Six months after a fire took the lives of three children and two adults in a mobile home park about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, a 9-year-old boy has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder. The fire, which occurred on April 6, killed a 1-year-old child and two 2-year-olds, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman.
In addition to the first-degree murder charges, the young boy has also been charged with two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, according to the Peoria Journal Star. Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger told the news publication that the decision to charge such a young person was not an easy one, but one that had to be done.
“It was a heavy decision,” he 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," he stated. “But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality.”
While there has been no mention of any relationship between the accused and the deceased, Minger said that the aggravated arson charge suggests that the youth knew there were people present when the fire was set.
Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative criticized the move to charge the 9-year-old when speaking with the Associated Press. “The charges are completely out of line, given everything we have learned ... especially about the brain development of children,” Clark stated, adding that 14 is the minimum age for the prosecution of crimes in many countries. “We used to be a world leader and now we are so far behind,” she added.
If convicted the suspect will likely face no jail time, and would likely be placed on probation for a minimum of five years, but not beyond the age of 21. He will also likely receive a psychological evaluation as well as therapy and counseling. Minger also stated that the youth, who will be appointed an attorney, will not go before a jury and that he would undergo a bench trial presided over by a judge. “Probation, given the age, is about the only outcome that could happen here,” he said.