Juvy record debate: Betts’ classmate supports law change, local judge opposes it

A former classmate of the Oregon District mass shooter supports a proposal to extend how long a juvenile’s criminal record exists before it can be removed, but a local judge and a group of public defenders oppose the measure.

Connor Betts’ juvenile record was wiped clean nearly two years before he legally bought two guns, including an AR-15-like pistol that he used on Aug. 4 to kill nine people and injure 27 others.

State Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., has introduced a bill to change that. His bill would, among other things, extend the age a juvenile’s criminal record can be expunged to 28. Currently, the juvenile court can seal a person’s records after their case concludes. The sealed records are automatically expunged five years later, or when the person turns 23, whichever comes first.

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Sealed juvenile records are available to the court and some law enforcement agencies; expunged juvenile records are not available.

The bill also seeks to mandate uploading of timely, accurate data into the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System that is used to conduct background checks for firearms purchases. Courts, police agencies and others that fail to upload information — such as indictments, warrants, criminal convictions — within one business day could face $1,000 a day fines.

Juveniles convicted of violent or sex crimes would be banned from firearms possession until their records are later expunged, according to Plummer’s proposed bill.

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Proponents of mental health treatment as well as the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, testified in support of the bill last month.

It’s not clear what was in Betts’ juvenile record or if the shooting could have been prevented had it not been expunged.

The Dayton Daily News and News Center 7’s investigation has found previous violence in his background. Our investigation included conversations with many of Betts’ former schoolmates, such as Chynna Ellenburg.

As a freshman, police removed Betts from a Bellbrook High School bus because he had developed a list of people he said he wanted to kill and rape, classmates said. In another incident, he reportedly held a knife near another student’s throat. He had talked recently with a friend about shooting up Timothy’s bar near the University of Dayton.

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Ellenburg, a former classmate, remembers the rape list, saying her best friend was on it after turning Betts down for a date.

Betts also choked Ellenburg’s stepsister while they were at a Sugarcreek Twp. restaurant for their eighth grade spring musical’s cast party, she alleged. The family never pressed charges, said Ellenburg, who said the word “evil” comes to mind when she hears Betts’ name.

In August 2009, a few months after the choking incident, Matt Terry was at the Lion Club’s annual Bellbrook festival when he noticed Betts following him and his friends.

“So, I went up to him and tried to get him to leave us alone, to go away,” Terry said. “And that’s when Connor pulled out a razor knife out of his pocket, like a replaceable — all the guys in construction carry them. He held it about 8-10 inches away from my throat. And just glared at me.”

Like Ellenburg, Terry did not report the incident to police. However, Sugarcreek Twp. police interviewed him about it in the Bellbrook High School principal’s office a few weeks later, when officials discovered that Betts had compiled rape and hit lists of people at the school.

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Greene County prosecutors charged Betts and were going to try him in juvenile court, Terry said, adding that he was subpoenaed to testify. The court contacted Terry a short time later and said Betts took a plea deal, so there would not be a trial.

The Dayton Daily News has not been able to access Betts’ juvenile records to verify those accounts, with the Greene County Juvenile Court clerk only providing the newspaper with the section of state law dealing with records expungement.

“I don’t know what they charged him with as a juvenile,” said Plummer, who also has served as Montgomery County sheriff. “But if you have a kill list and a rape list, that’s certainly not normal behavior. Because if you look at the backgrounds of a lot of these mass shooters, they had juvenile records.”

Terry declined to say whether or not he supports Plummer’s bill, preferring to “keep my opinions to myself.”

Ellenburg said given the things she observed about Betts, “it’s a no-brainer for me to support a bill like this.”

Opponents of Plummer’s bill say extending the age at which a person’s juvenile records can be expunged would make it harder for young adults who were punished for their crimes as children to jump start their lives.

“At 23 years old, many individuals are just out of college and hoping to obtain employment in their chosen field,” said Niki Clum, legislative liaison for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, during a hearing on the bill.

At 28, people are somewhat established in their career and moving toward home ownership, marriage and children, she said.

“By forcing these individuals to wait until 28 years old for expunction, we are potentially stunting the development of their life and career,” Clum said. “The adjudication becomes more punitive than rehabilitative.”

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Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi said he’s “strongly opposed” to the bill.

“I’m offended by it,” the judge said. “The whole purpose of this community and this society is to help children.

“I don’t believe the difference would have changed what happened in the Oregon District,” Capizzi said.

Plummer’s bill remains in committee, and another hearing has not been scheduled, a clerk said Monday.

Dayton Daily News reporter Laura Bischoff contributed to this report.

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