Plea deal offered to 8-year-old murder suspect

PHOENIX (AP) -- Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to an 8-year-old boy charged with murder in the shooting deaths of his father and another man in their eastern Arizona home, court records show.

Complete details of the offer weren't spelled out in a court filing posted Saturday on the Apache County Superior Court's Web site.

But County Attorney Criss Candelaria wrote that he has "tendered a plea offer to the juvenile's attorneys that would resolve all the charges in the juvenile court contingent on the results of the mental health evaluations."

Candelaria was responding to a defense motion seeking to block him from dropping one of two first-degree murder charges the boy faces in the deaths of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39, earlier this month.

Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer argued in a filing Tuesday that prosecutors wanted the charge dismissed so they could refile it when the boy was older and pursue case in adult court.

Brewer said Saturday that the deal would resolve the case without it being transferred to adult court, but he declined to provide additional details. Although he is considering the offer, Brewer said he is unsure of his client's ability to understand the proceedings. At least two mental health evaluations are yet to be completed.

The prosecutor explained in his response to Brewer's opposition filing that he wasn't trying to obtain an unfair advantage, but he pressed for the dismissal because the judicial system isn't equipped to deal with an 8-year-old charged with murder.

"It is done to ensure that the juvenile and the two murder victims in this case do not fall through the cracks in the system that might occur if both charges remain in the pending delinquency petition," Candelaria wrote.

Candelaria explained that the boy could be found incompetent to stand trial, and if that happened, the court's options would be limited.

The court would be required to order efforts to restore the boy to competency, but if that couldn't be done within about eight months, the judge would be required by law to dismiss the criminal case and bar it from being refiled.

The court would then be required to initiate civil commitment proceedings, Candelaria wrote. If the boy is found incompetent because of his age, he wouldn't fit the definition of a mentally disordered person and no treatment would be available.

"Such a result denies the victims and public of any sense of justice for these heinous murders," Candelaria wrote. "It also denies the juvenile the rehabilitative services that he apparently needs to both deal with why he was capable of committing these murders and to assist him with the grief and remorse that he is probably feeling."

Police in St. Johns found Romero and Romans shot to death after the boy ran to a neighbor's house on Nov. 5. The boy was questioned after Romans' wife raised suspicions about him the next day, and in a videotape released by prosecutors, he admits pulling the trigger. Both men were shot several times with a .22-caliber rifle.

Romans worked with Romero and rented a room in his home.

Police reports say the boy told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last.

The boy is being held in a county juvenile facility, although he was allowed to spend Thanksgiving with his mother.

Brewer said the boy is back in custody. The next court hearing is set for Dec. 8.

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