ST. JOHNS, Ariz. – Prosecutors in eastern Arizona have agreed not to use statements made by a 9-year-old boy as they pursue murder charges against him, according to court documents released Tuesday.
The boy's lawyers had asked a judge to throw out a 1-hour videotaped police interview in which the boy admitted to firing at least two shots each at his father and another man. The defense argued that he was illegally questioned without an attorney or family member present.
In the court documents, Apache County prosecutors agreed not to use the statements unless the boy takes the stand and contradicts them. Prosecutors said their decision doesn't mean they agree the statements were illegally obtained.
The boy is accused of using a rifle to shoot his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans on Nov. 5 at the family home in the eastern Arizona town of St. Johns. He was 8 at the time.
Click here for photos.
The boy told police that he had been spanked five times the night before the shootings because he didn't bring home some papers from school. While in custody, he told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last, according to police reports. Prosecutors say the child was not prompted to make the statement and agreed with defense attorneys that anything said to the CPS worker should be suppressed as well.
Along with the police interview, defense lawyers also want the judge to throw out any evidence gathered from the crime scene, including a weapon, spent cartridges, blood samples, photographs and forensic material. The attorneys claim the search warrant is invalid because the magistrate who signed it was a friend of the Romero family.
Prosecutors said merely knowing the victim does not alter the neutrality of the judge. Even if the court finds the magistrate did not act impartially, prosecutors said, the evidence should still be allowed at trial because law enforcement acted properly in obtaining it.
Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca has not ruled on either defense motion.
The boy, who is not being identified because of his age, was in court Tuesday for a status conference. Dressed in blue sweat pants and a matching sweat shirt, he frequently turned to family members and smiled. He was brought in cuffed at the legs, and his hair was partially blond, a change since his last appearance in court in November.
Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer pressed the judge to allow the child to have a photo of his mother in his cell, but the judge didn't immediately rule on the request.
The boy's mother had been visiting him regularly, but lives in another state and has returned home; she listened to Tuesday's hearing by phone. Brewer has said the boy is having a difficult time adjusting.
The judge has said he won't rule on "substantive issues" until he decides if the boy is competent to stand trial.
A psychologist who examined the boy for the defense says he's incompetent. He also has been examined by a prosecution expert, but those results haven't yet been disclosed.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 21. The boy has been held in juvenile detention since his arrest, but has been allowed at least one furlough to spend Thanksgiving with his mother.
A spokesman for the Romans family, John Andreas, said the family's initial feelings of anger over the shootings have tempered a bit. Andreas also expressed some compassion for the boy, saying it becomes a little more shocking to see such a young boy accused of murder each time the family travels to St. Johns for court.
"I'm hoping that he'd be able to get some help and maybe lead a productive life later," Andreas said.