A judge will allow an 8-year-old boy accused of killing his father and another man in rural eastern Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his biological mother.
The decision came despite prosecutors' objections, but Judge Michael Roca agreed to allow the boy to leave juvenile detention from noon on Nov. 26 until noon on Nov. 28.
Roca said if the boy did not return to detention on time, arrest warrants would be issued for him and his mother. The judge also mandated there be no guns or knives in the home while the boy is free.
The child faces two counts of murder in the Nov. 5 deaths of his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans, who was renting a room in the family's two-story home in St. Johns, Ariz. Prior to the shootings, the child was living with his father and stepmother.
In an hourlong interrogation video released by the Arizona Prosecutor's Office, the boy apparently confesses to shooting his father, but said it was because his father was already "suffering."
The reported confession came about 40 minutes into the tape, after the boy had changed his story several times about the events of Nov. 5 that led to the death of his father and his father's friend. Police interrogated him without legal counsel present.
"I went upstairs and then I saw my dad and then I got the gun and then I fired it at my dad," the boy said calmly. "He was on the ground and then I reloaded it."
When police asked whether the boy had shot his father because he was mad at him, he offered a noncommittal "hmm," but said he is in trouble "most of the time" at home, mostly for lying.
Despite the reported confession, juvenile defenders expressed concern that the boy was coerced into changing his story, limiting its value in court.
"He should not have been questioned without an adult being there," said Meridith Sopher who works in the juvenile rights practice of the Legal Aid Society. "I think as the interview progresses there are clearly points where they should have stopped it and gotten him an attorney."
At the start of the interrogation, the boy said he was not in the house when his father and his father's friend were shot and guessed that "someone bad" from "down the street" had probably done it.
"I wasn't shooting any guns," he said. Then, after police told him they could tell if he had shot a gun, he began to retrace his steps. "I think I may have shot the gun."
The child said he shot his father only after he found him upstairs already shot with "like a puddle of blood around his head." He said he shot him "because he was suffering. ... I didn't want him to suffer," he said.
Experts familiar with parental murders by young children, but not involved in this case, said abuse is almost always a factor in such crimes.
According to FBI statistics, there were 62 cases between 1976 and 2005 in which children, aged 7 or 8 were arrested on murder charges. Of those, parents were the victims in just two cases.
"The number of homicides committed by children under 11 is infinitesimal. These are very rare events," said Paul Mones, the only lawyer in the country whose clients consist exclusively of children accused of killing their parents.