Nine-year-old charged with mother’s murder
FAWN RIVER TOWNSHIP — A tragedy that unfolded in Fawn River Township Monday afternoon has left a 51-year-old woman dead and her 9-year-old son charged with homicide.
Police allege the boy, who turned nine in February, used a rifle in commission of the crime that took the life of his adoptive mother Pauline Marie Randol. Both resided at a home in the 68000 block of Plumb School Road.
In a Tuesday preliminary examination in Judge David Tomlinson’s St. Joseph County Juvenile Court a petition for delinquency was presented, outlining the charges against the boy which include one count of homicide — open murder, and one count of felony firearm — use of a rifle to commit a felony.
The hearing was adjourned when Judge Tomlinson ordered the young man undergo a forensic psychiatric evaluation. The results of that exam will in large part determine the direction that the prosecution of the case will take.
The St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department said they are investigating the case as a homicide. St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough told the Commercial-News Tuesday there was a shooting on Plumb School Road, and that the incident remains under investigation.
According to a telecast on WWMT that aired on Tuesday evening, the boy allegedly exhibited behavioral issues in school at Congress Elementary in Sturgis, and a parent that spoke with WWMT said the boy threatened to stab her 8-year-old daughter in February 2018. Because of the sensational nature of the crime, national attention has also been focused on the case.
McDonough nor Balk would corroborate details about the juvenile due to the sensitive nature of the case and the ongoing investigation into the matter.
The Commercial-News confirmed Wednesday that TJ Reed of Bird, Scheske, Reed & Beemer PC is representing the child in the case.
According to state statue MCL 712A.18n, relating to the competency of a juvenile to stand trial, a juvenile less than 10 years of age is presumed incompetent to proceed. The court can order on its own motion or at the request of the juvenile, the juvenile’s attorney or the prosecuting attorney, a competency evaluation to determine whether the juvenile is incompetent to proceed.
Because of the defendant’s age, it is highly unlikely the prosecution would seek that he be tried as an adult. However, according to Three Rivers attorney Luke Nofsinger, depending on the determinations presented in the findings of the forensic evaluation, it is possible that the presiding judge, in coordination with the prosecution, could recommend one of several options.
“Delinquency cases are similar to criminal cases, but there are two distinct differences: first, the individual is less than 17 years-of-age; and two, the goal is rehabilitation, not punishment. Juveniles are charged with the same crimes as adults are, but they are heard in a different court (the family division of circuit court), with a different goal of rehabilitation,” Nofsinger said.
“Many delinquent cases are not very serious, but some serious ones do occur. It is my understanding the juvenile is nine-years-old and is charged with open murder (which includes first-degree murder and the other murder variants). Depending on the seriousness of the crime, a case can progress differently.”
Nofsinger said, however unlikely, a prosecutor could charge a juvenile as an adult.
“Juvenile can, however, be charged ‘in the same manner as an adult’ in family court either by prosecutorial designation or by court designation. MCL 712A.2d. Prosecutorial designation allows a prosecutor to charge a juvenile as an adult without the leave of the court,” he said.
“That can only occur when certain crimes are charged. The juvenile, as I understand, is charged with open murder, which means the prosecutor is charging him with either first or second degree murder. Both first degree and second degree are those specific listed crimes, so the prosecutor can designate the case if he or she wants. Court designation is for all other cases, but the prosecutor must ask the court to designate the case.”
Nofsinger added that “designated cases” — where a juvenile is charged as an adult — usually involve older juveniles, not nine-year-olds.
“With all that said, keep in mind that even though the juvenile may be tried as an adult (designated case), he is very young. Typically, designated cases involve older juveniles, say 15 or 16. If the prosecutor were to designate the case, the case could be similar to an adult case and rehabilitation would not necessarily be the goal,” he said.
According to Nofsinger, the child in this instance is so young that an “infancy defense” could be raised.
“He is so young that he could raise an infancy defense. It consists of three presumptions regarding a minor’s capacity to form a criminal intent, which is required to hold a defendant (juvenile) accountable for a crime,” he said. “If a minor is under seven-years-old, he or she is conclusively presumed incapable of forming a criminal intent and therefore cannot be criminally punished. Allen v United States, 150 US 551, 558 (1893). If a minor is between the ages of seven and 14, a rebuttable presumption arises that the minor is incapable of forming a criminal intent. Id. at 558. Minors over the age of 14 are conclusively presumed to have the capacity to form a criminal intent.
“The Michigan Supreme Court has held that a child under 7 years of age is incapable of committing a crime, but Michigan appellate courts have not specifically held the defense is applicable to criminal or delinquency proceedings. Actually, this case could be a test case to establish new precedent in the state.”
Nofsinger said other factors such as “life circumstances” could come into play.
Beyond his age, he may have other defenses available due to his life circumstances, such as any potential neglect or abuse, trauma, or developmental disorders such as fetal alcohol or drug exposure in utero,” Nofsinger said.
“I would anticipate that he would undergo some kind of psychological evaluation at the very least. Other tests would probably be necessary depending on his life circumstances. I don’t know about why/how or specific facts about the case, but with the open murder charge, it does seem the prosecutor is convinced that he did something deliberately.”
Nofsinger said ultimately the distinction between a designated case and a non-designated case “is huge.”
“A non-designated case has two phases where there is adjudication — did the crime happen? — which includes a right of trial by jury, and a dispositional phase — what does the juvenile need to do to be rehabilitated? Rehabilitation can include therapy, drug treatment, alternative schools et cetera. A designated case is like an adult case and basically is trial and then sentencing, which includes all the same punishments that an adult would face.”
Managing Editor Alek Frost, Staff Writer Robert Tomlinson and former Commercial-News Staff Writer Rick Cordes contributed to this report.