9-year-old charged with murder in 5 Illinois fire deaths | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World

9-year-old charged with murder in 5 Illinois fire deaths

Associated Press
1782521_web1_1782521-60b7e1efa909403aba6465297b14406f
In this Sunday, April 7, 2019, file photo, Marie Chockley, a resident of the Timberline Trailer Court, north of Goodfield, Ill., surveys the damage that was caused by a Saturday night fire that killed five residents in a mobile home. A prosecutor says a central Illinois 9-year-old is expected to be charged Tuesday with five counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deadly mobile home fire. (Kevin Barlow/The Pantagraph via AP)

EUREKA, Ill. — A 9-year-old child accused of causing a mobile home fire that killed three children and two adults in central Illinois has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

The juvenile also was charged with two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, the (Peoria) Journal Star reported.

The April 6 fire killed a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman at the Timberline Mobile Home Park near the village of Goodfield, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.

Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger would not reveal other details about the suspect, including a possible relationship to the victims.

No child as young as this one has been accused in a mass killing since at least 2006, according to the AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. It tracks all U.S. homicides since then in which four or more people were killed (not including the offender) over a short period of time (24 hours), regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive.

Minger said he scoured multiple reports on the fire before proceeding with prosecution. Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman said the fire was started intentionally.

“It was a heavy decision,” Minger said. “It’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day, it’s charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have. But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality.”

A major challenge for prosecutors will be trying to prove the child formed an intent to kill in advance, which is required in first-degree murder cases, explained Gus Kostopoulos, a former prosecutor-turned-juvenile defense lawyer in Chicago.

“Nine-year-olds don’t know that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. They don’t know people die and don’t come back to life,” he said. “I don’t know if 9-year-olds can form intent to commit murder.”

A leading Illinois advocate for children ensnared in the criminal justice system sharply criticized the decision to charge a child that young with murder.

“The charges are completely out of line, given everything we have learned … especially about the brain development of children,” said Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, based in Evanston, Illinois.

Clark spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday by phone from New York, where she was attending the official release of a United Nations report on the prosecution of children. It recommends that children under 14 should never be prosecuted, no matter the crime.

Clark said 14 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility in many countries, including Germany.

In the 1890s, Illinois became among the first places in the world to establish a juvenile court, thereby taking minors out of the adult system, Clark said. But the case announced this week shows Illinois is no longer on the cutting age of juvenile justice, she said.

“We used to be a world leader and now we are so far behind,” she said.

Charges alleging violent crimes against children are rare, said Clark, adding that she hasn’t heard of other cases in which someone that young was charged with so many killings.

If convicted, the child could be placed on probation for at least five years but not beyond the age of 21, Minger said. Therapy and counseling would be likely.

“Probation, given the age, is about the only outcome that could happen here,” he said.

No arrest warrant is to be issued for the suspect, Minger said. The suspect will be appointed an attorney and will be subject to a bench trial, in front of a judge, he said.

Under Illinois law, a suspect younger than 10 cannot be detained. And a minor is not given a public jury trial and not entitled to one — unless the minor is charged as an adult.

Categories: News | World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.