Arizona 9-year-old pleads guilty in shooting death

By: AP
By: AP

ST. JOHNS, Ariz. (AP) -- A 9-year-old boy accused of methodically shooting his father and his father's roommate to death last fall pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of negligent homicide, settling the case that shocked the nation.

Under a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty in the death of the roommate and two charges of premeditated murder for both deaths were dropped. Police said the boy used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot the men as they returned home from work Nov. 5.

The boy's plea spares the rural community of about 4,000 from what would have been an emotional trial and prevents the boy from serving time in the state juvenile corrections system or being tried as an adult.

The boy has not yet been sentenced. He could be sent to the county juvenile system, which would keep him close to his relatives. Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting wants the boy to undergo extensive mental evaluations and treatment, an option allowed by the plea agreement.

"It's a compromise - no one is really pleased," defense attorney Benjamin Brewer said after the hearing.

The boy's mother objected to the plea deal, but Superior Court Judge Michael Roca accepted it.

The boy was 8 when he was accused of shooting his 29-year-old father, Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans, who rented a room from Romero.

Police in St. Johns found Romero and Romans shot to death after he ran to a neighbor's house. The boy was questioned after Romans' wife raised suspicions about him, and in a videotape released by prosecutors, he admitted pulling the trigger.

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

Prosecutors and defense attorneys struggled with what to do with a child who was charged with murder while he was so young. Talk of a plea deal emerged less than a month after the shootings, but Brewer said at the time that he was unsure of his client's ability to understand the proceedings.

The boy is currently free from custody on furlough. He is due back in court for a pre-sentencing hearing on March 5.

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