A 9-year-old boy was accused of shooting his father and a family friend in St. Johns, Ariz. The boy pleaded guilty Thursday to a single count of negligent homicide.
ST. JOHNS, Ariz —
A 9-year-old Arizona boy accused of killing his father and another man pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of negligent homicide in juvenile court, avoiding an adult murder trial while virtually assuring judicial supervision until he turns 18.
The third-grader was accused of shooting his 29-year-old father as well as family friend Tim Romans, 39, with a .22 rifle Nov. 5. He pleaded guilty in the death of Romans. The charge for the death of his father was dropped in exchange for the plea.
USA TODAY is not naming the defendant or family members because of the boy's age.
Judge Michael Roca of Apache County Juvenile Court will sentence the boy after reviewing the results of court-ordered evaluations. The sentence could include intensive probation, counseling and possible jail time.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: United States Arizona Arizona Republic St. Johns Vincent Romero Whiting Benjamin Brewer Timothy Romans Ron Wood Roca Mike Morgan Tim Romans Arizona Child Protective Services
Under the agreement, the boy faces follow-up evaluations at ages 12 and 15 and before his 18th birthday. The boy won't be allowed to enroll in any public or private school unless evaluations determine that he doesn't pose a threat to himself or anyone else.
The boy is due back in court for a pre-sentencing hearing March 5.
In court Thursday, he was attentive and clear-eyed. He leaned to the microphone and answered the judge with "yes, sir" and "no, sir" responses.
Defense attorney Ron Wood said that he believed the boy understood the plea and that its acceptance by Roca was in the boy's best interest. Wood said the boy's mother "does not believe that her son, given his age, understands what he's being asked to plead guilty to, and the consequences of it. … The mother doesn't believe he did this (murder)."
The case generated international attention because the child was 8 at the time of the slayings and because investigators early on released a controversial videotaped confession.
Police interviewed dozens of family members and friends, most of whom described the suspect as a normal kid with good parents, according to court records. Others suggested the crime was planned after the child set a limit on the number of spankings he would tolerate, court records show.
Although the boy confessed, prosecutors would have faced challenges if they'd elected to try him as an adult. No child 8 years old or younger committed homicide in the USA during 2005-2007, according to FBI statistics.
Also, the confession was thrown out because detectives did not read the boy his rights or allow a family member or lawyer in the room.
"I think that the good thing about it is he's going to be in the court's jurisdiction to get some psychological help for years to come. That's what he needs," said Mike Morgan, football coach at St. Johns High. "You don't want to come into adulthood and have it affect him there, too."
Wagner reports for The Arizona Republic. Contributing: Associated Press
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