A 16-year-old Burien girl charged in April with murdering a 49-year-old man who allegedly hired her for prostitution has struck a deal with prosecutors in which she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and will serve less than three years in state juvenile detention.

Share story

A 16-year-old Burien girl charged with murdering a man who allegedly hired her for sex has struck a deal with prosecutors in which she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and will serve less than three years in state juvenile detention.

The plea, which the girl entered Thursday in King County Juvenile Court, came after a mental-health evaluation, attorney negotiations and a months-long delay in the decision on whether to prosecute the teen as a juvenile or adult.

Prosecutors say emerging information about what could have happened — including the possibility that the victim had attacked or threatened the girl — factored into the decision for the juvenile plea deal.

“This wasn’t a classic murder case,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “There were equities on her side — the victim may have contributed. This seemed to be a spontaneous act, done in a situation where she was not the one in power.

“This will get her the rehabilitation she needs,” he said.

It’s a far less aggressive approach than the office originally took in the unusual case. If prosecuted as an adult, she would have faced seven to 10 years in prison.

Sheriff’s deputies who investigated the slaying, and prosecutors who later filed charges, accused the girl of murdering Francisco “Noe” Pena, 49, with a single stab wound to the chest in his home near Kent. The girl was 15 at the time and had a history of legal and substance-abuse problems.

According to the statement of probable cause, which was used as the basis for the initial filing of second-degree-murder charges, Pena lived alone in his suburban home and had begun using prostitutes after his recent divorce, a friend told police.

The father of two had found the girl through a referral, according to prosecutors. He picked her up at about 8 p.m. on April 4 in front of a Burien grocery store. The Times is not identifying the girl because she is a juvenile.

Four hours later, Pena’s neighbor called 911 to report that a drunk teenage girl was pounding on his door. Police found the girl bleeding after having stuck her fist through a window. According to the police report, she was drunk and belligerent and had to be restrained.

After being taken to a hospital, she was released to her mother.

On April 8, a co-worker of Pena’s called police after he became concerned about his absence.

Pena was found dead in his garage, his body concealed by a garbage can and lawnmower, according to the charging papers. A bloody knife found 4 feet from the body had the girl’s fingerprints on it, according to the documents. Police said that blood patterns found throughout the house indicate Pena did not die immediately.

When questioned later, the girl said she couldn’t remember much, that she drank and blacked out. She recalled being hired by Pena and later got into a fight with him when he would not let her leave without having sex.

Finally, she told police that Pena might have had something “sharp” in his hands when he grabbed her, that she did grab a knife and “might have stuck him,” according to court documents.

Attorneys have been tight-lipped about the case since it was filed. Mental-health and other records have been sealed with the court, common in juvenile cases.

A review of the girl’s lengthy criminal record shows that despite a pattern of problem behavior, she had never been charged with prostitution. But she had several encounters with law enforcement over prostitution and had placed an ad on craigslist for sex services, said Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Dernbach.

The girl has nearly a dozen criminal cases on her juvenile record, dating back to when she was 13. She has convictions for assault, theft, malicious mischief and stealing a car, receiving short stints in juvenile detention but little, if any, treatment, according to her records.

Her defense attorney said in court Thursday that the plea deal was appropriate because of the girl’s age and the circumstances. Defense attorneys working on the case did not return calls for comment.

With her blond hair in a ponytail and wearing a juvenile-detention uniform, the girl said Thursday she understood the agreement, told the judge her medication was helping her and explained that she had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and “didn’t like sitting in a classroom.” Her records show she often skipped school and, according to her probation officer, failed to attend counseling and sometimes disappeared.

The girl’s maternal grandmother said in an interview last month that her granddaughter struggled with a difficult childhood and had mental and dependency problems that were never addressed by the juvenile system she had become so familiar with.

“She didn’t get any kind of help, anything to try to help her change her ways. And then the drinking doesn’t help on top of it,” said the woman.

She said she didn’t believe that the charges against her granddaughter painted a full or fair picture of what happened inside that Kent home in April.

“I think he was coming at her with a knife,” she said of Pena. “They were both drinking. Look at his age, look at her age — what is he doing with her in his house?”

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com