A 9-year-old charged with killing his father and another man has been offered a plea deal that would spare him any jail time, his attorney said Thursday.
"We aren't going to sign him up for prison," defense attorney Benjamin Brewer said. "We would never do that."
Brewer declined to offer specifics, including what plea the boy could enter and whether it would involve the two counts of premeditated murder he faces. A change of plea hearing was scheduled for Feb. 19, but Brewer said his client must still accept the deal.
"We believe this agreement addresses any potential needs out there as well as secures he does not get messed up going to juvenile corrections, or adult prison for that manner," Brewer said.
Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
.22-caliber rifle used
The boy was arrested and charged after authorities said he used a .22-caliber rifle Nov. 5 to kill his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans, a co-worker of Romero's who lived with the family in St. Johns. The boy, 8 years old at the time of the shooting, has been in and out of juvenile custody since his arrest.
A spokesman for the Romans family, John Andreas, hasn't objected to the boy receiving treatment, but he said Thursday that the boy should be jailed until he's at least 18.
Romans' two daughters weep over their father's grave each weekend on the San Carlos Apache reservation, and anxiety attacks awaken Romans' wife at night, he said.
The boy, who has pleaded not guilty, acknowledged in a videotaped police interview that he shot the men. He told police that he had been spanked five times the night before the shootings because he didn't bring home some papers from school. While in custody, he told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last, according to police reports.
The defense argued that the boy was illegally questioned without an attorney or relative present, and prosecutors said they would not show a jury the video unless the boy testified and contradicted his statements.
Not fit for trial?
Brewer said the deal was drafted by prosecutors. He wouldn't discuss what could happen to the boy if he accepts the plea, but said a juvenile who is tried in court could be put on probation, go to a foster home or be sent to a home for treatment.
In late November, prosecutors wrote in court documents that a plea deal had been offered to the boy that would resolve the charges in juvenile court. That deal was contingent on the results of mental health evaluations.
A defense-nominated expert later indicated the boy's age and intelligence level meant he wouldn't be fit for a trial. Two experts who evaluated the boy are still scheduled to testify on Feb. 27.
Prosecutors drafted the latest plea agreement, and Brewer said Thursday that attorneys began discussing it about a month ago. The discussions led to two delays of a hearing on a request by prosecutors to drop one of the murder charges against the boy before the request was vacated Thursday.
Defense attorneys were in a tight spot. If Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca granted the prosecution's request, it would have allowed prosecutors to refile the charge when the boy is older and try him as an adult.
Brewer said he didn't want to risk having a charge looming in the future and the boy not receiving any treatment. Brewer said attorneys were dealing with a number of unknowns in a case that didn't seem to have any guidelines.
"Sure we could have went to trial and potentially won, but that's a heck of the roll of the dice," he said.
Missouri teen acquitted
Also Thursday, jurors acquitted a teen who was one of the youngest people ever charged with murder in Missouri.
The jurors deliberated for about 7 1/2 hours Thursday before finding 15-year-old Owen Welty not guilty of second-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Welty was just 13 years old when he was accused in 2006 of killing 64-year-old Don McCollough, who was found shot to death on his farm in Stoddard County. The case was heard in St. Louis County on a change of venue.
Prosecutor Briney Welborn said during closing arguments Thursday that Welty had the telescopic rifle, the opportunity and the motive to kill his neighbor.
But defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said a rush to judgment put the boy behind bars for more than two years.