A 9-year-old boy has been charged with murder in connection with a deadly Illinois house fire that killed five people in April.
The boy, who wasn’t identified by police due to his age, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson, and one count of aggravated arson, according to the Chicago Tribune. The fire occurred in Goodfield, a small town about 150 miles southwest of Chicago.
Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman recently ruled the five deaths constituted homicide, after Eureka-Goodfield Fire Protection District officials determined the fire had been set intentionally.
“It was a heavy decision,” said Woodford County State’s Attorney Gregory Minger, the Journal Star reported.
“It’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day it’s charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have,” the prosecutor added. “But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality.”
"This is a horrible senseless tragedy that took the lives of five people," Woodford County Sheriff Matt Smith told Oxygen.com.
Despite the tragic deaths of her relatives and family, the accused child’s 28-year-old mother, Katie Alwood, said her son “made a terrible mistake” and insisted he’s “not a monster,” CBS News reported.
"People make mistakes, and that's what this is. Yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but it's still not something to throw his life away over," she told CBS.
She claimed her son took medication daily and had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and ADHD, the Tribune reports.
“Even though he lit the fire, I know his intentions were not to kill anybody,” she told the outlet. “I know that. He cries and cries and cries because he misses his family.”
The woman reportedly heard the screams of her fiancé, Jason Wall, in his final moments as he was scorched alive.
"I don't know what's worse,” she told CBS News. “Hearing him scream, or when it stopped.”
Alwood’s two children, Daemeon Wall, 2, and Ariel Wall, 1, also died in the fire, along with grandmother Kathryn Murray, 69.
The child, who will not face prison time, is expected to receive probation, legal experts told Oxygen.com. In Illinois, the minimum age for detention is 10 years old. However, some family members of the victims say prison time is merited.
“Some days it’s easier to breathe than others,” Samantha Alwood, the 9-year-old’s aunt, whose 2-year-old daughter Rose Alwood died in the Goodfield fire, told The Tribune.
Samantha, who’s still reeling from the loss of her daughter, believes a prison sentence into adulthood is merited.
“It hurts knowing that I won’t get to see her first day of school,” she added. “I won’t get to see her first tooth fall out. I won’t get to see her become someone amazing."
“I think they should throw him in prison,” said John Wall, the brother of Alwood’s fiancé who perished in the inferno, the Journal Star reported.
While murder charges against children aren’t totally unheard of, legal experts said they’re largely uncommon.
"Murder among juveniles, period, is extremely rare,” Elizabeth Clarke, president and founder of the Illinois-based Juvenile Justice Initiative told Oxygen.com. “It’s shocking to charge a 9-year-old criminally."
Clarke was critical of Woodford County’s decision pursue murder charges against the minor.
“This is completely out of step with what the world thinks,” she explained.
Clarke noted that in Germany, for example, the minimum age of prosecution is 14. She also cited a United Nations report, which suggested youth under the age of 14 shouldn’t ever be held criminally responsible. She explained that Illinois was once at the forefront of juvenile justice and in the 1890s became one of the first places in the world to institute a juvenile court.
Those days, Clarke lamented, are long gone.
“I feel like we’re taking a significant step backwards,” she added. “Our state has made the choice to charge a 9-year-old with murder.”
Patrick Keenan-Devlin, a Chicago-based criminal defense attorney, was also shocked by the murder charges.
“We should not be locking up 9-year-olds,” Keenan-Devlin echoed. “We should be putting in services and supports for children who commit crimes that shock the conscious.”
Prosecutors said the 9-year-old will be appointed an attorney and will face a bench trial in front of a judge, NBC reported.
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