Request for new judge granted in Ariz. boy's case

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 8:29 PM

A new judge will take over the case of a 9-year-old eastern Arizona boy who killed his father's roommate after a defense motion for new oversight was granted Wednesday.

Defense attorney Ron Wood had requested that Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca be removed from the case over concerns the judge was biased and might reject a plea deal that the boy signed earlier this year. A Navajo County judge granted the motion.

Judge Tom Wing said he found sufficient grounds to disqualify Roca, citing conversations Roca had with two juvenile probation officials about the case that did not include the attorneys.

Roca partly relied on those conversations in saying he was inclined to reject the plea deal that guaranteed the boy would not spend any time in the state juvenile corrections system.

Wood said he would rather Roca have stuck to the terms of the plea deal than ask for the judge's removal.

"No one likes to call a judge unfair," he wrote in an e-mail.

The boy originally faced two counts of first-degree murder in the Nov. 5, 2008, deaths of his father and the roommate. But he struck a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and the charges against him in his father's death were dropped.

The Associated Press is not naming the boy, who was 8 at the time of the shootings, because of his age.

The main task for a new judge will be to sentence the boy, but two motions also are pending.

Wood has asked the court to enforce the plea deal that outlined treatment for the boy as a way to give him a chance at a normal life.

Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting has a separate motion requesting an answer from the court on whether money is available for the treatment _ an issue he contends has caused sentencing to be delayed.

Two psychiatrists who evaluated the boy recommended an out-of-state facility for treatment. Roca had said that money wasn't an issue but he was unsure if he could lawfully require the boy's mother to leave the state. The judge had suggested ordering the boy to be committed to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Whiting said that issue may be moot now that he and Wood are considering two inpatient treatment facilities in Maricopa County that appear to meet the psychiatrists' requirements. The attorneys are scheduled to tour the facilities, where costs range from $100-$250 a day, within the next couple of weeks.

The appointment of a new judge will be up to Donna Grimsley, the presiding judge of the Apache County court. Whiting was hopeful a new judge will be assigned within two weeks, a delay he said will ensure the right results.

"You're not going to back the train down the tracks, you're just going to stop it and let the new judge on," he said. "And we're going to proceed from there."