Twelve-year-old John Duncan deliberately set out to kill a migrant worker when he headed down a steep trail on the bank of the Columbia River with two loaded guns, a judge ruled Monday.
Judge John Bridges found Duncan guilty of first-degree murder in the Aug. 20 slaying of Emilio Pruneda, who was shot more than 18 times. Duncan’s co-defendant, Manuel Sanchez, also 12, goes to trial Wednesday on the same charges.
“It is difficult to conceive of a more premeditated act,” Bridges said.
Duncan told Bridges he believed Pruneda was already dead when he emptied two guns into the victim’s prone body. The boy also contended there was no premeditation because he was confused and angry when the shooting occurred.
“It is not enough to say, ‘I was confused. I was mad. I was angry,”’ Bridges said. “There is no evidence in this case of any provocation or selfdefense.”
Duncan sat quietly, looking solemn and pale, as the judge issued his verdict after closing arguments in the third day of the bench trial in Chelan County Juvenile Court.
Defense attorney Neil Fuller said he did not expect to appeal.
“We made our case, and he didn’t believe what John had to say,” said Duncan’s mother, Jennifer. She declined further comment.
Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 20. Convicted as a juvenile, Duncan could be sent to a detention center until he is 21. Sanchez is also charged as a juvenile with first-degree murder.
Bridges quoted extensively from Duncan’s Aug. 20 statement to police describing how he and Sanchez wandered the riverbank with stolen guns, shooting at trees and the water, before the confrontation.
Duncan told police he and Sanchez became angry when Pruneda yelled at them and threw three or four rocks in their direction. One of the rocks struck Sanchez, whom Duncan described as “my best and only friend.”
They went to the top of the bank and reloaded, he said.
“Manuel was mad and said, ‘I’m going to shoot this guy,”’ Duncan said in his statement.
“I said, ‘If you shoot somebody, you can go to hell.’ Manuel said, ‘It’s OK if you become a church man, and I’ll just go to church.”’
The two boys then separated and headed down to the river.
Bridges said that “the court characterizes that action to be in the nature of a hunt.”
Duncan testified he was worried about his friend, whose chin was bloodied by a rock.
“He talked with Mr. Sanchez about going home to get some bandages. However he ran back down to the river’s edge, jumped on a rock and shot Mr. Pruneda,” Bridges said.
The judge also noted that when Deputy Prosecutor Jim Hershey asked Duncan why he didn’t leave, “Mr. Duncan replied that Mr. Sanchez wouldn’t leave until Mr. Pruneda was dead.”
There is no question Duncan acted with premeditation, Bridges said.
“We don’t know how long it took between the first shots taken at Mr. Pruneda and the last shot fired,” the judge said. “But surely it was more than a moment in time.”
In his statement to police, Duncan said that when he reached Pruneda, “The man wasn’t moving and looked dead. I had the revolver at my feet and Manuel’s gun in my hand. I shot Manuel’s gun until it was empty. My first shot hit him in the eye and it was sick, so I closed my eyes and shot him more.”
The victim was found near his only possessions - a blanket, a couple of cans of food and a blue tarpaulin.
Bridges also found Duncan guilty of first-degree burglary and two counts of first-degree theft of firearms, charges filed in an Aug. 20 break-in at an area home.
The two guns used in Pruneda’s slaying were taken from the home.