Thursday, November 20, 2008

8-Year-Old Confession, Will it Hold Up?

If you haven't heard this story regarding an Arizona boy's double murder of two adults, including his father, the details of the event are provided here. The issue that seems to have caused the controversy regarding this incident centers around the confession he gave while he was being interrogated by police officers as a witness. He began saying that he didn't know who could have shot his father, pointing out possible neighbor involvement, but as the interogation wore on, he slowly began saying "I think I shot him," and eventually admitted to shooting his father, saying he reloaded and shot again to put him out of his pain. The interrogator then went looking for a motive, getting from the boy that he was often disciplined for lying, and for not returning some paperwork from school one day.

Arizona law says that even individuals as young as eight can be tried for murder, but the circumstances by which the confession was made make it seem as though it may have been coerced. He had no parent present, and no legal representation, because he wasn't considered a suspect when they brought him in, and such is only necessary when interrogating a suspect of any age. He was being questioned as a witness. It is questionable whether his confession will hold up under the circumstances, but if it does, it's very likely he'll be convicted of double murder.

By every account, this was a good boy. He had no delinquency issues, no major psychological disturbances, his family had never had any problems with the Child Protective Services, and his father, being from a traditional hunting family, even sought religious guidance on whether or not to teach his son about shooting a gun. People who knew the boy and knew the family report there were never any major problems in the past and that they are "shocked" to hear this happened.

So many things don't add up about his confession, or exactly what version of his testimony is correct. In one version, the boy said he only shot the gun at the shooter's car as they sped away from the crime scene, in another he admitted to shooting his father to relieve his suffering, and in another he said firing the gun was accidental, because he was shaking too much when holding it, and then after much questioning, admitted to shooting both men himself, reloading as necessary. All these hint at coercion, as he may have simply been trying to please the interrogators at any particular moment.

One thing is clear though, there did come a point when the boy ceased to be a 'witness' and became a 'suspect'. At that point, the police investigators would have established 'probable cause' the boy committed the crimes they were investigating. Once probable cause was established that the boy committed the homicides, then the questioning should have ceased and the boy advised of his Miranda Rights. Also at that point, a parent/legal guardian would need to be present during any further questioning of the boy now a suspect and no longer a witness.

It is not clear from the video tape alone when the boy ceased to be a witness and became a suspect. The questioning technique of the police officers and the boy's answers to their questions have raised concerns by legal analysts who have viewed the video tape provided to the media. All this may see the case against him dismissed.

Another hearing in the case is scheduled next Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. You're most likely right. The boy was probably afraid of being accused of lying by the officers, so he may have decided to go with it and hoped he would be proven innocent.

    Nobody is that nonchalant about confessing to murder, and considering he didn't have any problems to report, it's impossible to see him as guilty.