January 6, 2009

Prosecutor will not use 9-year-old's confession

The 4-year-old boy making news today for shooting his babysitter harkens back to the 9-year-old Arizona boy who shot his father and another man to death back in November. In both cases, competency will be a central issue. Although the 4-year-old has not been arrested and in any event is highly unlikely to ever be found competent to stand trial, the 9-year-old's case is still undecided.

That earlier case was back in court yet again today, in one in a series of developments of interest to forensic psychologists.

St. Johns, Arizona - site of the November shooting

At this latest hearing, prosecutors agreed not to use the boy's videotaped statement to police. The defense had argued that the boy was illegally questioned without an attorney or a family member present; after all, the typical 9-year-old child is unlikely to grasp the implications of the Miranda warnings and intelligently waive his rights.

While in custody after the Nov. 5 killings, the boy also told a Child Protective Services worker that he had decided his thousandth spanking would be his last, according to police reports. Prosecutors agreed to suppress that statement as well. Prosecutors said they reserve the right to use either or both statements if the boy testifies in contradiction to them.

However, whether the unidentified boy will ever face trial is unknown, as the judge has not yet ruled on his competency. A psychologist who examined the boy for the defense opined that he is incompetent to stand trial due to his age and intelligence, and that he is unlikely to become competent within the time allowed by law.

If a judge finds the boy is incompetent and unable to be restored to competency within 240 days, the case could be dropped with prejudice, meaning it could not be refiled. If the boy is found fit to stand trial, he will likely face a bench trial in front of Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca.

He also has been examined by a prosecution expert, but those results haven't yet been disclosed.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 21. I'm sure residents of St. Johns wish it was all over, as the town has been besieged by the media. Now, with the even more sensational case of the 4-year-old, whose babysitter allegedly stepped on his foot, maybe the camera crews will pack up and head for Jackson, Ohio instead.

Related background materials:

Videotape of confession (partial)

St. Johns, Arizona police report (pdf)

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