A Clinton County teen who threw a punch that killed another teen at a party will not have to serve any time in a juvenile prison.
The 17-year-old on Tuesday was sentenced to probation for throwing a single punch that killed 18-year-old Jacob J. Arter in April at a rural clubhouse in Clinton County.
The teen will be on probation until he is 21. During that time, he is not allowed to hunt or possess a gun, must obey a 7 p.m. curfew, must not consume alcohol or drugs, must perform 100 hours of public service and must submit to random drug testing. He also will be required to pay restitution — for burial and headstone expenses — up to $15,000. In addition, he cannot leave the state without court approval.
The teen, when given an opportunity to address the court, said he’s sorry.
“Words cannot explain how sorry I am. Not a day goes by I don’t think about that night in April; not a day goes by that I don’t think of Jake,” he said. “I know I need to ask forgiveness, and hope one day your family can forgive me.”
Words cannot explain how sorry I am. Not a day goes by I don’t think about that night in April, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Jake.
Juvenile who threw punch
The two teens were arguing throughout the night at a party where about 100 high school and college students had gathered to drink and play beer pong. Eventually, their conflict came to a head and the teenager punched Arter.
Arter died shortly afterward in the early-morning hours of April 23.
The 17-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in August by Associate Judge Ericka Sanders, who imposed the sentence.
The boy has remained under house arrest since shortly after Arter’s death.
The 17-year-old’s case was handled in juvenile court. In Illinois, a juvenile whose case is handled in juvenile court can be held in a juvenile detention center only until his 21st birthday. The teen’s case was handled by a special prosecutor, David Rands, who chose not to seek to have the case moved to adult court.
In juvenile court, the teen could have been sentenced to prison time — about 6 months — followed by six months of parole. But the judge said prison is a last resort in juvenile cases. Rand wouldn’t comment on why the case was not tried in adult court.
During the sentence hearing, Sanders said the law required her to examine circumstances surrounding the teen’s risk factors of re-offending — which were determined to be low — along with factors such as family support, utilizing wellness resources, the juvenile’s educational level and criminal background, and the public’s safety.
She noted that juveniles are sent to prison for indeterminate amount of time — but the average length of incarceration is seven months.
“This happened at a ‘typical high school party’ … It was a recipe for disaster, especially in this day and age where violence is glorified more than ever,” Sanders said. “Times are different today. So a typical high school party is not what adults are used to — things have changed.”
She acknowledged the Arter family directly in court.
“The dignity with which you and your family have conducted yourselves throughout this … gives all of us faith in humanity. Compliments to all of you, and my condolences,” Sanders said.
The dignity with which you and your family have conducted yourselves throughout this … gives all of use faith in humanity. Compliments to all of you, and my condolences.
Judge Ericka Sanders, addressing victim’s family
Sanders noted that if she sentenced the juvenile to prison, a court of appeals likely would overturn her ruling and send the case back for a new sentence.
The juvenile has remained under house arrest since shortly after Arter’s death. He will be taken off house arrest now that he is on probation, which will require him to attend court for a status hearing every 30 days.
Arter’s sister, Brittany Arter, addressed the court on behalf of her family.
“One-hundred and eighty-four days, that’s how long Jake has been gone,” she said. “We miss his presence, his smile, his sense of humor.”
She talked of her football-loving brother who spent his last night filling out forms for college before going to the party.
“Do you realize what you’ve done to us?” she asked the juvenile. “We will never be the same because of your actions.”
She said she forgave the 17-year-old and acknowledged she knew he wasn’t a monster, but a kid who made a bad decision.
Arter’s mother, Suzanne Arter, spoke outside the courthouse after the verdict.
“No one wins here,” she said. “Everyone is devastated; everyone is hurt. Both families have been destroyed. It’s going to be really hard for him, to have to abide by the judge’s rules. His life will not go on ... life as usual.”
Arter’s grandfather said he believed three years on probation would be more productive than a short time in prison.
“We do hope he understands what is happening, and has a good life,” Dale Lindley said.
The juvenile’s mother read a statement in court, expressing the grief her whole family feels.
“I wish we could go back to that night in April,” she said through tears. “My son is heartbroken and I can’t fix it. My son is depressed and I can’t fix it. … Our family will live with this tragedy every day of our lives — and I can only imagine what your family is going through.”
In the August trial, the teen testified he had punched Arter in self-defense, saying word got around before the party that Arter “wanted revenge” for a previous fight between the two.
Both boys had been drinking on the night of the party. The 17-year-old testified he drank about two beers before throwing the fatal punch. Arter had a 0.115 percent blood-alcohol content, which is above the 0.08 percent threshold for a DUI in Illinois, according to a toxicology report.
Suzanne Arter said hearing the apology from the juvenile gave her family a small degree of comfort.
“He has never expressed sorrow; we have not seen any remorse. Those are the first words from him we have heard in six months,” Suzanne Arter said after the hearing.
Staff writer Kelsey Landis contributed to this report.