Ind. prosecutor: Young murder suspect knew of guns

AP News
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Posted: Sep 07, 2011 3:56 PM
Ind. prosecutor: Young murder suspect knew of guns

A 12-year-old boy charged with murder knew exactly what he was doing when he pointed a rifle at the head of his 6-year-old brother and pulled the trigger, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega said the boy, who was 11 at the time of the shooting, understood that the gun was deadly because two of his stepfathers had taught him about gun safety.

"That's not someone who thinks a gun is a toy," he said. "That's someone who has a functional knowledge of firearms," Sonnega said.

Sonnega's comments came at the conclusion of a two-day hearing to determine whether the boy is guilty of murder and reckless homicide charges in the June 30 shooting. The boy, who has a different last name than his brother, is being tried as a juvenile but still could face several years in detention if he's convicted.

Judge Christopher Burnham said he would take the testimony under advisement and plans to issue a ruling Friday.

Defense attorney John Boren urged Burnham to dismiss both charges because of insufficient evidence. Burnham denied that request, and Boren later asked him to find his client guilty of a lesser charge of pointing a firearm at a person.

Boren argued that Andrew Frye's shooting was a "tragic mistake" and said the older boy hadn't realized the gun was still loaded after he ejected bullets from its magazine.

"The tragedy in this whole matter is that he unloaded the gun _ or at least he thought he unloaded the gun," Boren said.

Witnesses testified Tuesday that the boy had used a gun to intimidate his siblings into doing chores. The boy told police he pointed the gun at Andrew to scare him into cleaning his room and was surprised when it went off when he pulled the trigger, hitting Andrew between the eyes.

Martinsville police Officer Dennis Nail, a firearms instructor, demonstrated Wednesday how someone could remove the bullets from a rifle without realizing one remained in the firing chamber.

Nail, who knew the boy from church, and other defense witnesses described the boy as a polite youth who had a loving relationship with his younger brother and liked to read Andrew stories and play pretend games.

Several witnesses said the boy wasn't as mature as others his age and would sulk if he didn't get his own way.

He had been referred to a counseling agency when he was about 8 years old after hitting and shoving children at school.

Suzanne Rayl, a family counselor at Centerstone who has worked with the boy since he was about 8 years old, described him as "a good boy."

"He tries to take care of everybody. He's not any harm to anybody else."

The boys' mother is charged with neglect for leaving the gun where the children had access to it.

If the boy is convicted, Burnham can choose from a wide range of penalties geared for rehabilitation, including probation, special programs and juvenile detention. The boy could face detention until age 18 and remain on probation until he is 21, Sonnega said.