Saturday, August 13, 2011

Judge orders mental testing for Memphis private school principal's accused killer

By Beth Warren
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Posted August 11, 2011 at 3:16 p.m., updated August 11, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.

As the parents of a 16-year-old charged with fatally stabbing his principal at school stood beside their son in court Thursday, their anguish was visible.

Suspect Eduardo Marmolejo's father, construction worker George Marmolejo, lowered his head or buried his face in his hand.

The petite mother, Marcela Rodriguez, wiped away tears.

Their slender son, however, showed little emotion while listening attentively during his hearing in Shelby County Juvenile Court on first-degree murder charges in Wednesday's death of Memphis Junior Academy principal Suzette York, 49.

After the teenager's arrest, his parents had remained by his side during police questioning Wednesday night. Marmolejo told detectives he had been plotting to kill York, whom he didn't like, since May -- when he learned that he alone would be in her 11th-grade class.

On Thursday, his parents had a court-appointed Spanish translator during the hearing.

Prosecutor Chris Lareau successfully lobbied the judge to keep Marmolejo in custody, saying: "Due to the premeditation and violent nature of this crime, the state is asking for the defendant to be detained as a threat to society."

Magistrate Sheldon McCall ordered Marmolejo to remain at the Juvenile Detention Center. The judge also ordered a mental-health evaluation to be conducted by Juvenile Court professionals.

The judge declared the family indigent and appointed attorneys because of the father's limited income and the mother's minimum-wage job, though he didn't mention where she worked.

Defense attorneys Autumn Chastain and Whit Ghurkin represented Marmolejo during the hearing, asking for an independent mental-health evaluation.

Chastain asked the judge to block the teenager from having to answer questions by the court's mental-health experts because his answers may not be kept private.

McCall denied the request, saying he needs to learn Marmolejo's mental state as soon as possible.

The next hearing is slated for Aug. 24. At that time, Lareau said he may ask for Marmolejo to be transferred to adult court for trial. In Shelby County, teens charged with murder typically are treated as adults and face life in prison if convicted.

York was found lying in a pool of blood at 11:14 a.m. at the private school at 50 N. Mendenhall, where police arrested Marmolejo.

A native of Canada, York was both principal and teacher at the small East Memphis school, which is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist church.

Memphis Junior Academy had taught students in kindergarten through 10th grades; however, York lobbied to expand, saying it was important to keep students in a Christian setting. The school board voted last spring to extend classes through the 11th grade, and Marmolejo was the first and only student to begin his junior year there.

York first taught at the Memphis school in the late 1990s, when she and her husband, Leslie, relocated while he attended the Southern College of Optometry.

He graduated in 2000 and the couple returned to Canada. He did not attend Thursday's hearing.

Officials with the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, based in Goodlettsville, recruited Suzette York to return to the school when the principal's position opened up.

Marmolejo came to the school in fall 2009, said former assistant principal Ina McFarland.

"He wasn't shy, but wasn't studious either, an average freshman," said McFarland, who taught the teen pre-Algebra and English.

"I'm just sick," she said of the killing. "He's basically just ruined his life."

She said Marmolejo was left behind when several of his classmates transferred to Highland Academy north of Nashville to finish their junior and senior years at boarding school.

After his arrest, the teen told police he "had been planning to kill Mrs. York since May 2011 when he learned he would be returning to the Memphis Junior Academy," according to the affidavit.

McFarland, who retired last year, said of her former student: "That's just very hard to understand, somebody with that amount of anger."

Staff writers Clay Bailey and Richard Morgan contributed to this article.


Anonymous said...

They never do "understand it."

David In TN

LBD said...

HE's basically just ruined HIS life? What about ruining Mrs. York's life? If that isn't the most disgustingly typical reaction of a braindead lib.

Anonymous said...

"ruined his life"

Yes, my jaw just dropped after reading that line.

The homicide detectives should show McFarland the crime scene photos of this murder victim sprawled on the classroom floor in her own blood pool, and then asked who's life was really ruined here.

Nicholas said...


I thought this school was in Memphis, where half or more of the population walks around with "that amount of anger."

Nicholas said...

LBD, Anon,

Yeah, I guess she wasn't a big fan of Mrs. York.

Nicholas said...

The name “Beth Warren” just rang a bell. She used to write for the AJC. She’s so PC that in 2005, she list a bunch of reasons that Brian Nichols gave that left no doubt that he had been motivated by racism in his Atlanta murder spree, only to conclude that race had not figured in his motivation.

It may not be an accident that such quotes would show up in one of her articles. I’m not accusing her of piping quotes, but reporters can choose whom they quote and whom they don’t, and like to “help” some interviewees formulate their responses. Think Kay Barley and “Big Jim” in London, the other day.