9-year-old charged with murder after 5 die in Illinois fire | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

22 October, Tuesday


9-year-old charged with murder after 5 die in Illinois fire

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 A 9-year-old child accused of causing a mobile home fire that killed three children and two adults in central Illinois has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, USA Today reports.

The juvenile also was charged with two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, the (Peoria) Journal Star reported.

The April 6 fire killed a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman at the Timberline Mobile Home Park near the village of Goodfield, about 150 miles southwest of Chicago.

Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger would not reveal other details about the suspect, including a possible relationship to the victims.

No child as young as this one has been accused in a mass killing since at least 2006, according to the AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. It tracks all U.S. homicides since then in which four or more people were killed (not including the offender) over a short period of time (24 hours), regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive.

Minger said he scoured multiple reports on the fire before proceeding with prosecution. Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman said the fire was started intentionally.

“It was a heavy decision,” Minger said. “It’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day, it’s charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have. But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality.”

A major challenge for prosecutors will be trying to prove the child formed an intent to kill in advance, which is required in first-degree murder cases, explained Gus Kostopoulos, a former prosecutor-turned-juvenile defense lawyer in Chicago.

“Nine-year-olds don’t know that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. They don’t know people die and don’t come back to life,” he said. “I don’t know if 9-year-olds can form intent to commit murder.”

A leading Illinois advocate for children ensnared in the criminal justice system sharply criticized the decision to charge a child that young with murder.

“The charges are completely out of line, given everything we have learned … especially about the brain development of children,” said Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, based in Evanston, Illinois.

Clark spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday by phone from New York, where she was attending the official release of a United Nations report on the prosecution of children. It recommends that children under 14 should never be prosecuted, no matter the crime.

Clark said 14 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility in many countries, including Germany.

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