At 11, she became city's youngest 'adult'

Posted: November 23, 2011

THE ISSUE of trying juveniles as adults has never been more controversial in Philadelphia than during the case of Miriam White, who, in 1999, became the youngest person in the city ever charged with murder.

On the evening of Aug. 20, White, 11, bolted from her family's South Philadelphia rowhouse with an 8-inch kitchen knife. She was angry because someone had said something to her about her letting the cat out of the house.

While rambling down a sidewalk, White, who suffered from mental-health issues and a history of psychiatric problems, spotted a stranger, Rosemarie Knight, 55, who was walking her dog on her 27th wedding anniversary.

Without warning, White plunged the knife into Knight's heart, killing her. She then ran off.

Months later, White told a psychiatrist that she attacked Knight because she knew that if she hurt someone, she wouldn't have to go home, and because she didn't think the victim had children.

In rejecting White's petition that she be tried in juvenile court, Common Pleas Judge Legrome Davis on Nov. 2, 2000, said:

"I know Miriam is tortured by many demons. I really want to be of help to her. But I cannot let Miriam loose in the community today, tomorrow or when she is 21 without sufficient knowledge that she will either be cured or be maintained in such a way that she will present minimal risk to the public. I am not prepared to pay the price of being wrong."

After years of appeals and hearings, an 18-year-old White pleaded guilty in adult court in August 2007 to third-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime. She was sentenced to 18 to 40 years in prison.

After White's case, another Pennsylvania 11-year-old, Jordan Brown, was charged with murder as an adult for allegedly shooting his father's pregnant fiancée in 2009 while she slept in the family's Lawrence County home.

This August, the Superior Court ruled that Brown should be tried as a juvenile.

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