Killer, 9, has nowhere to go

October 21, 2009 7:25:40 AM PDT
A 9-year-old Arizona boy who pleaded guilty in the killing of his father's roommate likely won't be sentenced Thursday because no state or county agency is willing to pay for the costly psychiatric treatment required under terms of a plea agreement, attorneys said.Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting said Tuesday that he phoned or met with several state agencies, the county juvenile probation department and a group that provides mental health treatment in northern Arizona.

None of the agencies was willing to oversee treatment, either because of the cost or their inability to accommodate someone so young.

The boy was 8 when his father and the roommate were shot to death as they arrived home from work in St. Johns, Ariz., last November. The boy was charged with both killings, but pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in only the roommate's death. The murder charge in the father's death was dropped.

The plea deal could become void if no agency will pay for the psychiatric treatment required under the deal, Whiting said.

"It will cost anywhere from $30,000 a year to more than $100,000 a year to give the boy the treatment he needs," Whiting said.

"At this point in time (money) appears to be the issue," said Ron Wood, the boy's defense attorney. Wood said he didn't object to a court filing by Whiting that asked for a sentencing delay.

Whiting said he met with state Child Protective Services officials to see if they would take the case, but officials declined. He said officials with the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections said they didn't have the funding to pay for the treatment, and were ill-equipped to deal with a ward so young.

Juvenile corrections spokeswoman Laura Dillingham disputed that, saying her agency has been assisting Apache County since the case began, honored all court orders and hasn't had recent discussions with county officials about the case.

Apache County's juvenile probation department has only an $80,000 yearly budget for psychiatric treatment and just can't afford to pay for the boy's care, Whiting said. The state Administrative Office of the Courts was asked to provide additional funding to the probation department and refused.

Even the county mental health consortium in the region refused to take on the case, calling it a behavioral issue and not a mental health issue, Whiting said.

"I'm just so frustrated with the bureaucratic red tape at some of these agencies," Whiting said. "Basically, the defense attorney and myself are going to have to go lobby these state agencies."

Under the plea deal, the boy won't serve any time in the state juvenile corrections facility, but he could be sentenced to a county jail or probation. Psychiatrists recommended treatment for the boy. A spokeswoman for state juvenile corrections said she would research the matter but had no immediate comment.

A call to the state courts spokeswoman wasn't immediately returned, and a CPS spokesman said his agency doesn't have an open case and has no standing to step in to the matter.

The slayings of Timothy Romans, 39, and the boy's father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, shocked residents of the small town of St. Johns because of the boy's age.

The boy, whose name has been withheld by The Associated Press because of his age, was charged with two counts of premeditated murder. Prosecutors alleged he used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot the men as they returned home from work.

Under the plea agreement, the boy pleaded to a reduced charge in Romans' death, and the charge stemming from his father's death was dropped. Whiting and Wood both said the boy may end up being sent to an out-of-state treatment center for treatment.

"Honestly, we're just trying to do the best we can for this kid," Whiting said. "It may never work -- he may end up in prison for the rest of his life for other crimes -- but we've got to try."

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