Justice for kids who kill?

By: Lynnsey Gardner Email
By: Lynnsey Gardner Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock

AUGUSTA, Ga -- Lots of questions for law enforcement and our court system after a 12-year-old is charged with murder.

Investigators say it's the first time it's ever happened in Richmond County.

It's a sad situation all the way around, but even more sad, it's not a first across the state or country.

Almost ten years ago to the day on March 24, 1998, a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old opened fire on their Jonesboro, Arkansas middle school, killing four female students and a teacher and injuring ten others.

Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden were among the youngest kids ever charged with murder in American history, but because of their age, both were only put away until their 21st birthday.

Today one of them is behind bars for something else, but one is free and free to buy guns.

The 12-year-old accused of murder in Richmond County could get out even earlier. The maximum penalty is 5 years -- so that would make him 17.

But a judge could keep him in jail until he's 21 thanks to a law called Amy's Law.

"Even though it feels like a criminal court, it technically isn't. It's a court set up in the best interest of the child," says attorney Bobby Christine. He has made a career prosecuting and defending local juveniles, spending ten years in the District Attorney's office and now in private practice.

"It's pitiful," Christine says of the alleged crime and the alleged killer's age.

News 12: "Have you ever been involved in a case where a 12-year-old is charged with murder?"

Christine: "No I have not. In fact, I'm uncertain we've (ever) seen something like this in this area."

It's rare, but not unheard of; in 2006 the FBI says 12 boys and girls under the age of 13 were charged with murder in the United States.

"The reality is, though, however, a vicious crime committed by a juvenile doesn't make the victim any less harmed," says Christine.

"I hope to never never see that again happen," said lead homicide investigator James Kelly. Inv. Kelly had to do the unthinkable Thursday morning: question and charge a child with murder. "You could tell he was scared, you could tell he was 12 years old. He was very remorseful."

Investigators were also unclear what they should do--could they charge him as an adult? Could they fingerprint him or even take his photograph? They're questions they wish they never had to ask.

And there are arguments on both sides of the issue: some argue a child, legally anyone younger than 13, does not have the ability to fully understand the crime. Others don't buy it.

In this case, a couple of months difference and this Tubman Middle seventh grader could have been faced with a maximum of life in prison, rather than a maximum of nine years behind bars.

In that Arkansas case, the prosecutor wanted to seek the death penalty but could not because the boys were just too young.


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