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8-year-old St. Johns boy arrested in 2 killings

As a child I was often beaten and abused and would have loved to kill my dad! My mom was the same way. She said she often thought of killing my father too, and visualizing a newspaper article in the Scottsdale Progress saying woman shoots husband.

Last but not least, the police didn't not tell the kid about his right to remain silent. If they don't tell kids their rights do you think they tell adults?


November 7, 2008 - 8:59PM

8-year-old St. Johns boy arrested in 2 killings

The Associated Press

In a case that has "shocked" and "saddened" a small, rural eastern Arizona community, an 8-year-old boy has been charged in the shooting deaths of his father and another man.

The boy faces two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39.

Police arrived at the victim's house he shared with his wife within minutes of the shooting Wednesday, said Roy Melnick, St. Johns police chief. They found one victim just outside the front door and the other dead in an upstairs room.

The boy initially denied involvement in the shooting that left the men with multiple gunshot wounds from a .22-calier rifle but later confessed, Melnick said Friday.

But defense attorney Benjamin Brewer said police overreached in questioning the boy without representation from a parent or attorney and did not advise him of his rights.

"They became very accusing early on in the interview," Brewer said. "Two officers with guns at their side, it's very scary for anybody, for sure an 8-year-old kid."

A judge determined at a hearing Friday that probable cause existed to believe the boy committed the murders and also ordered a psychological evaluation. The boy was being held at the Apache County juvenile detention facility.

Prosecutors are still evaluating the direction they want to take with the case. Chief Deputy Apache County attorney Brad Carlyon said "there's a ton of factors to be considered and weighed, including the juvenile's age. The counter balance against that, the acts that he apparently committed."

Carlyon said there was no indication that the boy had problems at home, and there was no record of any complaints with Arizona Child Protective Services.

"He had no record of any kind, not even a disciplinary record at school," he said. "He has never been in trouble before."

Romero and Romans were employees with a construction company that had a contract to do work at the Salt River Project power plant near St. Johns. Romans was renting a room at the Romero home, Carlyon said.

City Manager Greg Martin said "saddened" and "shocked," best described the sentiment of the community of about 4,000 people about 168 miles northeast of Phoenix.

"Not something that happens very often and hopefully never happens again," he said. "It's been on their minds every since it happened."

FBI statistics show instances of children younger than 11 committing homicides are very rare. According to recent FBI supplementary homicide reports, there were at least three such cases each year in 2003, 2004 and 2005; there were at least 15 in 2002. More recent statistics weren't available, nor were details of the cases.

Earlier this year in Arizona, prosecutors in Cochise County filed first-degree murder charges against a 12-year-old boy accused of shooting his mother to death.

Under Arizona law, a juvenile under 8 years old is treated as a dependent child. Charges can be filed against anyone 8 or older, which Melnick argued are warranted in this case. He said the child didn't act on the "spur of the moment," though he didn't elaborate on what the motive might have been.

High-profile defense attorney Mike Piccarreta, who is not involved in the case, said each case has to be considered on its merits, but it would be hard for him to comprehend that an 8-year-old has the mental capacity to understand the act of murder and its implications.

"If they actually prosecute the guy, it's a legal minefield," he said. "And, two, society has to make a decision as to whether they want to start using the criminal justice system to deal with 8-year-olds. That doesn't mean you don't have a troubled kid."

Wednesday's homicides were the first in at least four years in the community where most people know one another, Melnick said, noting that before that, no one had been killed there since 20 years ago.

Romero had full custody of the child. The boy's biological mother was visiting St. Johns over the weekend from Mississippi, and returned to Arizona after the shootings, Carlyon said.

Brewer, the defense attorney, said the child "seems to be in good spirits."

"He's scared," he said. "He's trying to be tough, but he's scared."

During Friday's hearing, in which about 40 community and family members attended, Brewer said officers nearly teared up each time he questioned them.

"It was such a tragedy," he said. "You have two people dead, you have an 8-year-old in jail. It tugs at the heart strings. It's a shocker, no doubt about it."


St. Johns boy, 8, suspected of double murder

Dad, 2nd man found shot to death; charges planned

by Dennis Wagner - Nov. 8, 2008 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

An 8-year-old boy faces double-murder charges in the shooting death of his father and another man while residents in the bucolic community of St. Johns try to make sense of the chilling crime.

"This is precedent-setting. We're going to charge an 8-year-old with two counts of homicide," Police Chief Roy Melnick said.

"We haven't had anything like this in Apache County in my 23 years as a prosecutor," County Attorney Criss Candelaria said. "We need to figure out what was going on in this boy's head." The child's father, 29, and a boarder, Tim Romans, 39, were found dead at the family residence about 5 p.m. Wednesday, shortly after neighbors reported the sound of gunfire. The Arizona Republic is withholding the father's and child's names to avoid identifying a juvenile.

Melnick said police discovered one of the bodies outside the front door, the other in an upstairs room.

St. Johns, the Apache County seat, is a sedate getaway in the high country of eastern Arizona. Its motto: "The Town of Friendly Neighbors." In an online report, the White Mountain Independent newspaper described the slayings as "a shocking tragedy" for the 3,500 residents.

Melnick said the child was near the crime scene when police arrived. The police chief declined to discuss a motive or say how the child came to have a firearm.

Homicides by preteens are extremely rare and present difficult questions for the justice system. Experts say children who kill typically are products of abuse. Once a charge is filed, authorities must deal with issues of culpability, custody and treatment.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Report lists no murder defendants under age 9 since 2005 and only three in the past five years nationally. A search of U.S. news articles uncovered few murder cases involving children as young as the suspect in St. Johns.

In a 1998 case, two Illinois defendants, ages 7 and 8, were accused of killing an 11-year-old but were exonerated. The youngest suspect was a 4-year-old Mississippi girl accused in 2002 of using a brick to kill her brother.

Jeremy Bach, sentenced to 22 years in prison, is among the youngest Maricopa County murder defendants convicted as an adult. At age 13, he shot a friend in 1995.

In 1993, a pair of Chandler girls, ages 11 and 12, were found delinquent in Juvenile Court for killing their adoptive mother.

Melnick said Arizona law generally holds that a child under age 10 lacks competency to be criminally responsible for a homicide.

However, he added, "we think an exception can be made based on the facts and circumstances" in the St. Johns case.

Candelaria said the state will not prosecute the child as an adult. That means the boy would not be sentenced to prison but could remain in juvenile detention until adulthood.

An initial appearance was scheduled Friday afternoon. The outcome was not available late Friday, but Candelaria said the judge likely would require psychological exams to determine competency.

Elaine Newlin, a public defender in Yavapai County who specializes in juvenile cases, said the court also must ascertain whether the boy is capable of understanding proceedings, assisting in his defense and entering a plea.

"I would say offhand that an 8-year-old can't," Newlin added. "This is really an unusual situation."

Although the legal issues are murky, Candelaria said, they are compounded by uncertainty about whether the child should remain in detention, be released to a relative or placed as a state ward.

"Where do we keep him?" he said. "It's obvious there's going to have to be a lot of evaluation."

Melnick said both victims worked at a nearby power plant. The child's stepmother was not home at the time, and there are no other children in the family, he said.


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