A 9-year-old stands accused of starting a fire that killed five people, including three other children. He has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson, and one count of aggravated arson. Cases like this are rare. The youngest child ever to be sentenced to life in prison was Lionel Tate, when he was 13. This child, whose name has been withheld by authorities will be among the youngest ever to stand trial for murder.
More confusing still is that fact that the majority of children who were tried as adults did not commit some other crime that resulted in a death, but murdered someone else with a direct weapon. This child is accused of starting a fire that led to five deaths.
Prosecutors say that they have enough evidence to prove that the child started the fire intentionally and knew that the fire could result in the deaths or injury of other people. However, child psychologists argue that the 9-year-old brain has not fully developed enough to understand the consequences of those actions.
Tried as an Adult: What That Means
In a situation like this, the prosecution has a choice. They can file charges in criminal court or file charges in family court. Family court handles juvenile crimes. There are a number of states that set the minimum age of a criminal prosecution, usually at 14. Illinois does not. This child will face real prison time if convicted of this crime.
Had the case gone through juvenile court, he would likely be placed in a psychiatric facility where he could receive treatment and perhaps rehabilitated. In this instance, the prosecution has chosen to pursue an avenue that will force the child to forfeit the remainder of his life.
Pleading insanity is not the same as being mentally unfit to stand trial, but both are useful for our purposes here. In order for an individual to face a criminal prosecution, a psychiatric professional must say that they understand the charges against them and can participate in their own defense. Does this child know that he stands to forfeit the rest of his life if he is convicted? Can he participate in his own defense?
Neither seems likely in this instance, so what is happening here?
Well, cases like this draw a lot of media attention. A prosecutor who chooses to pursue a criminal conviction against a 9-year-old is going to see their name in the headlines. The prosecutor who chooses to let a family court sort this matter out, will not. Nonetheless, this prosecutor better have some sterling evidence that this child premeditated the arson and was not just playing with fire. Otherwise, he will end up a laughing stock.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing multiple murder charges, you need an attorney who understands the law, how prosecutors work, and can protect you from overzealous prosecutors who want their name in the headlines. Give David Freidberg a call at (312) 560-7100 or talk to us online for more information.