imagesin november, i wrote about the 8-year-old boy from arizona who was charged with 2 counts of premeditated murder for the deaths of his father and his father’s roommate. you may remember that he apparently confessed to the crime while being questioned by two female police officers without a parent or legal representative in the room. i was cynical, and suggested we all remember the ryan harris case in chicago where the 7- and 8-year-old defendants eventually settled wrongful arrest suits for millions of dollars.

well, the boy in the arizona case is now 9-years-old and he has pleaded guilty to one count of negligent homicide. under the agreement, the boy pleaded guilty in the death of his father’s roommate and charges of premeditated murder for both deaths were dropped.

this is a bizarre case. bits from the news story:

The boy’s mother cried throughout the hearing and, through her lawyer, objected to the plea deal. But Superior Court Judge Michael Roca accepted it….

(Apache County Attorney) Whiting said he spoke with the Romero family before giving final approval to the plea deal, and they agreed it was in the child’s best interest for him not to be forced to admit to killing his father.

“If the kid is ever going to have a chance at a normal life, how is he going to deal with `I pleaded guilty to killing my dad,'” Whiting said….

Under the agreement, the judge will decide later whether the boy will be institutionalized or live with relatives. He will receive diagnostic evaluations and mental health examinations when he’s 12, 15 and 17. The reviews are intended partly to determine whether the boy will pose any danger in the future.

i guess i’m surprised that the plea was accepted against the express wishes of the boy’s mother. and, while the boy didn’t have to admit to killing his father, he did essentially admit to committing murder (at age 8!). won’t that significantly hinder his chance for a “normal life”?

and now, another case with an extremely young defendant. an 11-year-old pennsylvania boy is charged with shooting and killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend. the victim, 8 months pregnant, was shot in the back of the head while lying in bed. the boy, jordan brown, was charged as an adult with criminal homicide and criminal homicide of an unborn child. the boy is currently being held in a county jail. the jail warden, aware that his 300-inmate jail cannot offer proper care for a pre-adolescent defendant, plans to ask the judge to move the 11-year-old jordan brown to a juvenile detention center.

these cases certainly test our notions of youth, accountability and consequences. what is the right thing to do with child defendants? is there any hope that they can go on to lead productive adult lives in the community? what is or what should be society’s role in these situations? big questions, all, but i think the answers might go a long way toward revealing the hidden assumptions about crime, justice, and punishment in the united states today.