ST. JOHNS, Ariz. – A 10-year-old boy who pleaded guilty to fatally shooting his father's friend in November 2008 apologized Thursday for hurting the man's family and was ordered to a residential treatment program.
"He's sorry," said Ron Wood, who represented the St. Johns boy and addressed the court on his behalf. "He's sorry that he hurt the Romans family, he's sorry he hurt his own family and he's sorry he killed his dad."
Defense attorneys and prosecutors had pushed for the boy to be placed in a private treatment facility in Maricopa County, but Judge Monica Stauffer also had the option of sending him to a county juvenile detention facility.
The boy left the Apache County courthouse with his mother and is expected to report to the treatment facility in a couple of weeks, where he will stay for an undetermined amount of time. He also was placed on intensive probation until he turns 18.
"I think the right result was reached, because how does society turn its back on an 8- or 10-year-old if we want to continue as a civil society," Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting said following the hearing.
The boy was 8 when he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and his father's friend, 39-year-old Timothy Romans. He pleaded guilty to shooting Romans and the charges related to his father's death were dropped as part of a plea deal.
Talk of a plea deal surfaced less than a month after the shootings, but an agreement wasn't reached until February. Arizona law allows criminal charges to be filed against anyone 8 or older.
A motive never has been made clear, although the boy told investigators he kept a tally of spankings. Wood suggested Thursday that the boy reacted to psychological and emotional abuse but said he was not physically hurt. Whiting said he wouldn't classify whatever went on in the boy's home as abuse.
The sentencing ends a 14-month saga that created a buzz in legal circles as experts questioned whether the boy had the mental capacity to understand the hearings. Experts who evaluated him said he would have been incompetent to stand trial.
Members of Romans' family said they struggled with not knowing why the boy took the life of a man they said had a big heart and was completely dedicated to his wife and two daughters.
"I just wish I could have my dad back," said Romans' youngest daughter, Taylor, pleading with the judge for justice and closure. "I tried being strong but I can't."
The boy's paternal grandparents and aunt told the judge they have relied on faith to get them through the difficult time. The boy's grandmother, Liz Castillo, opened up her home to the boy and his biological mother, Eryn Bloomfield, after the shootings — as her son would have wanted, she said.
The boy was living with his father and stepmother at the time of the shootings.
"You don't have a child and then turn your back on his child," Castillo said, later asking the judge to impose treatment as her grandson's sentence.
Bloomfield said she could make no excuses for her son or his actions and that he will have to live with knowing how many people he has hurt.
Stauffer, the judge, warned the boy that he could end up in jail if he committed a felony while on probation and when asked whether he understood, the boy replied, "Yes, ma'am." The boy kept his head down during most of the hearing, and only looked up when asked to address the court.
Wood said residential treatment gives the boy the best opportunity to have a normal life as he's taught how to cope with the emotions that led to the killing. Treatment is expected to cost $3,000 to $4,000 a month, which will be offset by the boy's Social Security benefits that the judge ordered sent to the facility.
The boy will undergo psychological and mental evaluations when he's 12, 15 and 17.