updated 2/15/2005 11:19:42 PM ET 2005-02-16T04:19:42

A 12-year-old girl is accused of killing her 9-year-old sister in a dispute over a hamburger.

The girl was charged with murder under the juvenile code, and a Family Court judge will decide if she should be tried as an adult, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

The sisters were home alone on Dec. 22 when the older girl reported finding her sister lifeless on the floor. Authorities could find no evidence of violence, and Medical Examiner Michael Graham ruled the cause of death undetermined.

But police received a phone call from a social worker Feb. 1 saying the older sister was in a hospital psychiatric unit suffering visions and nightmares. Police said she told staff at the hospital that she strangled her sister during a quarrel over a hamburger.

On Monday, Graham ruled the case a homicide and said the victim had injuries on her neck that were consistent with strangulation.

The 12-year-old remains hospitalized and could be placed in a juvenile center as early as this week. The newspaper did not use her name.

If convicted as a juvenile, the maximum penalty would be confinement until her 21st birthday.

“It’s got to be devastating for the mother,” detective Tim Reagan said. “I can’t imagine losing a child to the hands of a sibling.”

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