In Illinois, a 9 year old child was accused of starting a fire in mobile home (home on wheels) which killed 2 adults and 3 children is charged with first degree murder. This juvenile was also charged with 1 count of aggravated arson, and 2 counts of arson.
The incident took place on the 6th of April and killed 1 one year old, 2 two year olds, 1 sixty-nine year old woman, and 1 thirty-four year old man at Timberline Mobile Home Park close to the village of Goodfield which is about 240 kms SouthWest of Chicago.
Attorney Greg Minger, Woodford County State, did not reveal details about the accused, including if the victims were in any way related to the accused. AP/Northeastern University/USATODAY keeps a mass murder database and revealed that no child this young has ever been accused in any mass killing (at least) since 2006. They track all U.S. homicides since then wherein 4 or more people got killed (excluding the criminal) in under 24 hours, irrespective of the weapon used, victim-criminal relation, location or even motive.
Minger scoured several reports before starting the prosecution; Tim Ruestman, Woodford County’s Coroner said that the fire was intentional. Minger said, ‘It was a heavy decision, it’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day, it’s charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have. But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality’.
Gus Kostopoulos, former prosecutor turned juvenile defence lawyer in Chicago said it will be a major task for the prosecutors to prove that the child (accused) had formed an intent to kill prior to the mishap. He said, ‘9 year old don’t know that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. They don’t know people die and don’t come back to life, I don’t know if 9-year-olds can form intent to commit murder’.
Betsy Clark, president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, Evanston, Illinois, expressed her anger on the decision of charging a 9 year old with murder. She said ‘the charges are completely out of line, given everything we have learned … especially about the brain development of children’.
Clark was attending the formal release of a UN report on the prosecution of children which recommends that children who are under 14 years of age should never be prosecuted irrespective of the crimes they commit, had a telephonic interview with The Associated Press, saying, a lot of countries have determined 14 as the legal age of criminal responsibility, including Germany.
Illinois in 1890s became among the first places in the world to institute a juvenile court which exempted minors from the adult system. Clark said, ‘We used to be a world leader and now we are so far behind’, this case has tainted Illinois’ image, she said. Charges on these type of violent crimes against minors are rare, Clark said, she has not heard of other cases where kids this young were charged with as many counts of murders.
If this child is convicted, Minger said, could be kept under probation for a minimum of 5 years but not beyond 21 years of age. Counselling and Therapy are likely to be provided for the 9 year old. He added,’ Probation, given the age, is about the only outcome that could happen here’. There will be no arrest warrant issued for the suspect, an attorney will be appointed and the accused will be subject for a bench trial in presence of a judge. As per Illinois law, any suspect who is younger than 10 years shall not be detained and should not be given a public jury trial unless he/she has been charged as an adult.
However, murder case against a child under 10 years of age is rare, yet not unprecedented. Last month, a case was dismissed by a Michigan Judge where, yet again, a 9 year old boy was accused of gravely shooting his mother near Strugis in their home. Judge David Tomlinson of the St. Joseph County Family Division, ruled that the boy must be presumed incompetent for trial as he has not turned 10 yet as per Michigan law. The judge added, ‘This case disturbs me more than any case I’ve ever dealt with’.