Teen charged with murdering his Memphis principal

Published 2:20 pm Friday, August 12, 2011

A 17-year-old student charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of a Christian school principal told investigators he had planned to stab the woman on the third day of classes, when he knew he’d be alone with her in a classroom, police said Thursday.

Eduardo Marmolejo was held without bond and ordered to undergo a mental evaluation by a Juvenile Court judge during a hearing Thursday. State law allows police to release the names of juveniles charged with first-degree murder.

Marmolejo has been charged with planning the killing of 49-year-old Suzette York for months. York’s body was found by a teacher in a classroom on Wednesday at Memphis Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school of less than 100 students.

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The thin teenager with short brown hair appeared before Judge Sheldon McCall, wearing a bright orange jail jumpsuit. Marmolejo was joined by his parents, who both wore black shirts and blue jeans.

Prosecutor Chris Lareau said the killing was premeditated and asked McCall to detain Marmolejo. Both Lareau and the two defense attorneys appointed by the court asked for mental evaluations of the teenager.

The judge appointed the two attorneys after Marmolejo’s mother said the private lawyer she hired did not make it to the hearing. She said she could not remember the attorney’s name.

During a break, Marmolejo asked for his glasses, which a court officer provided. Marmolejo’s mother, whose name was not made available, asked for tissues.

The judge then returned to the courtroom and ordered the mental evaluation.

“Our main concern is to determine if he is a danger to himself and a danger to the community,” McCall said.

After the hearing, the parents were shuttled away in a van and were not available for comment.

The killing shocked current and former students of the school, located next to a church and a cemetery in a residential section of east Memphis. They described York as a caring person who taught science and math before becoming principal in 2008.

York’s body was found at about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday. Parents were called and students were sent home after the body was discovered.

Police said Marmolejo told investigators he planned to kill York because he did not like her and she had made him angry. Marmolejo told authorities he knew that he was going to be alone with York in a classroom, police said.

Marmolejo was one of the oldest students at the school, which has students in pre-kindergarten through high school.

York is survived by her husband, who lived with her in an apartment in suburban Memphis.

About 30 friends and current and former students attended a tear-filled prayer service for York on Wednesday at Mullins United Methodist Church, located next to the school.

Peter Hunter, a former student who also has a cousin currently attending the school, said York tried hard to nurture a family atmosphere at the school.

“She was a person who was very much involved with the students,” said Hunter, 25. “She cared deeply about the development of her students.”