Bartow, Florida -- News of the Kiera Wilmot case has spread far beyond the borders of Polk County. There have been national news articles and thousands of people have signed online petitions urging leniency for the teen. The courthouse in Bartow has also been the site of protests in support of Wilmot.
The 16-year-old was arrested last month on felonies for mixing household chemicals in a small plastic bottle outside Bartow High. The cap popped off. No one was hurt.
"I consider this an innocent mishap," Wilmot's attorney Larry Hardaway told 10 News this week.
Hardaway has been in negotiations with the Polk State Attorney's Office for weeks in hopes of getting the charges dropped.
So what's been going on behind courthouse closed doors?
We consulted with Polk County attorney John Liguori. He's not involved in the Wilmot case, but he's very familiar with the process, because he's handled similar situations.
"This is not unusual that kids bring stupid things to school," explains Liguori.
Liguori says over the past weeks, Wilmot's attorney has likely been trying to paint an attractive portrait of his client. He may offer character references and even psychological reports.
"He'll try to humanize this young lady; let me show you who she is and what she's about," says Liguori.
The state attorney has a lot of options, but adult charges are unlikely, because Wilmot is a good student who has never been in trouble with the law before.
A more likely scenario is that the two sides are designing a diversion program, where charges would be dropped. However, Wilmot would also have to agree to some sort of punishment like community service hours or speaking to other students.
While various groups are urging State Attorney Jerry Hill to drop the charges, Liguori, who has known Hill for decades, says the State Attorney is unlikely to be swayed by outside pressures. However, Liguori says Hill will consider what's best for Wilmot.
"I have a lot of respect for Jerry Hill. He's a pretty smart guy and I don't think he's out to ruin someone's life for making a mistake as a juvenile," he says.
Neither side is predicting when an agreement will be reached, but with various groups planning more protests, a resolution could take the focus off the State Attorney's Office. But that won't be the end of Wilmot's battles. She'll then face discipline by the school district.
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