'Element of self-defense' likely reflected in charge against Montgomery HS stabbing suspect: Expert

Expert breaks down what could happen to the 15-year-old accused of fatally stabbing a student at the Santa Rosa school.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Expert explains what could happen to North Bay school stabbing suspect
Legal analyst breaks down what could happen to the 15-year-old suspect accused of fatally stabbing a student at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- The 15 year-old Santa Rosa school stabbing suspect was in court on Monday. He was charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter, enhancement for use of a knife, and one count of bringing a knife onto school grounds.

"The fact that the DA filed voluntary manslaughter suggests that they do not believe that this was an appropriate use of self-defense, but there was an element of self-defense to it. It was not a premeditated planned murder," said legal analyst and lawyer Steven Clark.

Clark points at what police have said about the two stabbing victims who walked into, not their classroom, but the one where the suspect was. He says it's something that will be closely looked at in this case. The 15-year-old will not be charged as an adult. A Senate Bill passed in 2018 does not allow anyone 15 or younger to be charged in California as an adult, regardless of the offense.

As for the penalties that the teen suspect in the fatal Montgomery High stabbing could face if found guilty, Clark says the juvenile system is designed for rehabilitation, not punishment.

"This juvenile could face time in custody depending on his prior history and the underlying facts of the case, but you have to remember it's a 15-year-old, so it could be a case involving probation and counseling and not a significant amount of custody time," said Clark.

VIDEO: Heartbroken family mourns loss of 16-year-old stabbed to death at a Santa Rosa high school

Family members are mourning the loss of 16-year-old Jayden Pienta, who was stabbed to death at Santa Rosa's Montgomery High School by another student.

Students of Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa walked out of classes on Monday -- demanding more safety after two fellow students were stabbed, and one of them died.

It was also the first day students returned to campus following the incident.

There was anger as students tried to process how two fellow classmates could have been stabbed at Montgomery High School.

During Monday's assembly on campus, students said the 15-year-old suspect had been involved in other fights before at the school. Students were joined by some parents.

"It took a death to finally realize that our school is suffering and we are screaming for help. We need their help." one student as she held a megaphone.

RELATED: Santa Rosa students stage walkout demanding safer school conditions following fatal stabbing

Last Wednesday, witnesses told police Jayden Pienta and another student went inside an art classroom to confront the 15-year-old.

On Monday, several students accused the suspect of slashing the tires of Pienta's car before the altercation. Pienta was stabbed three times and died. The second student was taken to the hospital.

School officials were not available to respond to those claims.

"Jayden did not deserve to die, and the school. I blame the whole administration, I don't care where you guys are, I blame all of you," said another student said on a speaker.

Students wanted to draw attention to the rising concerns for their safety.

VIDEO: Santa Rosa school stabbing: Victims' families say administration 'failed' students in campus safety

The victims' families say administration 'failed' students leading up to deadly Montgomery High School stabbing in Santa Rosa.

"Pretty much that they aren't safe because so many things happens and it's so unpredictable that you never know," said Ashley Banuelos, a student at Montgomery High.

"I just want to protect my daughter and my kids make sure that they have a safe life because no kid should be dying before their parents," said T.J. Banuelos, Ashley's father.

Jayden Pienta's mom and step-father were at Monday's walk-out wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of their son.

Santa Rose Police were present, but asked to stay off campus.

On Monday night, neighboring Sonoma Valley Unified School District held a school safety meeting in light of the tragedy. Many voiced their desire to bring back a school resource officer, something Montgomery High School did not have.

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"I would like to know if there are talks about bringing back an SRO?" said one parent.

"I realized we lost our SRO but it's time to bring them back!" said another parent.

At least one parent spoke out against those ideas.

"Right now, we are hearing a lot of our pro-law enforcement voices pushing for more police in schools and also what looks to be a coordinated effort by law enforcement to seize the moment of this tragedy, to amplify their presence on campuses, even tonight having Chief Cutting at this event frames this as a situation where police absolutely have to be involved," said one parent.

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