ALAMOGORDO, N.M. – A 16-year-old boy convicted of killing his father, stepmother and stepsister will remain in state custody until he is 21, after a judge ruled Thursday that the teen should be sentenced as a juvenile, not an adult.
State District Judge James Waylon Counts ruled the state failed to show that Cody Posey could not be rehabilitated, and rejected the prosecution's effort to sentence him as an adult — which could have put him behind bars for 50 years.
A jury convicted the boy on Feb. 7 of first-degree murder in the July 5, 2004, deaths of his 13-year-old stepsister, Mary Lee Schmid; second-degree murder in the death of his stepmother, Tryone Posey; and voluntary manslaughter in the death of his father, Paul Posey.
The boy, shackled hand and foot, smiled as Otero County sheriff's deputies put him in a car and drove him away after the hearing.
He was 14 when he shot his family on a southern New Mexico ranch owned by Sam Donaldson, where his father was the foreman.
After the hearing, defense attorney Gary Mitchell said Cody had been "very apprehensive" before sentencing, but that afterward, "finally we saw the great light in his eyes."
"The system worked well," said Mitchell, whose comments were repeatedly interrupted by applause and cheers from the boy's supporters. "From day one, all we ever wanted was for him to remain in the children's system and get help."
He said the boy told him, "Don't worry, Mr. Mitchell, I'm not going to disappoint anybody."
"I don't think the public thinks he's a threat," Mitchell said. "I know he's not a threat."
On Wednesday, Posey took the stand in his sentencing hearing and apologized for the killings. He pleaded with the judge for an opportunity to better himself, saying he has been haunted by the actions he took that day.
Mitchell had contended the shootings were the result of years of physical and psychological abuse Posey suffered at the hands of his father and stepmother. He said the breaking point came the night before the shootings, when Paul Posey burned the boy with a metal welding rod after the teen refused to have sex with his stepmother.
Prosecutors, however, argued that the boy was a cold-blooded killer who deliberately killed his family, buried their bodies in a manure pile, then lied and tried to deflect guilt from himself.
Prosecutor Sandra Grisham said Posey already committed "the worst possible behavior that we can think of to use to predict his future behavior." She argued that he's dangerous as long as he's capable of picking up a gun and shooting someone.
Counts carefully read through a list of criteria he had to follow in deciding whether the boy should be sentenced as an adult or a child.
The judge ruled the teen had been convicted of the most serious crime possible — first-degree murder, and that it was a willful act, which weighed against him.
But he also found the boy suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and said he was not convinced the teen had any anti-social personality traits. The judge also said the "situational nature of the violence" made it less likely he would be a danger in the future.
On balance, Counts ruled, the state failed to carry its burden of proof that the teen would not be amenable to treatment in an available juvenile facility — the overriding factor in sentencing him as a juvenile.
Supporters, including other family members, rallied on his behalf before the hearing, and a petition posted on the Internet urged the judge to show mercy.
Counts said, however, he took an oath to uphold the law — "not my personal whim and public opinion."