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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Leila Fowler Murder Case

     Barry Fowler lived with his fiancee and his three children in Valley Springs, a central California town of 7,500 60 miles southeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

     On Saturday evening, April 27, 2013, Barry Fowler's 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were home alone while he attended a little league baseball game. That evening, Crystal Walters, the children's mother, received a call from her son who reported that an intruder had just run out of the house. Crystal called 911 and informed the dispatcher that, "My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of our house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming. He [the boy] came out and a man was in the house. They [the children] said they're okay. My daugher is freaking out right now." (It is not clear if the mother also spoke to her daughter about the incident.)

     Deputies with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, upon arrival at the Fowler house, found the 8-year-old girl, Leila Fowler, bleeding to death from several stab wounds. (She died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital. Based on the context of Crystal Walter's 911 call, I presume Leila was stabbed sometime between her brother's call to their mother and the arrival of the police.)

     The victim's 12-year-old brother described the intruder as a tall man with long, gray hair. At some point after the man ran off, the boy discovered his dying sister. (I don't know if crime scene investigators recovered a bloody knife, made a blood spatter analysis, or collected the clothing worn by the brother.) According to media reports, the officers found no evidence that theft had been a motive for the intrusion. Moreover, there was no physical evidence of a break-in. (The intruder could have gained entry by knocking on the door.)

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy determined the cause of death to be shock and bleeding. The manner of death, of course, was homicide by stabbing.

     Investigators with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, operating on the intruder theory, launched a massive manhunt for Leila Fowler's killer. The investigation included rounding up and questioning the area's registered sex offenders. With a murderous home invader on the loose, residents of the community locked their doors and loaded their guns.

     A week or so into the murder investigation, rumors surfaced that detectives now considered the Fowler boy as their prime suspect. On May 11, two weeks after the murder, deputies arrested the victim's 12-year-old brother. Detectives also searched the Fowler house and walked away with several knives. (This suggests they did not have the murder weapon.) Charged as an adult with second degree murder, the Fowler boy was placed into a juvenile detention center.

     At a press conference following the boy's arrest, Sheriff Gary Kuntz said, "Citizens of Calaveras County, you can sleep a little better tonight."

     On May 13, two days after the arrest, the murder suspect's father told an Associated Press reporter that he will believe his son is innocent until he sees evidence that proves otherwise. "If they have the evidence, well that's another story. We're an honest family," Barry Fowler said. (I presume that detectives interrogated the boy without acquiring a confession.)

     On May 15, 2013, after a closed juvenile hearing, attorney Mark Reichel, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter, said that his young client may have lied about encountering a long-haried man in the house. Reichel added that such an admission is not evidence of the boy's guilt. "How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?" he asked. (I wonder how a guilty kid his age could withstand police questioning without confessing or at least giving himself away.)

     The murder suspect's second attorney, Steve Presser, raised doubts that his client was old enough to assist in his own defense. "Can a 12-year-old be psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally mature enough to aid his attorneys in defending himself against the most serious of charges? We have no reason to have any doubts about our client's innocence," he said. "We have questions. Why do the police think the minor did this?...And how did it not lead to an immediate arrest and take 2,000 hours of resources by the sheriff's office and the FBI?" 

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