A 10-year-old Milwaukee boy shot and killed his mother, not in a tragic accident as investigators first believed, but after his mother failed to buy him a virtual reality headset, prosecutors say.
The boy was charged in adult court last week with first-degree reckless homicide and is being held in the county’s juvenile detention center.
The boy initially told police the shooting was an accident, but a day later his relatives contacted police to question his story and the child later admitted he had intentionally pointed a weapon at his mother before shooting her, according to a copy of the criminal complaint obtained. by the Sentinel Journal.
The boy’s family told detectives he had received an unspecified but “concerning” mental health diagnosis from a therapist and had a history of disturbing behavior, including setting living room furniture on fire and swinging a puppy by its tail, according to the complaint.
The Journal Sentinel does not identify the boy or his mother at this time due to his age and the circumstances of the case. The child’s family declined to speak to a Journal Sentinel reporter on Wednesday and one of their lawyers, Angela Cunningham, said she was still gathering information about the case.
“It’s an absolute family tragedy,” Cunningham said. “I don’t think anyone would deny or disagree with that.”
“The adult system is absolutely ill-equipped to meet the needs of a 10-year-old,” she added.
Such cases of children charged with homicide are rare, but not unprecedented in Wisconsin.
State law requires children as young as 10 to be charged as adults for certain serious crimes, at least to start the case. These crimes include first degree intentional homicide, first degree reckless homicide, and first degree attempted intentional homicide.
Juvenile Court Judge Marshall B. Murray set the boy’s bail at $50,000 after prosecutors asked for $100,000. The case is assigned to Judge Kristela Cervera and a status hearing is scheduled for next week.
After:How Wisconsin Law Treats Children Accused of Homicide
The boy had the keys to the gun safe
The shooting happened shortly before 7 a.m. on November 21 in the 7400 block of North 87th Street on the northwest side of town.
According to the criminal complaint:
The boy initially told officers he had retrieved the gun from his mother’s bedroom and gone to the basement where his mother was doing laundry. He said he was twisting the gun around his finger when he fired.
The boy told his 26-year-old sister, who called 911.
The police allowed him to stay with his family because of his age. The original Milwaukee police press release said the fatal shooting was caused by a child “playing” with a gun. He also said no arrests have been made and prosecutors will review the case.
A day later, relatives called the police to express their concerns.
When the boy’s aunt came to pick him up from home, she asked him where the house keys were. The boy grabbed the keys and said he hid them from his mother. The set of keys contained one that opened a safe where the boy’s mother stored a handgun.
When his aunt asked him about the shooting, the boy said he pointed the gun at his mother, who then said, “Why do you have that?” Put that down.”
The boy never cried or showed remorse for his mother’s death, his aunt and sister told police.
The pair had also learned that the boy had logged into his mother’s Amazon account and ordered an Oculus virtual reality headset on November 22, the day after his death.
That same morning, the boy physically assaulted his 7-year-old cousin and had to be removed from the child. His aunt then drove the boy to his grandmother’s to meet with child protection workers.
When they arrived, the boy’s grandmother was crying.
“I’m really sorry for what happened. I’m sorry I killed my mother,” the boy said without empathy or compassion, according to his aunt.
He then asked if his Amazon package had arrived, she said.
The family had long been concerned about the boy’s mental health
The boy had a history of troubling behavior, his family told police.
The criminal complaint included the following accounts from his family:
When the boy was 4 years old, he swung the family pup by the tail until he howled in pain. His mother got rid of the dog because she feared he would fight back and attack the boy.
Throughout his life, relatives said he had “rage issues”. They also described him as intelligent and manipulative. His mother eventually stopped sharing details of his behavior and no family members agreed to keep him.
Six months ago, the family told police, the boy filled a balloon with a flammable liquid and set it on fire in the family home, causing an explosion that scorched furniture and carpeting.
When asked by his mother why he would do something like this, he said his “two sisters told him to do it,” according to those close to the situation. When questioned further, the boy said he heard five different, imaginary people talking to him: two sisters, an older woman, a man and a second man whom the boy described as “mean people”.
After learning these new details from the family, Milwaukee police questioned the boy again. This time he told detectives he pointed the gun at her with both hands while in a firing position.
He said he tried to shoot at a wall to “scare her” as she walked past him and he shot her, according to the complaint.
The boy told police he retrieved the gun from the safe that morning because his mother woke him up early — at 6 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. — and because she wouldn’t allow him to buy anything on Amazon that he wanted.
He told police he understood guns could kill people.
On Wednesday, the boy’s neighbors expressed shock at what happened.
Brenda Brown said she saw the boy riding a bike on the street and her husband even helped him fix the bike. She had not heard of any disorder in the house before the shooting and said she could not believe what the boy had done.
Mark Pinckney, who lives in a nearby flat, said the family appeared to be left alone.
“They’re quite private,” he said.
Wisconsin has fewer limits on trying children in adult court
The case will likely draw attention to Wisconsin’s treatment of children and youth charged with serious crimes.
The state is one of only three to require all 17-year-old defendants to be charged as adults. Wisconsin law also requires children as young as 10 to be charged as adults for certain serious crimes, such as first-degree intentional or reckless homicide.
The American legal system has long recognized a difference between children and adults – which is why the juvenile system was created – and has recognized that juvenile defendants have different needs than adults.
Wisconsin is an exception in the country, as other states have decided to limit the trial of children in adult courts, recognizing that a child’s brain has not fully developed.
Craig Mastantuono, a lawyer who defended a 10-year-old boy accused in the Charlie Young beating case in the 2000s, said it could be a ‘real disaster’ getting children through the justice system adult penal system, which has fewer treatment resources. . Children, he said, cannot fully think through the consequences of their actions given their developing brains.
“The reason this is important is that the criminal justice system works on a rational response model, which means that if people are afraid of consequences, like jail, they are not doing anything wrong,” said he declared. “And when they’re still developing, their level of ability to appreciate right from wrong is very limited.”
Wisconsin rolled back protection for minors in the criminal justice system in the 1990s in response to perceptions of crime that have since become better understood.
“We put ourselves in a tough minority when it came to youth crime in the 90s and we never saw that again,” he said. “Saying someone should be in the juvenile system doesn’t mean you’re an action apologist.”
In Wisconsin, if a child is charged in adult court, their lawyers may seek to transfer the case to juvenile court.
To pass, they must prove that the child cannot get adequate treatment in the adult system; referring the case to a juvenile court would not “depreciate the seriousness of the offence”; and remaining in adult court is not necessary to deter other children from committing similar offences.
Adult courts impose much longer prison sentences than juvenile courts, which focus on rehabilitation and offer more services. The state law also provides more privacy protections for children and teens accused in juvenile court and allows defendants’ names not to be released to the public.
These types of cases, in which young children are accused of killing someone, are rare but not unprecedented.
In 2018, a 10-year-old girl in Chippewa Falls was charged with first degree intentional homicide as an adult after prosecutors said she stomped on a 6-month-old baby and killed him. She was placed in a secure state-run mental health complex and initially deemed unfit to stand trial.
His case was eventually transferred to juvenile court and the results of future rulings will not be made public, The Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire reported earlier this year.
In 2018, a Northeastern University criminologist told The Associated Press that there were only 44 children age 10 or younger believed to be responsible for homicides in the United States from 2007 to 2016.
Sophie Charron and Sarah Volpenhein Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Elliot Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-704-8958. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12.
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