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Friday, February 13, 2015

Two Boys Conspired to Murder A Classmate

     Our criminal justice system isn't equipped or designed to deal with kids who haven't reached the ninth grade. This is particularly true when pint-sized offenders commit felonies. In the good old days, students got in trouble for chewing gum in class. Today, they're hauled out of school in handcuffs for assault, resisting arrest, drug possession, sexual crimes, and the possession of firearms. But up until a case in Colville, Washington, no elementary school child has been arrested for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

     On February 7, 2013, kids on a school bus saw a 10-year-old boy playing with a knife. The bus was en route to the Fort Colville Elementary School in Colville, Washington 75 miles north of Spokane. A search of this boy's backpack at the school produced the knife and a weapon even more shocking--a .45-caliber, fully loaded pistol.

     When asked by a police officer what he was doing with the gun, the kid said that he and his 11-year-old buddy were going to "get" one of the girls in their class. Pressed for details, the boy revealed what they had intended to accomplish. According to the plan, the 11-year-old friend would stab the girl to death while the 10-year-old would use the gun to hold-off other kids and any interfering teachers.

     The Stevens County prosecutor, presented with the unusual and difficult facts of this case, decided to charge the fourth graders with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, tampering with a witness (holding off the crowd), and conspiracy to possess a firearm. (This gave these elementary school kids rap sheets that would impress gang members and Mafia types. Not bad for boys several years away from shaving.)

     In the state of Washington, individuals under the age of twelve are presumed incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Under the law, they are essentially insane. This meant that the state not only had to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor had to establish the capacity to form specific criminal intent. If convicted, the young defendants faced incarceration at a juvenile facility until they reached the age of eighteen.

     In speaking to the press, prosecutor Tim Rasmussen, in referring to what these boys had been thinking, said, "It's the kind of thing everyone would know is wrong. It gives me no pleasure to prosecute a kid."

     In May 2013, the younger defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to three to five years in juvenile detention.

     On October 16, 2013, following a bench trial (no jury), Judge Allen Nielson found the 11-year-old defendant guilty of the same offense. On November 20, 2013, Judge Nielson sentenced him to three to four years detention in a juvenile facility.

     Judge Neilson called the older boy's actions a "brazen crime." According to the judge, the kid had made a "shrewd effort" to pin the entire plot on his co-defendant, the 10-year-old who had earlier pleaded guilty.
      

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