FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – A 9-year-old charged with killing his father and another man has been offered a plea deal that would spare him any jail time, his attorney said Thursday.
The St. Johns boy is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on Feb. 19. Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer said his client still must accept the deal.
Brewer declined to offer specifics, including what plea the boy could enter and whether it would involve the two counts of premeditated murder he faces.
"We believe this agreement addresses any potential needs out there as well as secures he does not get messed up going to juvenile corrections, or adult prison for that manner," Brewer said.
The boy has been in and out of juvenile detention since his arrest a day after the shootings in the rural, eastern Arizona community of St. Johns. Police say he used a .22-caliber rifle to kill his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans as the men returned home from work on Nov. 5.
The boy had acknowledged in a police interview that he shot the men twice each. He previously pleaded not guilty to the crimes, Brewer said.
Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
In late November, they wrote in court documents that a plea deal had been offered to the boy that would resolve the charges in juvenile court. That deal was contingent on the results of mental health evaluations.
Defense attorneys were considering the offer that was made before an expert they nominated indicated the boy's age and intelligence level meant he wouldn't be fit for a trial.
Two experts who evaluated the boy are still scheduled to testify on Feb. 27.
Prosecutors drafted the latest plea agreement, and Brewer said Thursday that attorneys began discussing it about a month ago. The discussions led to two delays of a hearing on a request by prosecutors to drop one of the murder charges against the boy before it ultimately was vacated Thursday.
Defense attorneys were in a tight spot. If Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca granted the prosecution's request, it would have allowed prosecutors to refile the charge when the boy is older and try him as an adult.
Brewer said he didn't want to risk having a charge looming in the future and the boy not receiving any treatment. Brewer said attorneys were dealing with a number of unknowns in a case that didn't seem to have any guidelines.
"Sure we could have went to trial and potentially won, but that's a heck of the roll of the dice," he said.
Brewer wouldn't discuss what could happen to the boy if he accepts the plea.
Generally, a juvenile who is tried as one can face several outcomes, including being put on probation, going to a foster home or being sent to a "therapeutic home" for treatment, Brewer said.
A spokesman for the Romans family, John Andreas, hasn't objected to the boy receiving treatment, but he said Thursday that the boy should be jailed until he's at least 18.