Competency hearing sought for boy charged in shooting
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the potential sentence for the 11-year-old charged with manslaughter.
Detroit — Even in the most violent big city in the United States, law enforcement officials say it’s highly unusual for a pre-teen to be charged with manslaughter, as was the case Wednesday with an 11-year-old boy who allegedly killed a 3-year-old boy while playing with a gun in his father’s backyard.
“I cannot remember a time where we have charged someone so young with taking a life,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who’s worked in the prosecutor’s office for more than 30 years. “Very unfortunately and very tragically, the alleged facts in this case demanded it.”
The 11-year-old was visiting his father’s house in the 16000 block of Eastwood on the city’s east side Monday, playing with 3-year-old Elijah Walker in a car parked in the backyard, when the shooting occurred at about 1:40 p.m., according to prosecutors and a police report of the incident obtained by The News.
The alleged shooter, a seventh-grader at the Brewer Academy, initially was identified as Elijah’s brother, although police later said the two boys weren’t related.
The 11-year-old appeared at a pre-trial hearing Wednesday before Wayne County Juvenile Court Referee Anthony Crutchfield, who set a $5,000 or 10 percent bond after ruling the boy will stand trial on charges of manslaughter; death by weapon aimed with intent but without malice; and felony firearm. Because of his age, The News is not identifying the boy by name.
If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to a juvenile detention facility up to age 21.
Police are continuing to investigate the case to determine if they will also seek negligence charges against one of the boy’s parents, according to a source close to the investigation.
Police also are investigating reports that the 11-year-old pulled a gun on a neighbor during an argument last week, the source said. Meanwhile, federal authorities are trying to trace an AK-47 assault rifle taken from the shooting scene to determine if it was used in any other crimes, the source said.
It’s so rare to see 11-year-old manslaughter defendants, not a lot is known about them, Oakland University criminal justice professor Daniel Kennedy said.
“There’s just not a lot of data to study, because you don’t see it that often,” he said. “We don’t know as much about 11-year-olds as we do 15-year-olds. Maybe 10 percent of all homicides in this country are committed by people under the age of 18, and most of those cluster around 16 or 17. You don’t see a lot of 11-year-olds.”
Angie Wolf, director of justice strategies at the California-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency, said 11-year-olds don’t yet understand the consequences of their actions.
“An 11-year-old’s frontal cortex isn’t near developed yet,” she said. “That’s the part of the brain that focuses on judgment and how to solve problems and make decisions. This child has no idea what he’s done or the consequences of it.”
While charging a pre-teen with a violent crime is rare, it has happened before in Metro Detroit and elsewhere.
In a case that drew national attention, Nathaniel Abraham, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from Pontiac, was convicted of killing 21-year-old Ronnie Greene with a stolen .22-caliber rifle in 1997. An Oakland County judge sentenced Abraham as a juvenile, allowing him a second chance. When released in 2007, state programs paid for an apartment and tuition to attend a community college — yet a year later undercover cops caught Abraham doing a curbside drug deal in downtown Pontiac.
Sometimes, children even younger than 11 are charged with violent crimes. In Hastings, Nebraska, last year, a 9-year-old boy was charged with juvenile manslaughter after he shot his 4-year-old brother in the head with a .22 caliber rifle. A 10-year-old Maine girl in 2012 became the youngest person in 30 years to be charged in that state with a homicide, after killing a 3-month old baby. And in Ohio last year, a 10-year-old girl was also charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of a 3-month-old infant.
The Detroit defendant, a thin boy with close-cropped hair, wore an oversized black T-shirt and khaki pants when he walked into the small courtroom Wednesday, arms folded across his chest at the direction of the court officer. During the hearing, the boy sat with his hands folded on the table in front of him, fidgeting and alternating between glancing at the assembled media, the referee and his mother, who sat to his left.
The boy’s attorney, Beverly Anthony Walker, asked for a competency hearing.
“In interviewing him, some questions came up that caused me to question his competency to stand trial,” said Walker, who added that the boy “was not active in school or the community.”
When the court referee asked about bond, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Steven Robinson said that a week prior to the shooting, the 11-year-old was “confronted with a neighbor, supposedly with a gun.”
When asked after the hearing whether he meant the boy or the neighbor had the gun, Robinson repeatedly refused to clarify his statement. Crutchfield was then asked by reporters for a clarification, but he simply shrugged and said: “I don’t know ... people say a lot of things in here.”
However, a police source confirmed that neighbors told investigators that the boy pulled a gun on a neighbor during an argument. Police were interviewing neighbors Wednesday about the alleged incident, the source said.
The source also said an AK-47 assault rifle was taken from the father’s home. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are checking the gun to see if it was used in another crime, the police source said.
‘The gun went off’
When officers from the 9th Precinct responded to a 911 call at 1:40 p.m. Monday, Elijah’s mother told them her son had been shot in the face, and then “pointed to the house and stated he is in the house,” the police report said. “I went into the house using the side door on the east side of the house and (observed) the victim ... laying on his back in the middle of the kitchen floor. Victim was not moving and had a gunshot wound to his left side of his face next to his left eye. Victim had blood coming out of his ears and his shirt was full of blood.”
After the officer called for an ambulance, he asked the victim’s mother what had happened. “She stated that she was in the house when (the 11-year-old, who has a different mother), ran into the house and stated that Elijah was just shot,” the police report said.
The woman told police she ran outside, pulled her son from the 1991 tan Chevy, and carried him into the kitchen, the report said.
The officer then talked to the 11-year-old, who “stated that he was playing in the car in the backyard with Elijah when the gun went off and Elijah was shot in the face,” the report said.
Elijah was taken by ambulance to St. John Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Crutchfield ordered the boy to undergo counseling if it’s available.
The hearing was attended by the defendant’s father, Curry Bryson, and his mother, Kwanna Luchie.
In the courthouse hallway after the hearing, Bryson said the shooting “has been hard for me.” He added: “I have a camera system around my house and that’s what saved me.” He did not elaborate.
The boy’s mother declined to speak with the media.
Relatives are seeking donations to cover funeral costs for the child they described as a “sweet baby boy” on a GoFundMe page launched Monday, which has raised more than $1,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.