A nine-year-old boy, whose gender has not been released, was charged with five counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of three children and two adults in the fire of an RV park in Illinois.
He is also charged with two charges of premeditated fire and one for aggravated premeditated fire, according to local newspaper Peoria Journal Star.
The tragic fire occurred on April 6 in the Timberline mobile home park, near the town of Goodfield, southwest of Chicago. In the incident, which according to the Woodford County coroner began intentionally, a one-year-old boy, two two-year-old children, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman died.RELATED
A difficult decision
Greg Minger, the prosecutor of that county that is handling the case, did not reveal more details about the child or if he had any relationship with the victims.
Minger said he reviewed multiple reports on the fire before proceeding with the prosecution and that "it was a difficult decision."
"It is a tragedy, because at the end of the day a very young person is being accused of one of the most serious crimes we have. But I think it should be done at this point, to end," he added.
Intention to kill?
A major challenge for the prosecution will be to try to prove that the child intended to kill those people, a requirement for first degree homicide cases, said Gus Kostopoulos, a former prosecutor who became a juvenile defense lawyer in Chicago, cited by The Guardian newspaper.
"Nine-year-olds don't know that Santa Claus doesn't exist. They don't know that people die and don't come back to life," he said. "I don't know if nine-year-olds can try to commit murder," Kostopoulos added.
Another prominent child advocate in the criminal justice system of that state criticized the decision.
"The charges are completely out of place, taking into account everything we've learned … especially about children's brain development," said Betsy Clark, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, based in Evanston, Illinois.
According to Clark, in many countries, including Germany, the minimum age for criminal responsibility is 14 years.
Can a 9 year old child be arrested?
In the 1890s, Illinois became one of the first places in the world to establish a juvenile court, separating children from the adult criminal system, Clark explained. But this case shows that the state no longer limits age in juvenile justice, he added. "We used to be a world leader and now we are very late," he said.
If convicted, the infant could be placed on probation for at least five years, but never until after he turned 21, the prosecutor explained. Surely, an important part of his sentence would be therapy and counseling.
The infant will receive a defense lawyer and will be tried before a judge. Under Illinois law, a suspect under the age of 10 cannot be arrested and a minor cannot have a public jury trial unless he is charged as an adult with a crime he committed in his childhood.
Such a young child had not been charged with mass murder since at least 2006, according to a database created by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University and that recorded all homicides in the country in the last 13 years in which they have Four or more people have been killed, not including the aggressor and regardless of the weapon, location, victim-killer relationship or the motive of the crime.
Although there are numerous examples, the presentation of murder charges against children under 10 years of age is rare.
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