8-Year-Old: 'I Shot My Dad' but Experts Say Miranda Rights Violated

Experts say 8-year-old murder suspect's rights violated in video interrogation.

Nov. 19, 2008 — -- A video in which an 8-year-old Arizona boy apparently confessed to shooting his father may not be admissible as evidence in court, experts told ABC News.

The hour-long video shows two female police officers talking with the boy, who did not have legal counsel or another adult present. In the video, the officers also failed to advise the child of his right to remain silent or to be represented by a lawyer.

After the apparent confession Nov. 6, the boy was charged with two counts of premeditated murder for allegedly shooting his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and his father's friend, 39-year-old Timothy Romans, with a .22 rifle.

"I think that whoever is going to be representing [the boy] is going to knock that [the video] out with a feather," said Lynne Gold-Bikin, former chairwoman of the American Bar Association's section of family law. "Everything was violated. That's really outrageous."

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.

"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 in the video. "He was on the ground, and then I reloaded it."

That confession, however clearly stated, might not ever be shown in court because of what experts said was a violation of the child's juvenile Miranda rights.

"He should not have been questioned without an adult being there," said Meridith Sopher, who works in the juvenile rights practice at 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."

The line between a witness, to whom police legally do not have to read rights, and a potential suspect is often a blurry one. But according to Monica Lindstrom, a former Arizona prosecutor, in this case it was clear.

"They're questioning him like he's a suspect or a defendant," she told ABC News. "Those kinds of questions, saying, 'Well, I heard a story that ...' -- those are all things that you do in an interrogation. The defense will argue that since his rights were violated, the confession should be suppressed."

"Once he changed from a witness to a suspect, they had to stop the interrogation and give him notice," agreed Gold-Bikin.

If the defense challenges the admission of the video as evidence, a judge would determine whether or not it is allowed. The consequences of such a decision could present a major advantage to either side.

"If [the judge] kicks it out -- the video and confession -- that's a big plus for the defense," Lindstrom said. "Now the prosecution needs more than the confession; they need forensic evidence. If it does come in, the kid's pretty much a delinquent and guilty. It's a big decision."

Kid's Inconsistent Story Follows Officers' 'Lead'

At the start of the questioning, 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," he said.

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.

Lindstrom said it is possible the boy just followed along with the officers' occasional leading questions and statements.

"She'd ask him a question, get a response and then ask it again," she said. "When she said that she heard a story, that's when she's really kind of leading him."

The boy told police he often got in trouble at home for "lying," which brings the validity of the confession even further into question, Gold-Bikin said.

"Kids are very susceptible," she said. "Here's a kid who wants to please. First he says maybe. They had him change his story. Which part of it was the lie?"

Judge: Boy Can Visit Mom

A judge today ruled that the boy can 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.

Why Do Kids Kill?

Experts familiar with parental murders by young children, but who were 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 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 refused to let him go outside to play.