PHOENIX – A 13-year-old Liberian boy charged in the reported gang-rape of an 8-year-old girl in Phoenix was released from custody Thursday and turned over to his parents as he continues lessons designed to make him competent to stand trial.
The boy, whom The Associated Press is not naming because of his age, has made progress in his lessons to understand the charges against him and how the justice system works, Maricopa County juvenile Judge Shellie Smith said in court.
The teen sat shackled in the courtroom and said only, "I want to go home."
His parents sat by his side.
"I want my son home," said his father. "We can keep our eyes on him."
Smith granted his release to the parents on several conditions, including that he continue his restoration lessons, get regular counseling and is monitored by an electronic-tracking device. He also must stay inside his home unless he's with an adult and not have contact with the victim, the other boys accused in the rape, or any children under 12 without adult supervision.
Four boys, ages 9 to 14, lured the girl to an empty west Phoenix storage shed on July 16 with the promise of chewing gum, restrained her and took turns raping her, police said. All the children involved are refugees from the West African nation of Liberia.
Prosecutor Cindi Nannetti argued against the 13-year-old's release Thursday, saying he still had to undergo a psychological evaluation, while defense attorney Robert Jarvis said the teen has been fearful and guarded because of his detention and would become competent to stand trial more quickly if he were in his parent's custody.
The boy is charged in juvenile court with sexual assault and kidnapping, but prosecutors are seeking to have him tried as an adult. He must be found competent to stand trial before the court decides whether his case will be transferred to adult court.
A 15-year-old who was 14 at the time already has been charged as an adult, and the charges against one of the younger boys have been dropped.
State child welfare officials have custody of the girl. The girl's 59-year-old father and 47-year-old mother are each charged with eight child abuse counts for abuse and neglect reports dating back to 2005. Those charges were filed in November.
The gang-rape case sparked an international outcry after police reported the girl's father said she brought shame on the family and he didn't want her back — comments a family pastor later said were misunderstood because of a language barrier.