Nov. 19, 2008 -- 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.
A Child's Alleged Confession
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.
Why Do Kids Kill?
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.
"The vast majority of parricides -- the murder of a parent -- committed by minors involve physical abuse and generally involve teenagers. Seventy-five percent of such murders involve boys who kill their fathers and 15 percent involve boys who kill their mothers," said Mones, who has defended hundreds of minors in 25 years of practice, though none younger than 10.
The most recent previous case of an 8-year-old killing his parent occurred in August 1990, when a Pennsylvania boy found his father beating his mother. The boy repeatedly plunged an 8-inch kitchen knife into the back of his father William Jones, 59.
A coroner's jury cleared the boy in the stabbing after authorities urged a finding of justifiable homicide.
Psychologists said that besides abuse, mental illness or even simple feelings of frustration could set off a child and lead him to kill.
"We don't yet know what was going on in that house, so it is hard to know exactly why this child reacted the way he did," said Naftali Berrill, a forensic psychologist who specializes in juvenile perpetrators.
"Was he molested? Was he being beaten? Did he shoot his father because his father frustrated him, because he wouldn't let him play a video game?" Berrill asked.
The idea that a child would be led to murder because his desires were frustrated may seem far fetched, but in 1989 a 10-year-old boy in Houston fatally shot his father and wounded his mother after they would not let him go outside to play.