November 7, 2008

An 8-year-boy is charged with 2 counts of premeditated murder.

He has confessed to shooting his father and another man. One body was upstairs in the house, and the other was outside.

MORE:
Arizona law generally holds that a child lacks competency to be held responsible for a homicide.

However, [St. John Police Chief Roy] Melnick told the newspaper, “We think an exception can be made based on the facts and circumstances … This is precedent-setting. We're going to charge an 8-year-old with two counts of homicide."
UPDATE: CNN reports:
"Who would think an 8-year-old kid could kill two adults?" St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said Friday.

The crime that unfolded Wednesday evening sent shock waves through St. Johns, a community of about 4,000 people northeast of Phoenix. The boy had no disciplinary record at school, and there was no indication he had any problems at home, prosecutors said....

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....

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."

46 comments:

mcg said...

Holy cow.

chuck b. said...

Is this an opportunity to bash liberals for making it a crime to spank children, or an opportunity to bash conservatives for their guns?

***

Um, 8-years-old...is that third grade? I think I was a little older before I experienced my first murderous rage. But I was a late bloomer.

Awesome said...

And they say that TV is making kids more promiscuous!

Meade said...

oh jeeze. Couldn't we have just ended the day with that beautiful photo of fall in Madison? Do I have to read the article? Is it going to be on the final exam? Not sure I can stand to be any more depressed for one day.

Synova said...

The article is just a statement that he confessed and who was dead.

No details and no discussion of circumstances.

Things That Come Between Us said...

And that, kids, is what we call sin.

Lem said...

No details and no discussion of circumstances.

Exactly.

If an 8 year old shot somebody I want to know why.

Actually, let's look it up.

walter neff said...

Kids do the darnest things.

Lem said...

The circumstances surrounding the shootings were not revealed and it was not known why police concluded that the boy was involved and placed him under arrest on Thursday afternoon.

http://www.timesoftheinternet.com/17879.html

Lazy NYT.

Matt Eckert said...

He heard that his dad was going to send him to do "community service."

WOLVERINES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Freeman Hunt said...

What the heck? You can't run a story like that without digging a little deeper. It's too bizarre; people want to know more.

UWS guy said...

I'm going to go out on a limb before clicking the link and make the guess that when a child is charged as an adult, that child is black.

Richard said...

The really sad part is that the story isn't shocking to me. My reaction is, hey, so that happens sometimes.

blogless said...

First of all, you can't be tried as an adult at age 8. In Arizona you need to be at least 15.

Second, if Arizona is like California, because juveniles aren't entitled to jury trials, and since they can only be held in custody for a few years, prosecutors often file the most serious charge they can, early on. The filings aren't nearly as tight as with adults.

blogless said...

Just read the "More" part - the problem with charging children this young with murder is that you have trouble proving they can form the requisite intent.

If they are this gung-ho to proceed, I would be curious to see what they have. They must feel they are dealing with a real sociopath.

Eric said...

An 8-year-old sociopath? Do you even understand enough about society at that age to be a pathology?

TMink said...

Eric, that is a good question, and there is an answer in developmental neurology. Bear with me a bit as this takes a while.

The brain development that allows the attachment process occurs from 20 weeks after conception until 9 months after the child is born. During this time, a part of the brain called the prefrontal orbital cortex develops. It may continue to develop until the first year, but by then the development stops. Forever. The pathways to and from the cortex can be strengthened, but the region itself is done.

That part of the brain is stimulated in the womb by the smells and tastes and emotions that the mother experiences, and later the sounds that the fetus hears. At birth, the development continues in the relationship with caregivers, mutual gaze, and parental soothing of the infant.

This part of the brain has two important functions: to attach and to calm. The attachment part allows us to love and care for others, as well as to empathize with them, to feel their feelings reciprocally.

The calming aspect is partly a proximal relationship with the amygdala, the part of our brain that controls our flight or fight or freeze. The prefrontal orbital cortex (POC) lies between the amygdala and our frontal lobes, where we think and reason. A well developed POC serves to inhibit the powerful electro-chemical discharge of the amygdala, to tone it down, to soothe, so that we can think even though we are upset. A valuable skill to be sure.

If the POC does not have the correct environment in which to develop, that is to say a calm and happy pregnancy and a loving, attentive first year, its development is retarded. Sufficient poverty in this area leads to people who are INCAPABLE of attaching to others. They cannot take another's perspective, they cannot care about another entity. Many of them are dangerous.

They cannot soothe themselves, and nobody else can either. Never. They can be chemically sedated, but not interpersonally or intrapersonally calmed. That is truly frightening as well. They are at the mercy of their amygdala, a part of the brain that is basically reptillian and stupid. Face it, we can arouse the amygdala by hearing a spooky sound or watching little dots of light on a screen. Without a POC to mediate the amygdala, people are literally as mean as a snake.

That should scare you, it certainly does me. The implications for teen age and single mothers is staggering. A child born to and raised by an overwhlemed mother is likely to be brain damaged, likely to be assaultive, likely to be incarcerated. And there is nothing we can currently do about it.

Maybe later, stem cells can be inserted into the POC with some hope of rehabilitation. Maybe.

For me, there are also huge implications regarding abortion. It is why some people cannot tolerate political disagreement. They are more likely to be born to a single mom. There are political party implications as well, but I will leave those to others.

But the bottom line is that the current research shows that sociopaths are made, and the making starts in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Trey

dualdiagnosis said...

fuck.

blake said...

And that, kids, is what we call sin.

Yes, but whose?

Impacted Wisdom Truth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna B. said...

tmink - I hear you, believe you, etc., except I don't think it's that cut and dried. I think head injuries not considered "bad" in the first few years of childhood can also be an influence.

That said, there are very few "calm and happy" pregnancies IMHO. Today, there's too much stress on the mother to not do or ingest X, and must do or ingest Y.

Calm? Happy? We've made pregnancy one of the most stressed time of all, only surpassed by the pressure to be a "perfect" mother the first year... the pressure to breastfeed is a prime example.

Ann Althouse said...

We already know the circumstance of the bodies being located so far apart. A victim could move before dying, but if the boy shot one man that he knew upstairs, then went downstairs to shoot the other man, also someone he knew, that shows something more than an incoherent outburst. There is some planning and persistence at a plan. Obviously, there is more to know about this, and a child that evil must have been deeply harmed by the people he lived with... in this case, the victims.

J said...

"WOLVERINES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Are they selling Wolverines T-shirts yet? I like "Keep the Change" too.


"I'm going to go out on a limb before clicking the link and make the guess that when a child is charged as an adult, that child is black"

Possibly, but in St Johns, AZ extremely unlikely.

TMink said...

Donna wrote: "I think head injuries not considered "bad" in the first few years of childhood can also be an influence."

You are correct. The brain is about the consistency of softened butter, and even heading a soccer ball can injure it. I do think that head injuries are much more likely to injure the frontal lobes and impair executive functioning than to create a late in life sociopath, but I have not read the research on that, so it is just a hunch. But your point is a great one.

"Calm? Happy? We've made pregnancy one of the most stressed time of all, only surpassed by the pressure to be a "perfect" mother the first year... the pressure to breastfeed is a prime example."

Yikes! Why do the women of the world feel that another woman's poregnancy is an invitation for advice and critique to a complete stranger? OK, world is too strong, but it sure happens in America!

In the research about attunement and bonding, it seems that the good enough parent gets their baby's needs and affect right one third of the time, make mistakes and correct them one third of the time, and blow it the other third. That ratio works. I wonder if the same thing applies in terms of a "happy pregnancy?'

And donna, let me for the record bow to your superior knowledge and experience with all things pregnancy related! 8)

Trey

bearbee said...

TMink said...

A well developed POC serves to inhibit the powerful electro-chemical discharge of the amygdala, to tone it down, to soothe, so that we can think even though we are upset.

If the POC does not have the correct environment in which to develop, that is to say a calm and happy pregnancy and a loving, attentive first year, its development is retarded.


If a mother during pregnancy is under severe stress, and if with the birth the child is well cosseted, what is the liklihood that the child will experience a retarded developed POC? That is, which is more consequential to POC development - the fetal stage or the 1st year nurturing? What are some signs - insecurity, anxiety, anger?

Is a retarded POC easily diagnosed?

Doru said...

You need more guns, to defend yourselves.

mrs whatsit said...

OK, I'm going to step away from the heartbreaking topic at hand and be a grammar grinch for just a moment here. From the NYT piece:

The boy had went to a neighbor's house and said he ''believed that his father was dead,'' said Apache County attorney Brad Carlyon.

This is the New York Times. Neither its reporters nor its editors can conjugate the verb "go"?

Venita said...

With so much incest, physical and sexual abuse going on, shouldn't we wait until a psychiatrist and doctor examine this child before we give an opinion on his guilt.

blogless said...

There is some planning and persistence at a plan. Obviously, there is more to know about this, and a child that evil must have been deeply harmed by the people he lived with... in this case, the victims.

I was thinking more about this last night. I was a D.A. for many years, so I was thinking about what I would do.

Clearly, the prosecutors believe that this child "planned" this and shot one man and then made the thoughtful and intentional decision to kill another.

I'm not sure it necessarily means that these particular people harmed this child, or that the harm is "real", in the sense that it's something an average reasonable person would find harmful. I'm thinking that this isn't a kid who was that abused simply because it's hard to imagine the police would make the statements that they did and not be more sympathetic towards him - but it's possible.

We won't know until we find out more, but like I said in my earlier post - with juvenile cases, the D.A's often file the most serious of charges (murder over manslaughter), because it's a court, not jury trial, and the judge is going to sentence the child with the intent to rehabilitate and help them - not to just lock them away. There's so much more wiggle room with both the filings, and with what the judge can do afterwards.

blogless said...

I made that last comment without realizing there was an update to the story - which I just read. (My post was a cross-post with those above it.)

Wanted to explain this, from the article:

Under Arizona law, charges can be filed against anyone 8 or older.

Unless I am completely wrong about Arizona law, this just means that courts have found that someone that young can have the mental capacity to commit first degree murder -and it means the D.A.'s can charge it. This kid will still be tried as a juvenile.

Oligonicella said...

Ann --

"...a child that evil must have been deeply harmed by the people he lived with..."

Or suffering from some form of brain damage/development. There are cases of children simply doing evil things who haven't been abused. They are rare, but they exist. Don't blame the victims until you know the facts.

TMink said...

Rats Bearbee, I wrote a long post and forgot to save it before submitting it and it is now lost.

I have not read any research concerning your question, and I bet nobody has gotten around to it yet.

I have personal and clinical experience of children born after a difficult or abusive pregnancy that have attached well to adoptive parents. These children were adopted VERY early though.

The SPECT scans used to check on brain functioning are about $2500 currently, at a minimum. They are not covered by insurance. To see some and get an overview of the process, go to brainplace.com.

It is important to consider the problem as one of degree of damage. A poor functioning POC could certainly be strengthened by a warm and attuned environment just because the connections to and from the POC would be strengthened.

But there is now neurological evidence that the pregnancy and the first year can make or break a person. And like dualdiagnosis, the fact gobsmacks me.

Trey

TMink said...

Venita, as a psychologist who does a little forensic work, I almost never comment about guilt. I can help with understanding why someone made a choice, but guilt is a legal consideration, not a psychological one.

Unless we are talking about a competency issue. People can be so nuts that they could not understand what they did. But that is VERY rare.

Trey

blogless said...

Unless we are talking about a competency issue. People can be so nuts that they could not understand what they did. But that is VERY rare.


Usually, when we're talking about someone's competency, we're talking about whether or not this person is rational enough to cooperate with his attorney - not necessarily what his mental state was at the time of the crime.

Someone being so psychologically impaired that they didn't know what they were doing could mean that they would have an insanity defense, or simply defend themselves by the prosecution not being able to show they had whatever intent/mental state was needed for that particular crime.

Interesting information about your work, Trey. I haven't always known what the background was with some of the violent kids with borderline personalities that I've dealt with, but I can tell you that I personally noticed that many of them had past police contacts having to do with animal abuse/torture. Pretty horrifying stuff.

mark said...

Wake up people. We learn from the article that ADULTS broke the law by not giving the child representation and not explaining to him his rights. Furthermore many confused, frightend adults (let alone child!) have made false confessions under pressure from intimidating tactics. We don't know if the child has done anything wrong yet. Period. We do know that a tragedy has captured our attention.

blogless said...

Meant to say,

"Someone being so psychologically impaired during the commission of the crime.

TMink said...

Blogless, thanks for the clarification of my mistake. You are of course, absolutely correct. It is nice to have people with similar jobs to talk to!

Trey

Joan said...

We don't know if the child has done anything wrong yet.

Mark, you're saying that charges are being pressed with no evidence whatsoever? Against a kid?

They authorities must have substantial evidence to decide to go ahead and do this, knowing how it would be covered in the media. This is not the sort of thing that flies under anyone's radar anymore.

As the mother of three children, one of whom will be 8 years old very soon, I find this story horrifying. I can't imagine my little guy ever doing anything remotely like this. That kid needs help, but I wonder, having studied the same material that Trey has been talking about, whether anything can be done to help him at all.

blake said...

I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the *devil's* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... *evil*.

Cindy C said...

So, where was the biological mother during all of this? What influence did she have over the boy and his actions?

Ann Althouse said...

One of the articles said the father had full custody.

Cindy C said...

"Romero had full custody of the child. The boy's mother had visited St. Johns from Mississippi the previous weekend and returned to Arizona after the shootings, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon." So, the biological mother had been in St. John's just days before the shooting incident. I have a fairly wicked almost ex-sister-in-law who loves to plant ideas in her childrens' heads. Whose to say that this woman didn't stir the pot? I find it very unlikely that an 8 year old could come up with the idea of murder on his own. I have elementary aged children and know how disorganized children are. To plan such an event would be rare for a child his age. Of course, at 8 years old, I plotted to run away from a very stressful family life. However, I thought about the fact that I would only be brought back to my home by the police, so I didn't follow through. So, who knows! Maybe this kid was in such a stressful situation that his mind started thinking of ways to change his surroundings. Kids really don't think straight.

Cindy C said...

Correction - Who's instead of Whose

Can't believe I made that error!

TMink said...

Cindy asked "So, where was the biological mother during all of this? What influence did she have over the boy and his actions?"

It is funny, I was worrying about the lack of his mother and you were wondering about her causing trouble! At least nobody can accuse you and me of being sexist, we each were looking at the culpability of our own gender first!

Trey

Eli Blake said...

dTo answer the question,

The biological mother was in Mississippi, and is now back in St. Johns.

A guy I work with told me that his daughter's best friend's brother is best friends with the kid. Apparently his dad had grounded him for getting bad grades on his report card.

Cindy C said...

Thanks for the reply, eli blake. I'm sure this is affecting your family even more than it is affecting mine. All the best to you as you find the right things to say to your kids, to help them deal with the situation.