US courts have ruled that a boy accused of murdering his father’s pregnant girlfriend, whose brains were blown out with a shotgun the boy received as a Christmas present, must stand trial as an adult despite only being 11 when the crime was committed.
Prosecutors intend to charge him with first degree murder, carrying a possible life sentence without possibility of parole.
The 11-year-old boy lived on a Pennsylvania farm with his father, his father’s 26-year-old girlfriend and her children.
He is alleged to have become jealous of the attention the unborn child was likely to receive, having already been told to move out of his room to accommodate the baby.
Prosecutors allege he then decided to kill the mother, who was shot in the back of the head as she slept, with his shotgun.
He had apparently been given the “designed for children” 20-gauge shotgun as a Christmas present.
Both mother and the 8-month-old foetus expired as a result of the wound. The woman’s body was later discovered by her 4-year-old daughter, who alerted nearby adults.
The boy is said to have hid the gun under a blanket to avoid being spotted by one of the victim’s daughters prior to the shooting, and to have later thrown the spent casing from the shot into a ditch on his way to school.
Prosecutors are adamant the boy, now 12, bears criminal responsibility for the crime as grave as any adult:
“This offence was an execution-style killing of a defenceless pregnant young mother. A more horrific crime is difficult to imagine.”
He faces charges of one count of first degree murder and another of the “homicide” of an unborn child, carrying a possible life sentence, both of which he denies. He escapes the death penalty, which the state limits to those over 14.
A prosecution psychiatrist interrogating the child found he “minimised” the allegations against him, and the judge accepted these arguments in ruling that he would not be eligible for a juvenile trial as he was insufficiently remorseful for the crimes he is accused of (but denies committing).
The judge remarked that a refusal to admit the (unproven) allegations means the boy is unlikely to be fit for rehabilitation:
“Rehabilitation within the confines of the juvenile court jurisdiction [is] likely to be unsuccessful”
Pennsylvania law allows anyone over 10 charged with murder to be tried as an adult, though the boy’s legal defence argues that a child so young could not possibly be tried as such, and say they will appeal the ruling.
Lawyers also point out that denying him a juvenile trial because he refuses to admit to his crimes fully is likely to be a violation of his constitutional rights.
The mother of the murdered woman is vengefully dismissive about the legal fracas surrounding the case:
“There was no reason for uncertainty in our eyes. We’re pleased.”
The case raises issues wider than just the age of criminal responsibility, which varies wildly in the developed world and even between states – an 11-year-old boy is apparently fully responsible for his actions should he kill someone, but on the other hand unable to consent to sex or much else.
Media and courts also appear to have conveniently overlooked the issue of who allowed an 11-year-old boy to have his own shotgun.