A 9-year-old Arizona boy made up his own mind to plead guilty to a single charge of negligent homicide, the boy's attorney, Ron Wood, said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" today.
The boy had originally entered a plea of not guilty on charges of double homicide for allegedly shooting his father and another man, but the deal allowed him to plead guilty to one count of negligent murder of the other man. The boy's mother was reportedly against the deal and claimed her son was not old enough to understand the agreement.
"He has to make the decision of how he wants to proceed," Wood told "GMA." "As long as we're going to continue to prosecute children, they're going to have to make that decision. ... That's what my young client wanted to do."
According to Wood, Arizona Superior Court Judge Michael Roca determined that the boy was competent to make the decision and his plea was accepted.
The prosecutors decided to drop the charge against the boy for killing his father so he would have a "chance at a normal life," Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting told The Associated Press Thursday.
"How is he going to deal with 'I pleaded guilty to killing my dad?'" Whiting said.
The plea deal allows the boy to undergo psychiatric evaluation with the possibility that he could avoid incarceration.
In the deal with state prosecutors, two charges of premeditated murder in the death of the two men were dropped in exchange for the admission that the boy shot and killed his father's friend.
In return, Whiting wants the boy to undergo extensive mental evaluation and treatment. The plea agreement says any detention will be at the discretion of the court.
The boy will also undergo diagnostic evaluations and mental health examinations at 12, 15 and 17 years old. The reviews are intended partly to determine whether the boy will pose a continuing danger to others.
"There has to be a determination made that there will not be any future danger," the boy's other defense attorney, Benjamin Brewer, told "GMA."
Brewer said the boy would receive education, but if and when he joins other children in a classroom has yet to be determined.
The boy appeared Thursday morning in Apache County Superior Court in St. Johns, Ariz., wearing jeans, a short-sleeve button-down shirt and hiking boots.
Observers in the courtroom described his mood as upbeat as he took a seat next to his mother.
The young shooting suspect had previously pleaded not guilty to the murder charges stemming from the Nov. 5 deaths of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39.
The boy could still potentially serve time in a county incarceration facility.
"It's a compromise. No one is really pleased," Brewer told The Associated Press after the hearing.
Whiting said he "had a hard time believing" that the guardian wasn't aware of the plea deal, and the judge accepted the plea despite the mother's concerns.
Police said the boy, who was 8 at the time, used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot the two men. He patiently reloaded the weapon and fired multiple times after they returned home from work.
The boy, whose name has not been released because of his age, confessed during an hour-long interrogation video released by the Arizona's Prosecutor's Office.
In the video, he admitted to the shooting after about 40 minutes of questioning but said it was because his father was already "suffering."