Henrico Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court have been closed to the public, including to Bremer’s family and to reporters. On Thursday, the courtroom was packed with people, with standing room only, as the hearing began.
Williams faces felony charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, threatening to shoot up a school and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and misdemeanor charges of brandishing a firearm and possession of a firearm by a minor.
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If the case remained in juvenile court and he was found guilty, the boy could be held only until the age of 21. If tried as an adult, he could receive up to life in prison.
“This is not about locking up this young man for the rest of his life,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said during Thursday’s hearing, which primarily focused on the boy’s other contacts with the juvenile justice system, the extensive trauma he’s experienced and mental health issues that have gone unaddressed for years. “But a hard stop at 21 is not going to do anyone any good. Not Dylan Williams. Not the citizens of Henrico County.”
Taylor said her office would be in favor of a blended sentence that taps resources available in both juvenile court and adult corrections.
Defense attorney Kevin Purnell, who is representing Williams along with Russ Stone, said he was disappointed that Circuit Court Judge L.A. Harris Jr. overturned the earlier ruling. In November, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Stacy E. Lee ruled that the case should remain in juvenile court. Taylor’s office appealed the decision, which she called “offensive” on Thursday because it failed to account for the seriousness of the offense resulting in the loss of a 13-year-old child.
After Thursday’s hearing, Purnell said Williams’ history showed a clear need for mental health services that was never followed through, and could be provided with the supervision of the juvenile court system.
Williams’ father was murdered when the boy was 2. He watched his mother die from an asthma attack at age 12. He never received grief counseling. His custody was unclear in the intervening years, and he was likely exposed to domestic and sexual abuse, according to testimony Thursday.
None of his prior contacts with police — which included assaults on his mother, an at-home caregiver and a police officer; and the possession of a pocketknife at school — resulted in any conviction, but there were two separate hospitalizations between 2018 and 2019.
“The issue always came to one of mental health,” Purnell said.
Three different psychologists have diagnosed Williams with a handful of various mental disorders, but none of the diagnoses were consistent.
“There is something just off with Dylan,” said Michele Killough Nelson, a psychologist who specializes in forensic evaluation of juveniles for court. Williams sat through the hourslong hearing staring directly ahead of him. “There is something funky going on, but none of us know what it is.”
She diagnosed him with unspecified trauma and stressor-related disorder and unspecified neurodevelopmental disorder, but added that treatment would be difficult without a clear diagnosis. Taylor also pointed out that some disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar do not develop or get diagnosed until adulthood.
New details of the shooting were also revealed for the first time on Thursday. Several neighbors noticed the boy in a hoodie following the girls home; they had been playing soccer on the fields near Godwin High on March 26. Detectives found a hoodie matching the description given, and seen in footage they recovered from homes near the shooting, in Williams’ room.
A 9 mm handgun matching casings recovered from the scene was found in Williams’ home. Richard M. Pierce, Williams’ legal guardian and the gun’s owner, has been charged with one misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in connection with the firearm.
Pierce showed the gun to detectives hours after the shooting. It had been just where he’d left it, with the trigger lock in place, the detective said.
DNA found on the trigger lock matched Pierce and Williams.
Taylor told the court it’s still unclear why Williams targeted the two girls. It’s not clear if they knew one another, though he also attended Quioccasin.
But Taylor said she believes he intended to kill someone that day. A week before the shooting, Williams commented on a video on YouTube depicting a graphic school shooting saying: “This is going to be me when everyone comes back to school.”
The FBI provided the information about the post to Henrico police two days after the fatal shooting.
Taylor said her office would likely seek to indict Williams during next month’s grand jury. A three-day jury trial is scheduled for July.
Attorneys for the Richmond Times-Dispatch petitioned both the juvenile and circuit courts to allow the paper’s reporter access to the hearings. Last week, Judge Harris ruled that Thursday’s should be open. In a separate ruling, Circuit Judge John Marshall opined that the earlier transfer hearing in juvenile court should not have been closed without a hearing.