High Crimes

Daniel Otto and his girlfriend just wanted to get loaded one summer night. Neither of them imagined that she would wind up dead and he would be charged with murder.

"What happens after a minor pleads guilty, and what kind of violations warrant an adult sentence?" wonders Cathryn Crawford. "That's when the discretion of the prosecution comes into play." Crawford has seen clients who had adult sentences imposed for forgetting to fill out a form. "They don't understand consequences as a function of their youth," she adds. "And now that they're sentenced, they're suddenly supposed to?"

Otto will be required to undergo frequent drug testing as part of his treatment at Griffith Center. A few months ago he told his mom that he's done with drugs for good, and that he knows one little slip would put him in St. Cloud. But staying out of trouble may not prove easy for him: While he was in the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center, he got into a shoving match with another boy on the basketball court. He told his mom later that the kid was making fun of him.

Otto was scheduled to leave for Colorado in mid-January, but when Luella Sands went to the Hennepin County JDC to visit him on the evening of January 4, she learned that he'd already been transferred to the Griffith Center. (County officials say that, for safety reasons, juveniles are transferred without notification.) Under the judge's ruling, Sands is forbidden to contact him. All contact between Otto and his parents is to be initiated and supervised by the Griffith Center.

Although there's a note in the court documents that says the parents were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, they were never charged. However, Detective Hansen says in the parents' statements that they "alluded" to allowing Otto to drink alcohol.

"I might have had alcohol in the house," Sands says. "But I certainly never supplied it to any of the kids. And I certainly would not have drank with Daniel. Daniel hates, I mean hates, when I use any mind-altering substances."

It could be a year before Otto talks to his family, or it could be much longer. All the letters and postcards the family sent to Otto in Colorado have been returned. On the outside of the bundle of unopened envelopes was a terse instruction: "return to sender." Everyone in his family—mom, dad, grandma—swears that the note is in Daniel Otto's handwriting.

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