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Girl, 6, to be tried as adult on assault charge

By J. PAUL WYATT

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Dimpled 6-year-old Nancy Jo Burch will stand trial as an adult on aggravated assault charges for allegedly hitting her 7-year-old girlfriend with a stick, a Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.

Alan Wilhite, Nancy Jo's attorney, requested the ruling because he wants the case tried by a jury in hopes the blonde first-grader will be exonerated and no criminal record will follow her through life.

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Under Florida law, Judge R.A. Green had no alternative but to grant the request. He said a trial date would be set within the next three months.

The felony of aggravated assault carries a maximum 15 year prison sentence in Florida.

Nancy Jo is charged with hitting playmate Shirley Lynn Nickolls with a stick while a 13-year-old boy held her arms behind her.

Shirley's mother, Nancy Nickolls, said the blows crushed the cartilage of her daughter's nose and caused extensive bleeding.

'If they let her go now, in five or 10 years she might be out commiting other crimes because she lost respect for the system,' Mrs. Nickolls said. 'This was dangerous. They got close to messing up my little girl for life.'

The two children had been feuding since Nancy Jo allegedly pushed Shirley into a mud puddle last January. The incident that led to assault charges occurred at a school bus stop the following month.

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The 13-year-old boy who allegedly held Shirley will be tried separately.

Despite the legal action Shirley says she and Nancy Jo, who live on the same block, are friends again.'I push her on the swing and we talk,' Shirley said. Nancy Jo, wearing a red-and-white crushed velvet dress and a white knit sweater, burst into tears outside the courtroom Friday as television cameramen turned on lights and microphones were thrust in her face.

'How do you feel, Nancy Jo?' one reporter asked.

'I don't know,' she answered.

'Are you nervous, Nancy Jo?' another questioner asked.

'Yes.'

Finally she started to cry, and Wilhite handed her some candy to cheer her.

'Both I and Nancy Jo's parents have complete faith in our jury system,' he said. 'In a juvenile proceeding, she would have had no right to a jury trial.'

Asked how the case could have gotten as far as it has without being resolved outside the courts, Wilhite said, 'Look at society around you.'

The girl's father, Walter Burch, a self-employed auto mechanic, called it 'ridiculous' and added, 'I don't think she knows what's going on.'

His wife, Josephine, wept silently and declined to answer reporters' questions.

Assistant State Attorney Ken Hebert said, 'We've taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Florida. If a crime is committed, we cannot ignore it, even though it looks as if we are playing volleyball with a 6-year-old's life.'

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