Kids Grow Up Fast These Days; 8 Yr. Old Boy Charged As Adult With Murder

images2.thumbnail.jpegSome of you have undoubtedly already seen news that an eight year old boy in Arizona is suspected of killing his father and another man renting a room in their home last Wednesday, November 5, 2008.

By all accounts, he was a good boy. No problems in school. No disruptions in his religious education classes at St. Johns Catholic Church, where he was to mark his First Communion this year.

So the police and neighbors in the 8-year-old’s small eastern Arizona community are at a loss to explain why he would have used a .22-caliber rifle to kill his father and another man at their home.

"That child, I don’t think he knows what he did, and it was brutal," said the family priest, the Very Reverend John Paul Sauter.

The police said the boy killed his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and another man, Timothy Romans, 39, on Wednesday. The men worked together, and Romans had been renting a room at the house, prosecutors said.

While not unheard of in criminal justice, this type of homicide by children, especially those under age 14, is pretty rare. Which makes the following the real story in this case.

The boy, who faces two counts of premeditated murder, did not act on the spur of the moment, St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said … He just doesn’t decide one day that he’s going to shoot his father and shoot his father’s friend for no reason. Something led up to this." … On Friday, a judge ordered a psychological evaluation of the boy. Under Arizona law, charges can be filed against anyone 8 or older.

In a sign of the emotional and legal complexities of the case, the police are pushing to have the boy tried as an adult even as they investigate possible abuse, Melnick said. If convicted as a minor, the boy could be sent to juvenile detention until he turns 18.

The reason that there exists in US criminal justice a bifurcated system with minors handled in the juvenile system and adults in the traditional system is the time honored belief that minors do not possess the brain development, both physical and psychological, to allow them to form the requisite intent and properly understand the consequences of their actions. Thus minors charged with crimes, even serious and violent felonies, have traditionally been tried and processed as juveniles, which provides the ability to incarcerate and rehabilitate the defendant up until they reach the age of majority, 18 years old.

Part of the rationale is moral, we just don’t as a society want to see ourselves as treating children with the harshness of the full criminal justice system and we want to believe that, even bad juvenile malefactors can be rehabilitated. And part of the rationale is practical. Conviction and sentencing as an adult also means incarceration in prisons and jails designed and run for not particularly savory hardened and violent adults; these are no place for children. It would be unconscionable to put them in the general population, and the segregated population is most often even worse, and where the sex offenders usually are. Where juveniles under the age of 14-16 are sentenced to big boys prison, there is standardly set up a completely separate structure and process for them; an incredibly expensive and inefficient use of scarce corrections funding. There are no available rehabilitation programs. Basically, if the minor survives at all, you have done nothing but create a hardened, institutionalized, indoctrinated career criminal, and a very violent one at that.

The county attorney, who is not mentioned in the linked article, nor others I looked at, but who makes the charging decisions on felonies in their jurisdiction, is the one who has decided not only to charge this 8 year old kid, but, most significantly, to charge him as an adult. The foregoing concerns are exactly why the eight year old Romero boy in St. Johns Arizona almost certainly should not be tried as an adult. I have some experience with the Apache County County Attorney, Chris Candelaria, that has jurisdiction of the St. Johns area of Arizona. He is a good and decent chap, but this decision does not appear sound.

There is a group known as "The 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition" that has promulgated a comprehensive set of reform proposals for the American criminal justice system designed as a template for the new Obama Administration. It is, as said, quite comprehensive, and is also, on the whole, quite good. The report in entitled Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress and is worth some time reading and evaluating by one and all.

One thing the transition proposal/report does not specifically address is the increasingly alarming frequency with which state prosecutors are charging and convicting juveniles, even very young ones, as full adults. I would suggest that maybe this is a topic that should be added to the mix.

60 replies
  1. freepatriot says:

    I’d love to read the legal argument that claims an eight year old child has the mental capacity to make the deliberate decisions needed to meet the “premeditated” part of the charge

    • DeadLast says:

      On of the largerst religions in Arizona, as you know, is Mormonism. Mormonism teaches that you become fully culpable at the age of eight.

      • bmaz says:

        I toyed with whether to discuss the religious aspect in the post. As you can see, i did not. However, not only are there a lot of Mormons in Arizona there is a huge contingent in that area. In fact, there is a large temple in Snowflake Arizona which, although in neighboring Navajo County, is very close to St. Johns. Yes, I believe some of that is included in what I described as the “local sensibilities”.

  2. jacqrat says:

    I read somewhere that the father had bought the gun FOR the 8 year old, to “teach him to hunt, ‘n stuff”.

    What are the laws regarding legal age to carry weapons?

  3. cobernicus says:

    What I said in a letter to the NY Times nine years ago seems approprate here as well:

    A Michigan jury has found a 13-year-old boy guilty of committing murder at age 11, after trying him as an adult (front page, Nov. 17). In doing so, they have concluded that he knew right from wrong and fully understood the consequences of his actions. Why, then, was he denied a jury of his peers?

    If residents of Michigan are considered to possess these abilities at age 11, why are they not then part of the jury pool? How many of his jurors would want to place their fates in the hands of a panel of such “adults”?

    Cheshire, Conn., Nov. 18, 1999

    I would add that I find it amazing that when children perform amazing acts of bravery or charity, they are not referred to as “adults,” but when they accused of doing something horrendously evil, they are. This says a lot about what society considers the characteristics of adults. (Ditto for “adult films.”)

  4. Synoia says:

    Gives a whle new meaning to:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    let’s start drafting the kids, there’s a history of child soldirers being effective (Liberia, Sierra leone), and cheap…

  5. Peterr says:

    The DA is charging this 8 year old as an adult BEFORE psych evaluations have taken place? How in the world is that even possible? It strikes me as nothing more — and nothing less — than PR spin to show that the DA is tough on crime. Somehow, I fail to see how bolstering the DA’s reputation is a healthy use of our criminal justice system.

    And when the article says they are investigating whether the 8 year old was a victim of abuse, are they doing this under the rules of “child abuse” or “domestic violence/abuse”? If the DA is making the judgment NOW that the 8 year old is an adult, does it preclude a decent investigation for evidence of child abuse?

  6. JimWhite says:

    I’m with Peterr. This is reprehensible behavior by the DA.

    I fully expect that, if the full story can be discerned, this boy has been the victim of particularly horrid physical and sexual abuse.

    • dosido says:

      that is my first response as well. I would immediately suspect abuse.

      However, if the father bought him the gun, it is also possible that the boy thought he was practicing “hunting” and didn’t know that guns kill.

      I have heard of stories in gangland killings where the kids go over to the dead person and tell them to “get up” like they are still alive. Or that they believe they are playing a video game. IOW, they do not know the permanent consequences of their actions ie killing someone dead.

      Not to mention the TV influence. I’ll bet the sierra leone child soldiers know what happens when they shoot someone, but for our kids it’s all fantasy. (I’ll get off the soapbox pdq now!)

  7. wavpeac says:

    We have never had more accurate information about the developing brain than we have now. It is clear that without a shadow of a doubt, the child brain is no where near the same as an adult brain. This move goes against the best of science. Yep, god created the world in a day, and the human brain is either good or bad. Ackkk!!…..ress.shtml

  8. JimWhite says:

    More interesting tidbits from

    At St. John the Baptist, Romero sang in the choir and his wife had also signed up. The couple spent two years preparing for marriage, and when they tied the knot in September the “church was packed,” Sauter said.

    “Because both their parents were divorced, they wanted to make sure their marriage lasted until death — and it did,” Sauter said.

    Romero had full custody of the 8-year-old boy and the marriage made Tiffany Romero his stepmother. The boy’s mother had visited St. Johns from Mississippi last weekend and returned to Arizona after the shootings that took place Wednesday, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon.

    It seems pretty significant to me that this happened while the boy’s mother was in town.

  9. JohnJ says:

    He is a good and decent chap

    No he isn’t. The moment he filed instead of resigning, he gave up any claim to that.

    The sickest thing about this is the “religious right” probably supports this new American barbarism.

    Just when I was starting to feel better about being an American; I am reminded how far lower than a third world country we have slid.

    But then, I don’t have strong feelings about this.

    • bmaz says:

      I disagree with this charging decision profusely, in every way imaginable, that should be evident from the post; but I am here to tell you, I know the man and he has always been a straight shooter, honest and a good person for the entire time. And that time goes a long way back. To date, from what I have seen, this decision is indefensible.

      • JohnJ says:

        I guess shouldn’t single out the prosecutor as the bad guy here, it is a sign of the “conservative” illness of infecting America that is at fault. I see this as the direct result of politicians and law enforcement vying for our votes and dollars by alternately scaring then offering to protect the dumbass rubes from all these scary people out there; even if they have to demonize 8 year olds to do it. Couple that with the media getting better at instantly reporting anything that happens throughout the country and we get the climate of fear that these sleazy people manipulate.

        Virtually everyone I know swears that this country is much more dangerous than it has ever been, even though all the evidence shows otherwise.

  10. Leen says:

    What the hell is St John’s Catholic Church doing about this kids situation? I obviously have attitude about the Catholic hierarchy( grew up in it, so I feel I can criticize). Are they going to help this child?

    How can this be that a child can be tried as an adult? The first thing that pops into my mind is the kid was being seriously abused.

  11. Rayne says:

    Being the mother of an 11 year-old boy, I think there’s a lot of missing info here. I agree that the DA’s effort to prosecute this child as an adult is completely inappropriate; have to wonder what problems the DA has of his own.

    We’re also making assumptions about abuse here, although is a real possibility.

    But I believe there’s another possibility, although it may likely say a lot about the kind of parenting this child had. I wonder how much exposure this child had to violence in the form of television and video games. I’m likely to get beat up about this by First Amendment defenders who’ll call me Tipper Gore; won’t be the first time.

    Just last week we saw a study released about sexual content in media and its influence on teens; without direct feedback during such programming, I believe that such media can make early sex normative by modeling behavior that teens might not otherwise see. There are a number of studies on violence in media and their impact on children; again, if a child doesn’t see violence ordinarily but is exposed to it regularly in media, violence could be normative, legitimized by the amount of time it is allowed and by its existence as a product for consumption.

    Children can’t make the distinction between media’s representation and what is acceptable under the law. It’s not quite the same as understanding the difference between right and wrong; if something appears in media, it gains legitimacy being produced by adults. We have adults who cannot distinguish hate speech by Rush Limbaugh as propaganda; could we really expect children to do better with content that appears to be real and authorized?

    The kids my children go to school with in this middle-class midwestern town are not frequently barred from seeing content that’s inappropriate; it’s far more uncommon to find a parent who is firm about restricting violent content, than parents who let their kids view nearly anything up to NC-17 movies. At least half the parents I’ve met don’t seem to care much as to whether kids are exposed to or playing games rated M by time kids are 10 years old; there are some who permit it at any age, which means that extreme violence unlike that we see on broadcast television is available to young children.

    Now add reinforcement of the acceptability of weapons at a very young age.

    Did this child have a lot of exposure to violent media? Did they have access to authority figures who made sure that violence was not considered normal or appropriate? Would there have to be abuse in the household to set up this failure, or only poor parenting and disengagement?

  12. wavpeac says:

    I am saying regardless of the abuse factor, the child brain is not capable, per science and MRI’s of the developing brain, of understanding on a cognitive level the long term consequences of “murder”. It’s in the MRI’s that a child’s brain does not have this capacity. Children can understand obeying a parent, doing what they are told. When those “safety nets” are in place (like good parenting) children are prevented from making “bad and injurious” decisions. However, there brains, without proper supervision are physiologically impaired and this is proven in MRI’s that show the cognitive brain is not fully developed until 22-23 years old.

    This could be argued seperately from the “abuse” idea which makes clear that the measures that prevent most children from these types of decisions are the responsibility of the surrounding adults.

    This arguement must be made given the science we have today about the brain.

    If he was being abused, it proves that there was no parental safety net for him. But regardless the science of brain development makes it clear that his brain cannot understand the long term consequences of “murder”.

  13. masaccio says:

    Media are saturated with images of violence, as well as sex. The point of Bowling for Columbine is that the saturation makes a difference in people’s perception of their own safety. For some, it makes a difference in setting norms.

  14. LabDancer says:

    bmaz –

    You live there. Assume you conducted a proper sampling of the voters in this county, based on no more information on the circumstances than you’ve provided here, and none of them so close to the circumstances to be disqualified. Which factor would you think most likely to move them: the defendant being barely out of infancy, or the charge being so adult-sounding?

    You prosecuted. To which charging decision would a prosecutor be most susceptible?

    Would it be the one that carries the least immediate pressure from those most intimately involved, including the investigators, plus [in this case] his colleagues, his boss, the local press and the most easily animated of the uninvolved public?

    Or would it be the one that’s most likely to put his reputation and professional standing on the line with the investigators, his colleagues, his boss, the knee-jerk press and the reflexive howling segment of the electorate?

    • bmaz says:

      LD – Heh heh, I think I now understand somewhat better the time a week or two back where we took off on different sides of some analogous issue. I have never been a prosecutor. Not even close. Christy and LHP have extensive background in that, but I started trying criminal defense, civil rights and plaintiff’s tort cases literally about a week after being sworn in to the bar. So that (excluding the various construction and business junk I occasionally do now) is my sole background and experience.

      That said, you have delineated exactly the factors at play here as far as I can discern. Apache County is remote, sparse, and up along the Northeastern border of Arizona (adjacent to New Mexico). It is an old frontier ranching, mining and logging area. It is very conservative, dominated by the aforementioned concerns. So, yes, the political and social realities are very different than most of us here are used to and that we normally discuss. I would also note that I would hazard a pretty fair bet that the crime scene and facts known to cops are probably pretty ugly

      Like I said, I know the County Attorney; I went to law school with him and we are still friends although we do not talk that often. He is not a bad guy at all, in fact he is a good guy; and he was born and raised in that county, he is imbued with the sensibilities of that area.

      All that said, I still don’t like the charging decision; I think it is fundamentally very wrong for the physical and psychological factors I discussed in the post and that others have elaborated and fleshed out in comments.

      • freepatriot says:

        He is not a bad guy at all, in fact he is a good guy; and he was born and raised in that county, he is imbued with the sensibilities of that area.

        the “Sensibilities of the area”

        Like what

        is it okay to marry your sister there ???

        can you marry an eight year old child ??? (that would explain a lot)

        since when do we call these hillbillies’ disgusting morality “local sensitivities” ???

        cue the fucking banjo

        put these backwoods fucks on camera and let them try to figure out why the world is laughing at them

        there AIN’T no remote corners anymore

        the 21st century exists EVERYWHERE on the fuckin planet …

  15. joejoejoe says:

    I’ve always thought that there should be some kind of legal challenge in states that try minors as adults to have some accompanying process where minors can have adult priviledges like voting and working.

    How can the state try a 14 year old for murder as an adult but then maintain that a 14 year old honor student can’t vote or work?

    It seems like the state has a little bit of double dipping going on with it’s priorities with regards to minors. Kids are either adults or they are not and the law should reflect that across the board.

    Trying 8 year olds as adults is just whacked.

  16. wavpeac says:

    I totally agree about the violence and violent content. I have said this for a long time, we are validating violence as a means to an ends for too long. It’s considered an acceptable way to complete a goal. (as long as you are “right”). Of course the problem is that “right” can be argued on both sides and that makes for the perfect set up to use violence.

    Research on rage addicts show that they fantasize about “appropriate” killings. They use “hero” concepts to fantasize about getting to use their rage in appropriate socially sanctioned ways.

    We invalidate the true consequences of violence. Examples of this are:

    1) not showing coffins in a war
    2) not showing the grey area in killing as to who is right or wrong.
    3) we focus on the short term not the long term.
    4) we deny that domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse are linked to the general problem of violence in society.

    My thesis is that we will continue to have war and violence until we learn to validate what is true. This cannot be done without a rigid committment to review judgments, to refrain from “reactions” and commit to using the cognitive brain or frontal lobe in decision makings, to be able to distinguish between emotions and facts. My old professor used to say that the greatest problem with humanity is that we make identity mistakes. We confuse the symbol with it’s representation. He quoted Bateson often and would state “the map is not the territory”.

    We must “get real” but most people do not understand how hard and how much discipline to fact is required to do that. One reason I am attracted to this site is that empty wheel does such a good job of sticking to facts. Sometimes it’s annoying to me, because my emotions say, something else.

    The problem is deep and requires a paradigm shift that includes awareness about the consequences of violence. As long as we can believe in “magic” and blame children for violent behavior without recognizing the full picture we will make these errors and our society will remain on the course for destruction.

    • Leen says:

      Not showing the dead in Iraq to the American people .. a direct consequence of our invasion. Keep the bubble intact.

      The Courts more concerned about the use of “fuck” on the air than how much violent content kids see every day.

  17. bell says:

    in a culture that idealizes guns, there are bound to be some drawbacks.. man this is a sad story.. i feel especially sad for the kid..

  18. wavpeac says:

    I had a client who was mormon and gay. He had gotten out of the religion but it had done a number on him. He was sexually abused in a men’s bathroom around the age of 10. The mormon leaders told him it was his fault and that he was no longer worthy. This kids was brilliant went to Hebrew university eventually. But when he came into therapy he had quit a psychiatrist and another therapist who told him he was gay. He refused to believe it and had joined that “we can change you to normal” movement.

    Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me that they hold you accountable at age 8. It sure fit the message my client was given about his sexual abuse.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, I wasn’t aware that there was a built in belief as to 8 being the age of responsibility or whatever; but I have no doubt that the Mormon tenets are well in the mix of what is going on up there.

      JohnJ – no I agree this decision is bad. Rightly or wrongly, if I didn’t know this guy, I would undoubtedly reach the same initial conclusion you and so many others here have. But when I know additional facts or observations that are pertinent, I feel compelled to state them to the extent I can. Irrespective of whether Candelaria is a good guy or bad guy though, this situation stinks and it is indicative of an increasing trend in American justice over the last decade or more. Understanding how and why is important.

      • JohnJ says:

        I don’t mean to be so passionate at the wrong people.

        I am in no way blaming the messenger here, this just touches a nerve with me. I know so many people who claim to be Christians and think this way.

        Full disclosure: my mother was headed for and running to be one of the first female ruling elders of the Presbyterian church when my parents received death threats. I have little tolerance for today’s Christian churches.

        Sorry to post and run, but gotta go to work!

  19. JohnLopresti says:

    Maybe the locals can have input in the sentencing phase, judge willing. In the organized religion sense, the child has attained the age of reason and on a timeline somewhat belated for first communion, which ordinarily would occur soon after the 7th birthday. Though a city denizen for much of my life, I have a passle of decades managing outbacke, and have met a few folks raised in rural life. As an example, we were renting one of our buildings once, and an applicant, a lady with a family, whose business was an antique store on the principal avenue in a local tourist attraction city, to whom we easily decided Not to rent, described her comfort with country living by the illustrative tale that she once had shot a rattlesnake in her bathroom. Over my silent objections, once a neighbor rounded up all the age7-9 males in our valley and on the nearby mountain, and transported them excitedly to ride livestock in a country rodeo, a perilous diversion. The lads survived the adults’ wierd taunts and games, perhaps more sound of body and mind than the atavistically inspired adults who facilitated the fun and games. Ballistically and corporeally, it is very difficult to assasinate a human with a .22. Having worked in close alliance with all sorts of healthcare professionals, I find the sketchy details of the story lacking; I would begin with examining the psychology of the boy. Although in my work often I have reviewed such background and interview documentation for young women in a city setting, I would imagine there are experts available locally to do this kind of profiling for the charged murderer boy. As several comments have discussed, there is a regional aspect to the story which is unique; and having spent a while in AZ, I agree there are guaranteed to be local aspects as yet unreported. The very names of the nearby counties bespeaks the remoteness of the location. I am reminded of some traditional native people’s exercises provided to the young as they near transition to adulthood in many lands, certainly in nearby Apache and Navajo settlements. The determinate sentencing paradigm which has delighted the whining conservatives for so long needs a relook in congress. Yet, the child needs more than he has been getting, given his predicament now enmeshed in pathological behavior and its consequences in our legal and societal systems.

  20. conpro says:

    I’m glad that you like the report. The Constitution Project (where I work) coordinated its publication and release, along with a consortium of more than 20 non-profits and individuals. I welcome everyone to take a look at the chapter on juvenile justice reforms (

    The point more responsive to the issue that you raise is the report’s recommendation to: “Promote age-appropriate treatment for youth in the justice system.” There’s more in there that fleshes this out. Regardless, take a look and let us know what you think.

  21. dosido says:

    Also, knowing the media as we do, are police really “pushing” to have the child tried as an adult? Or is this the default thing to do when there is a double homicide? We could be reading too much into procedure here. Just wondering. ianal or a cop.

    I agree it would be appalling if that is the way they proceed.

  22. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Children below the ages of 16-19 (there are sex-based as well as individual variations) do not have the mental capacity of adults to evaluate right and wrong, and the consequences of choosing one or the other. That may be a “time honored belief”. It is also hard science.

    A responsible prosecutor would have waited until s/he had the facts and psych evaluations before making a charge decision. S/he would have considered the process and cost of trial and incarceration, considered the behavior of who was killed and how and why it was done, and considered what alternatives to prison exist, such as longterm custodial care.

    A responsible prosecutor, for that matter, would have never considered charging any eight-year old as an adult. Juvy prison for an eight-year old would be hell; in an adult prison, I’d give him no more than a few months before he’s dead in the shower. If he enters and survives either, as EW says, it will only be because he has become a hardened, sexless predator rather than a lonely eight-year old who thinks killing is the only salvation from whatever hell he’s in.

    I smell a county attorney who wants to be high elected official or a leader in his local “church”. “Law and order”, you know, demands swift retribution against those who transgress God’s commandments. Otherwise, She might get angry. Or so authoritarian thinking goes (except for the gender I inserted, which is always male; on reflection, it’s hard to imagine a supreme being of unlimited capacity limiting Itself to a single gender). To my mind, the prosecutor’s behavior is as predatory and destructive as the extreme behavior s/he purports to prosecute.

  23. JohnLopresti says:

    Nice to see the transition study’s thoroughness, v. @34. At first reading, it looks like it addresses an array of topics which need a fresh examination, while avoiding known swampy zones, e.g., a search on the full 200pp document for the word ‘torture’ vectors to external experts and studies. Materials in this subtopic, I would expect the 111th congress soon to contribute as the impact of Gitmo receives review. Two independent entities which I would expect to have suggestions might be UCHR and HRW; though, this goes well beyond the narrow scope of the blogpost concerning juvenile processes.

  24. al75 says:

    A significant number of children who murder their parents are victims of sexual abuse, by their parents. Paul A. Mones, a criminal defense attorney, describes numerous cases like this in his book When A Child Kills.

    One of Mones’ cases involved a boy who was anally raped by his father for many years. He was so ashamed that he never revealed his motive to the police — he did so only after Mones confronted him with physical evidence (I won’t get gross here) after the boy had already served several years in prison.

    I’ve never evaluated a parent-murdering child (I’m a child psychiatrist) but I’ve seen many who have assaulted their parents — but direct violence by children against their parents is rare, lethal violence extremely rare.

    Authorities are at a loss as to why this boy killed his father an another man.

    Maybe they should start trying to figure it out.

  25. Downpuppy says:

    Umm – the story says police are pressing for charges as an adult.

    Somewhere we jumped to the DA is doing it. Is there another info source, or did somebody jump to a conclusion?

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, i didn’t jump to a conclusion. The County Attorney is the sole charging authority for the jurisdiction. The official press release is that those charges were being pursued; that means the County Attorney made the decision. It is that simple. The police can recommend whatever the hell they want until the cat’s come home, but the CA makes the call.

  26. Downpuppy says:

    Sorry- not reading well, bmaz.
    I see the transition in your post now.
    but still – are you sure he’s made the decision?

  27. Mason says:

    I’ve represented young teenagers charged with violent felonies, including murder, and the legal issue regarding whether the juvenile court would retain jurisdiction was whether the child could be rehabilitated by the age of 21. Why age 21? Because the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over the person when the person turns 21 and the person must be released.

    Q: How can a judge know whether the child can be rehabilitated by age 21?
    A: Accurately predicting an adult’s future dangerousness is impossible. A mental health professional can attempt to answer the question in terms of statistical probabilities, but such an answer begs the question because it isn’t a yes or no. Predicting future dangerousness in an 8-year-old, even if you think you know why he did it, is, of course, impossible.

    Q: What will a judge decide to do, if the best that an expert can predict is “I don’t know?”
    A: This answer will vary, according to the judge’s nature, outlook on life, and the politics of the day — unfortunately. Judge Play-it-safe will throw the child into adult gladiator-world, a version of the philosophically irresponsible buck-passing view that favors killing people and letting God sort them out. A progressive and sensitive judge who understands the malleability of children likely would reason that the juvenile system has 13 years to help this child understand what he did, why he did it, and why it’s important to react in other less permanent ways — such as the solution selected by Judge Play-it-safe.

    Of course, it helps to know why the kid did what he did. There are any number of possible scenarios — some chilling, some not so much. If the child was a victim of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, the answer should be obvious to all — retain juvenile court jurisdiction. That may or may not be the case, however, everyone involved should do everything possible to make certain that the child is not lying about why he did it to conceal why he did because he regards the truth to be too embarrassing.

    Whatever the reason, however, retaining jurisdiction is to me the only sensible answer. Michael Myers of Halloween fame was not a real person and, although a child lacks the ability to comprehend what he may have done, he can learn.

    • bmaz says:

      It is 18 here, not 21. The procedure is spelled out in statutes. I am not myself sure how they can charge a subject as young as 8 as an adult from the statutes as I remember them. It was mandatory above 16, discretionary between 14 and 16, and only allowable under either 12 or 14 if there was a prior felony level act. I suppose they have changed the law since I looked at it. My guess is the CA doesn’t want it stuck in juvenile court; if he goes there immediately, the kid will plead on the spot and mitigate his losses. By filing it in regular superior court criminal, he maintains his discretion. Just my guess.

      • Mason says:

        I practiced in the State of Washington and last represented juveniles in the late seventies. Back then, prosecutors were required to file all cases, no matter the charge, in Juvenile Court if the defendant was less than 18-years-old. If the prosecutor wanted to prosecute the kid in adult court, he or she also would file a petition asking the court to decline jurisdiction. The petition deprived the juvenile court of jurisdiction to act, such as accepting a guilty plea, until the court decided whether to retain or decline jurisdiction. If the latter, the case would be dismissed and refiled in Superior Court.

        As you noted, there were certain age cut-offs where presumptions regarding the kid’s capacity to form criminal intent were operational. Sixteen and 17 were presumed yes, rebuttable. 12 through 15 no presumption, but the prosecutor still had the burden of proving it. 10 and 11 were presumed no, but rebuttable. Under 10 was conclusively presumed no.

        Finally, the Juvenile Court could extend jurisdiction to age 21, if it acted before the kid’s 18th birthday when juvenile court jurisdiction automatically expired.

        I believe the law was later changed requiring murder charges to be filed in adult court if the defendant was 16 or older.

  28. Downpuppy says:

    Didn’t mean to doubt you, but the stories are a mess. It’s like the reporters know as little as I do about New Mexico procedure & the more I read the less I knew. Consider the Boston Herald interview with the police chief:

    Melnick, in a phone interview with the Herald today, said trying the child as an adult is an option, but added: “I don’t think it’s an option we would explore.”

    He noted that it is not the police department’s decision to make.

    So, is the reality that the CA goes in front of a judge who decides right off where to direct the case, or is even that wrong?

  29. earlofhuntingdon says:

    An eight year old is physically incapable of making an adult decision. That’s why they are not allowed to drive, to sign binding contracts, to consent to sexual activity, or to serve in the army or vote.

    An eight-year old not only hasn’t the requisite experience adequately to assess cause and consequence, it hasn’t the wiring in its brain. An enormous amount of development separates this boy from a twelve or sixteen-year old, let alone someone eighteen or older. And that ignores the probable existence of physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse that are the most likely explanations for the alleged behavior.

    The rationale for trying this boy as an adult is so that the state can retain permanent criminal jurisdiction over his fate because of acts he may have committed when he was too young to know what he was doing. In Arizona, it may also allow the state to put him to death. Yet, permanent jurisdiction would be appropriate only if the boy had had an adult’s capacity to understand how wrongful his alleged conduct was.

    Moreover, this boy is eight, not sixteen or seventeen, which gives the state ten years’ worth of control, not two or three. Any “good” this boy can learn will have been done in that time; alternatively, his “bad”, commensurate with his ability to know what “bad” is, will have been punished, too. Sadly, most states have too few resources capable of helping a child this young unlearn the behavior that is a logical response to serious abuse. The solution is not, however, to treat an eight year-old as if he were an “adult” and bung him in prison for life.

  30. Mason says:

    Cases like these illustrate the failings of our civil and criminal law systems that train lawyers to dissect an often complicated non-linear web of causation that produces a prohibited act or consequence. Lawyers sort through any number of possible causes searching for the holy grail of causation; namely, the single proximate cause that “but for” it having happened, the prohibited act or consequence would not have occurred.

    Like playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey while blindfolded, responsibility for the result creating liability or the crime is placed on the actor who proximately caused it. Although the actor’s mental state is considered in criminal law to assess the seriousness of the crime (e.g., murder or manslaughter), with the exception of acting in self defense or defense of another, most of the rest of the web-like factors to the extent identified are relegated to being considered as mitigation of punishment rather than responsibility. Non-linear and web-like causation factors consisting of events that happened however long ago; events that didn’t happen that might have produced a different outcome, if they had happened; events that did not happen, but were perceived to have happened all fade into an indistinct and grayish-brown tapestry ignored or dismissed as irrelevant.

    Yet, are we not the product of all of these web-like influences and isn’t our perception as well shaped by them? Should we be so eager and quick to pin the responsibility tail on one person instead of the web that produced him?

    These are tough but not new questions. They’ve been asked for centuries and the number of people asking these questions and the passion with which they demand answers will be most evident when the defendant identified by the linear-responsibility model is an eight-year-old child.

  31. Dismayed says:

    8-year olds aren’t adults, by any definition. There’s no discussion required. The whole thing is absurd.

  32. Mason says:

    I’m sorry to report that I’ve forgotten the name of the U.S. Supreme Court case that prohibited the death penalty for children below a certain age, which I believe may be 14, when they committed the crime.

    • bmaz says:

      The case is Roper v. Simmons, No. 03-633 and held that it is unconstitutional to sentence a defendant to death for a crime committed prior to age 18.

      And yep, what you laid out was close to the structure here until maybe 1995 or so when they started getting ”tougher on juvenile crime”. Things sure worked better when the state, defense and the court all had more unfettered by mandate discretion to just do the right thing; the crap is screwed up now.

      • Mason says:

        You’re absolutely right.

        When I reflect on the many years that I practiced criminal law, the most emotionally exhausting cases I handled were in juvenile court. I was barely able to suppress my frustration and desire to rage against a machine that all too often decided that the best interests of the child mandated finding the child guilty despite a lack of proof because he or she could profit from the unique child-centered “help” that the probation officers would provide. Sometimes the probation officers did help, but a lot of times — especially with troubled and confused kids (a condition often caused by their parents) — they exacerbated the problems. I remember representing a runaway 14-year-old girl whose father, a tough-love devotee, had kicked her out of the home. She broke into the house one morning after he left for work so that she could raid the refrigerator, shower, and change clothes. She was charged with burglary and I almost lost it when, as we entered the courtroom, the prosecutor whispered the following words that forever shall live in infamy; to wit, “But, we have to teach these fucking little criminals to be accountable.”

        Yikes, them’s fighting words! Don’t you be saying that around me!

        Despite quite a few similar cases, however, I had far more room to maneuver to minimize the impact of the system on “my kids,” as I affectionately called my clients.

        No matter how tough and street wise they presented themselves to be to the outside world and to me when I first met them in detention, the walls came crumbling down revealing the frightened and extremely vulnerable child inside when at last they realized that I did not judge them and actually cared about what happened to them.

        Much later, I handled quite a few death-penalty cases. They took a toll on me too, which is why I went into teaching, but children always will be children to me and it’s awful to see what terrible damage can be inflicted on a child by a supposedly well-intentioned do-gooder just trying to dispense some tough love in the name of teaching them accountability.

        Troubled kids can be a real pain in the you-know-what when they challenge authority, refuse to go to school, and take-off for days at a time. My advice to all you parents out there trying to deal with such a child is to stick with them and show them that come Hell or high water, you love them and will be there for them no matter what they do because more than anything else they need to know that while their parent may disapprove of certain things they do, their parent will always always accept and love them.

  33. bmaz says:

    I have talked to some people up in Apache County and there appears to be more than meets the eye, the press are purportedly rather not very bright in a couple of key interpretations of what is going on, and the judge has put a gag order/seal on the whole ball of wax. Quite frankly, I think the gag order is a very good thing due process wise; however leave has been made for the media to file a challenge next week.

  34. bmaz says:

    From the NYT:

    An 8-year-old Arizona boy charged with premeditated murder in the deaths of his father and another man shot each victim at least four times with a .22-caliber rifle, methodically stopping and reloading as he killed them, prosecutors said Monday.

    Although investigators initially said they thought the boy might have suffered severe physical or sexual trauma, they have found no evidence of abuse, said Roy Melnick, the police chief in St. Johns, Ariz., where the shootings occurred. Psychologists say such abuse is often a factor in the extremely rare instances in which a small child murders a parent.

    An investigation found no evidence that the boy had had disciplinary problems at school or shown signs that he was troubled, Chief Melnick said. “That’s what makes this case somewhat puzzling,” he said, adding that the court had ordered a psychological evaluation for the boy. “Our goal is to get him some help.”

    “The wrinkle here,” Dr. Heide said, “is that this boy is so young, it could possibly be immaturity and impulsivity.” In children as young as 8, parts of the brain that weigh decisions and consequences are so underdeveloped that a child might not understand the finality of death.

    The boy in Arizona was no stranger to weapons — his father, an avid hunter, reportedly trained his son to shoot prairie dogs — and psychologists said that might have played a role.

    The shootings occurred Wednesday afternoon in the two-story home in St. Johns, about 200 miles northeast of Phoenix, where the boy lived with his father, Vincent Romero, 29. The deputy attorney for Apache County, Brad Carlyon, said Monday that the boy was taken to the police by his grandmother and initially considered a victim because he was believed to have discovered the men’s bodies.

    But about 45 minutes into an hourlong police interview, Mr. Carlyon said, the boy confessed to shooting his father and a man who rented a room in the house, Timothy Romans, 39, of San Carlos, Ariz.

    Mr. Carlyon said the boy told the police that he had been spanked at home the night before because he was having trouble at school. But, the prosecutor said, the boy “did not say that was the reason he committed any of the acts.”

    Prosecutors said the murder weapon was a single-action .22-caliber hunting rifle that requires reloading before each shot. “He had to eject the shell from the rifle and put in a new shell each time he fired,” Mr. Carlyon said.

  35. Valtin says:

    While I am a psychologist, I have no special expertise in this area, but the knowledge most in my profession might or should have. I have no special insight into why this boy shot his father and another man. Without more details, it’s difficult to even speculate. It is such a low base rate phenomenon, it may be impossible to truly say what was going on in the boy’s head. Eight years old is very immature, from a brain standpoint. Judgment in a form we can think “normal”, from an adult standpoint, is not even possible. My knee-jerk reaction is that the boy is psychotic, or a conduct disorder child (nascent psychopath). It is always possible the boy thought he was defending himself, especially if the parent were some sort of monster.

    I find myself wondering about the killing itself. The boy is said to have used a .22 cal single bolt action rifle, in which he had to reload after each shot, literally put the bullet in the breech of the weapon. This takes time, and a .22 is not a “man-stopper.” There were two men. How was the boy able to effect this? Were they both sleeping? Where was the boy’s mother? If he were being abused, why did he not go seek help from her?

    The main point here is that an 8-year-old should never be tried as an adult. Children do not approach adult levels of performance on many basic cognitive and motor skills until age 11 or 12. (Not that a child should be treated as an adult in the criminal justice system at age 12, as the issue of having a solid personality that can be determinative of his or her actions does not take place until late adolescence, at the earliest. For reference, see the works of Erik Erikson.) The most recent empirical evidence on the cognitive/motor development of children comes from the The NIH Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, a longitudinal study began back in 1999.

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