8-Year Old Accused of Killing Father, Another Man
November 7, 2008
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) -- An 8-year-old boy is charged with murder in the shooting of his father and another man in a rural community in eastern Arizona, authorities said Friday.
The boy was charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the death of his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans, St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said.
Police arrived at the home within minutes of the shooting Wednesday, Melnick said. They found one victim just outside the front door and the other dead in an upstairs room.
The boy, who prosecutors say had never been in trouble before, initially denied involvement in the shooting but later confessed, Melnick said.
Police have not said what they think the boy's motive was.
Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer argued Friday that police overreached in questioning the boy without representation from a parent or attorney and did not advise him of his rights.
"They became very accusing early on in the interview," Brewer said. "Two officers with guns at their side, it's very scary for anybody, for sure an 8-year-old kid."
A judge determined at a hearing Friday that there was probable cause to believe the boy committed the killings. He is being held at the Apache County juvenile detention center.
St. Johns is a community of about 4,000 people about 170 miles northeast of Phoenix.
Slain father taught boy to use guns, priest says
November 8, 2008
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) -- A man who police believe was shot and killed by his 8-year-old son had consulted a Roman Catholic priest about whether the boy should have a gun and had taught him how to use firearms, the clergyman said.
The Very Rev. John Paul Sauter said the man, Vincent Romero, 29, wanted his son to learn how to hunt, but the boy's stepmother, Tiffany, suggested that he have a BB gun.
Police say the boy used a 22.-caliber rifle Wednesday to kill his father and another man, Timothy Romans, 39, of San Carlos.
Romero was an avid hunter who taught his son how to use a rifle to kill prairie dogs, said Sauter, of St. Johns Catholic Church.
"He wanted to make sure the kid wasn't afraid of guns, knew how to handle it," the priest said. "He was just too young. ... That child, I don't think he knows what he did, and it was brutal."
The boy, who faces two counts of premeditated murder, did not act on the spur of the moment, St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said.
"I'm not accusing anybody of anything at this point," he said Saturday. "But we're certainly going to look at the abuse part of this. He's 8 years old. He just doesn't decide one day that he's going to shoot his father and shoot his father's friend for no reason. Something led up to this."
On Friday, a judge ordered a psychological evaluation of the boy. Under Arizona law, charges can be filed against anyone 8 or older.
The boy had no record of complaints with Arizona Child Protective Services, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon.
"He had no record of any kind, not even a disciplinary record at school," he said. "He has never been in trouble before."
In a sign of the emotional and legal complexities of the case, police are pushing to have the boy tried as an adult even as they investigate possible abuse, Melnick said. If convicted as a minor, the boy could be sent to juvenile detention until he turns 18.
Watch an expert's take on the situation »
Police had responded to calls of domestic violence at the Romero home, but authorities were searching records Saturday to determine when those calls were placed, Melnick said.
"We're going to use every avenue of the law that's available to us, but we're also looking at the human side," he said.
Melnick said officers arrived at Romero's home within minutes of the shooting Wednesday in St. Johns, which has a population of about 4,000 and is 170 miles northeast of Phoenix. They found one victim just outside the front door and the other dead in an upstairs room.
Romans had been renting a room at the Romero house, prosecutors said. Both men were employees of a construction company working at a power plant near St. Johns.
The boy went to a neighbor's house and said he "believed that his father was dead," Carlyon said.
Melnick said police got a confession, but the boy's attorney, Benjamin Brewer, said police overreached in questioning the boy without representation from a parent or attorney and did not advise him of his rights.
"They became very accusing early on in the interview," Brewer said. "Two officers with guns at their side, it's very scary for anybody, for sure an 8-year-old kid."
Prosecutors aren't sure where the case is headed, Carlyon said.
"There's a ton of factors to be considered and weighed, including the juvenile's age," he said. "The counterbalance against that, the acts that he apparently committed."
FBI statistics show that instances of children younger than 11 committing homicides are very rare. According to recent FBI supplementary homicide reports, there were at least three such cases each year in 2003, 2004 and 2005; there were at least 15 in 2002. More recent statistics weren't available, nor were details of the cases.
Earlier this year in Arizona, prosecutors in Cochise County filed first-degree murder charges against a 12-year-old boy accused of killing his mother.
Romero had full custody of the child. The boy's biological mother visited St. Johns during the weekend from Mississippi and returned to Arizona after the shootings, Carlyon said.
Family members declined to speak on the record.
Brewer said the boy "seems to be in good spirits."
"He's scared," he said. "He's trying to be tough, but he's scared."
"I don't think this church is big enough to handle it all," said the Very Rev. John Paul Sauter of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39, a co-worker who also rented a room from him, were found dead inside Romero's home -- one at the entrance and one in an upstairs room. Police charged Romero's son with two counts of premeditated murder.
"The recent tragedy in our community has been very sad, an incident that makes us ask 'Why?' yet pulls our citizens together with love and support," said Ross Overson, mayor of the town in eastern Arizona. "Without exception, the entire community has been affected by this tragic loss. No community can begin to understand how something like this could happen."
Ask anyone here, and chances are they know a member of the Romero family.
"Everybody knows them because there's like 100 of them," said Marybeth Ellsworth, who played the piano at Romero's wedding in September. "They're very well-liked in the community."
A prayer service was scheduled Sunday for Romero, and his funeral Mass was set for Monday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Resident Flynt Smith said Romero and Romans were "the best neighbors we've ever had." They helped out when he was installing sprinklers in his yard and when his roof needed repairs, he said.
Such relationships are common in St. Johns, a town of about 4,000 people 170 miles northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, helping draw new people to the community and ensuring that those who were born there stick around as longtime residents, said Smith's wife, Amber.
"I feel you help each other raise each other's children, and you don't see that anymore," she said.
Chelsie Jaramillo, who moved into the house across the street from Vincent Romero just two weeks ago with her husband and two children, said Romero's wife, Tiffany, welcomed her and told her to holler if she ever needed anything.
"They were really nice," said Jaramillo, 19.
At St. John the Baptist, Romero sang in the choir and his wife had also signed up. The couple spent two years preparing for marriage, and when they tied the knot in September the "church was packed," Sauter said.
"Because both their parents were divorced, they wanted to make sure their marriage lasted until death -- and it did," Sauter said.
Romero had full custody of the 8-year-old boy and the marriage made Tiffany Romero his stepmother. The boy's mother had visited St. Johns from Mississippi last weekend and returned to Arizona after the shootings that took place Wednesday, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon.
Only two others have been killed in the town in the past 20 years.
"We're still in shock," said Carl Hamblin, who used to coach Romero in Little League. "This is so out of the norm, and to this day, I don't believe it could happen again."
Residents, religious organizations, the school district and local businesses were preparing food for the family and offering support and counseling to everyone affected by what Overson calls an "unexplainable heartache."
"God, time and the gracious service of our residents will heal each of us as we move forward," Overson said. "That is what our city is about."
An 8-year-old Arizona boy suspected in the deaths of his father and another man can be heard in a videotape of his police interview telling officers that he shot both men after he came home from school.
Authorities released the tape Tuesday.
The boy, sitting cross-legged in an overstuffed armchair, initially denied involvement in the shootings but later said he shot his already wounded father "because he was suffering."
The two officers questioning the boy press him to tell the truth, with one saying at one point, "If you're not honest with me, if you're not truthful, it's not going to look good."
The boy later appears to admit to shooting his father, saying, "After I shot him once he was still moving, I think I shot him again."
He says on the tape he shot both men twice.
Police released the first 12 minutes of the tape, which did not include the alleged confession, earlier Tuesday and released the remainder of the tape late Tuesday afternoon.
The boy is charged with killing his father, Vincent Romero, 29, along with Tim Romans, 39, a man who rented a room in Romero's home in St. Johns, Arizona. Police have said the boy confessed to shooting the men with a .22-caliber handgun.
At the end of the footage, the boy buries his face in his jacket as one officer asks, "You OK, sweetie?"
The officers ask whether the boy was mad at his father, but the answer is not audible.
A judge issued a gag order in the case, preventing police, prosecutors or defense attorneys from commenting on it.
He later modified it, allowing public records -- which included the tape -- to be released, Apache County Attorney Christopher Candelaria said.
"We released it because it becomes a public record, and we're obligated to release it," Candelaria said, refusing to elaborate on why the tape was a public record in an ongoing police investigation.
The boy has not entered a plea to the murder charges. One of his defense attorneys said he was not read his rights and did not have an attorney or a parent present during questioning and said that was improper. Police have not responded to those claims.
"They became very accusing early on in the interview," defense attorney Ben Brewer told The Associated Press last week. "Two officers with guns at their side, it's very scary for anybody, for sure an 8-year-old kid."
In the first 12 minutes of the tape, the boy tells police he decided to walk around the block "like nine or 10 times" before going home -- something he does on Mondays and Wednesdays "because my mom doesn't get off until 5."
He said he was about two houses down from his home when he saw a white car "driving pretty fast" in front of his house. Then, he said, he saw Romans lying on the ground. The boy said he ran over to Romans, then ran inside the house calling for his father.
"I said, 'Dad, Dad,' " the boy said. "And then I went upstairs, and then I saw him, and there was blood all over his face, and I think I touched it ... and I didn't hear anything, and I just saw blood and I cried for about 30 minutes, just crying right next to him."
On the tape, the child continued to deny being home when the slayings took place.
"You're sure?" one officer asks. "Because I heard something that somebody said that somebody was calling your name and you weren't answering."
The boy said he eventually ran to the house of a girl he knows and told her brother that his father was dead, "and so he called his dad ... and we called you guys."
Romans' truck was parked in the driveway, the boy said, and the door was open.
Police said last week they were attempting to discern a motive in the slayings.
"We solved the crime," St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick told KPHO. "Now we have to solve the mystery of why."
Free the eight-year-old alleged killer
NEW YORK–The debate over whether the eight-year-old Arizona boy should be prosecuted as an adult or as a juvenile misses the point entirely: he should not be prosecuted at all.
Most of the civilized world recognizes that children are not criminally responsible for their actions until they reach a level of maturity such that they can clearly distinguish between right and wrong. In the United States, 37 states, including Arizona, have no minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted.
We thus treat our own children more severely than does Pakistan, Myanmar, or Sudan, which fix their age of criminal responsibility at seven. The age of criminal responsibility in France is 13; China, Germany, Italy and Japan, 14; in Scandinavian countries, 15; Brazil, Colombia and Peru, 18. And in most of these countries, young offenders are tried in juvenile courts and provided with social services upon conviction, with incarceration as a last resort.
In the United States, 25,000 young offenders are now serving time for crimes committed as minors but for which they were charged and convicted as adults. These young people are eight times more likely to commit suicide behind bars and five times more likely to become victims of sexual assault than their adult counterparts.
Real questions have emerged from the videotaped interrogation as to whether this third-grader has now given a false confession. But even assuming he was the shooter, pinning any legal blame on him is absurd. Bringing police and incarceration to bear upon a young child whose feet dangle well above the floor is not only cruel to him, it distracts us from the real issues.
Arizona’s lax gun laws do not require adults to keep their guns away from children, or even to install trigger locks. As long as we allow angry or confused kids access to guns, we will have gun deaths. Are we so afraid to address the real issue that we’d prosecute a little boy?
–Lisa Bloom, In Session anchor
NEW YORK–Twelve minutes of video have just been released, showing the eight-year-old Arizona boy accused of double murder doing something surprising: calmly answering police questions after the killings, denying any involvement.
I’ve watched all of the video that’s been released, and the boy certainly comes across as consistent and believable in his denials. He says he came home from school to find the bloody bodies of his father and his father’s friend. He touched his father’s body to see if he was “a little bit alive,” then cried, then ran to a neighbor’s house for help. He said a car sped away from the scene.
Authorities say that the boy confessed to the premeditated killing. If he did, it’s not on the portion of the tape I saw. Which raises more disturbing questions, namely, how reliable is the confession of an eight year old when he’s questioned at length by police without an attorney, parent or guardian present? What kind of people are we to try this boy as an adult, as Arizona authorities are considering, when he would never be treated as an adult in any other context?
At least the interrogation was videotaped, so the judge can watch it all and decide whether the boy was susceptible to suggestion. Children that young will tell adults what they want to hear, without any appreciation of the long-term consequences. Let’s not prejudge this boy until the facts are clear.
–Lisa Bloom, In Session anchor
Charged Boy Tallied Spankings
November 27, 2008
ST. JOHNS, Ariz. -- An Arizona boy charged in the shooting deaths of his father and another man kept a ledger of his spankings and told a Child Protective Services worker that when he reached 1,000, that would be his limit, according to a newly released police report.
In an affidavit for a search warrant, Sgt. Lucas Rodriguez writes that the boy "is believed to have made ledgers and or communicated in the form of writings about his intentions." He said the boy tallied the spankings on a piece of paper
Police have said the boy planned and methodically carried out the killings of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39, who rented a room in the family's two-story home in the small eastern Arizona community of St. Johns.
Documents show that Romero was shot four times, and Romans was shot six times.
In another police report released Wednesday, the boy's grandmother told police that if any 8-year-old was capable of the crimes, the boy was.
Other documents were released Wednesday by the Apache County prosecutor's office. In one of them, St. Johns police Chief Roy Melnick said that Liz Romero, also known as Liz Castillo, shouted out angrily when she was told the boy would be arrested in the Nov. 5 killings.
She said she "knew this would happen" and said she had a feeling the boy committed the crimes.
"They were too hard on him," the police report quoted her as saying. "He spent the night in my bed cuddling up to me. I had a feeling he did it."
She also said "if any 8-year-old boy is capable of doing this it's (the boy)."
The boy was released from juvenile detention on Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with his mother.
Judge Michael Roca granted a 48-hour furlough to the boy last week during a hearing in Apache County. The boy is to return to custody by noon on Friday.
If he doesn't, Roca says an arrest warrant will be issued for the boy and his mother, Eryn Bloomfield.
An attorney for the boy, Benjamin Brewer, says he's hopeful the boy will have a good time while he's out.
Roca has said the boy must stay within a certain area in Apache County and no knives, video games or cable television can be in the home where he's staying.
A status conference in the case is scheduled Dec. 8.
Plea Deal Offer To Charged Boy, 8
November 29, 2008
ST. JOHNS, Ariz. -- 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 St. Johns home.
Complete details of the offer aren't spelled out in a court filing posted on the Apache County Superior Court's Web site on Saturday.
But Apache County Attorney Chriss Candelaria writes 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."
CBS 5 News spoke with one of the boy's attorneys who said they're not making any decisions or statements about the plea offer until those mental evaluations come back.
Candelaria was responding to a defense motion seeking to block him from dropping one of two first-degree murder charges the boy is facing for the Nov. 5 shooting deaths of his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans.
The boy is back in police custody after the court allowed him a 48-hour furlough to spend Thanksgiving with his mother.
Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer argued in a Nov. 25 filing that prosecutors wanted the charge dismissed so they could refile it when the boy was older and press the case in adult court.
Brewer said Saturday that the deal would resolve the case without it being transferred to adult court, although 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.
"It is going to be difficult to assess what (the boy) can or cannot enter into," Brewer said on Saturday. "But certainly we're looking at it."
In Arizona, those convicted as juveniles can only be held until they turn 18. The law allows prosecutions of juveniles age 8 and above as adults.
The prosecutor explained in his response to Brewer's opposition filing that he wasn't trying to obtain an unfair advantage, but pressed for the dismissal because the judicial system just 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 the small eastern Arizona town of St. Johns found Romero and Romans shot to death after the boy ran to a neighbor's house on the afternoon of Nov. 5. He was questioned after Romans' wife raised suspicions about him the next day, and in a videotape released by prosecutors he admits pulling the trigger. Romans worked with Romero and rented a room in his home.
Each man was shot several times with a single-shot, bolt-action .22-caliber rifle.
His grandmother told police that if any 8-year-old was capable of the crimes, it was him. Police reports say the boy told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last.
The next court hearing is set for Dec. 8.
Police records reveal that investigators considered several other possibilities for the double slaying. Officers said they looked into whether the home had been burglarized and if either victim had problems at work, but quickly narrowed the case to the boy, records stated.
His stepmom Tiffany also spoke to police about a possible incident with the boy's biological mother. A commander's report said, "Tiffany told me about a police report that was filed approximately three years ago regarding Eryn possibly kidnapping (the boy)."