COLVILLE – An 11-year-old boy sat in a Stevens County courtroom Thursday, playing with a rubber band as lawyers argued over whether a handgun and knife could be used as evidence in his trial for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Prosecutors say the grade-schooler conspired to rape and murder a female classmate in February “because she was annoying.” Lech Radzimski attempted to cast the boy as anger-prone and keenly aware of his intentions when the alleged plot was uncovered and officials found weapons in another student’s possession at Fort Colville Elementary School on Feb. 7.
Defense attorney Don Richter argued the boy suffers from personality disorders that diminished his awareness of how serious the threats were.
The Spokesman-Review is not reporting the names of the children involved in this case.
Thursday’s key testimony came from Melody Youker, a case manager at the juvenile jail in Medical Lake where the boy was taken. Youker told the court she worked with the boy after he was put in a holding cell “kind of bouncing around.”
“He seemed overly happy, considering the situation,” Youker said.
Youker testified that the boy made an unsolicited confession, telling her he was having a bad day because “he was here … and (the girl) was still alive.” As Youker testified, the boy lowered his head, cupped his forehead with his palms and stared at his feet.
During several months in detention, Youker said the boy came to trust her, and in May revealed he had episodes at night where he believed he left his body and became a wolf. He told Youker he feared “the wolf” was taking control of him. Richter pressed Youker on the unpredictability of the boy’s behavior, and she said he had occasional mood swings.
The defense plans to call a psychiatric expert today.
“I look forward to people actually getting to get to know (the boy) a little bit better,” Richter said following the day’s proceedings.
Stevens County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Rasmussen said he was pleased with Thursday’s testimony and remained confident the accused will be found guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Judge Allen Nielson is presiding over the case and will determine whether to convict or acquit the boy.
One classmate testified that he watched the boy playing with the knife on a bus ride to school, while another said he was offered money to keep quiet about the plot.
The two students hatched the conspiracy over a period of two weeks, according to prosecutors. The other boy has pleaded guilty to the charges. The remaining suspect planned to stab the girl to death while his friend pointed a gun at classmates, pledging to shoot anyone who tried to intervene.
The second witness testified the boy discussed handcuffing and raping the girl prior to stabbing her to death with the knife.
“(The accused) has an easy temper, he gets mad really quickly,” he said during testimony while also describing himself as a friend of the defendant. He also said he felt sorry for the defendant.
In cross-examination, Richter seized upon claims the girl and her friends teased the defendant.
Other witnesses reconstructed the events of Feb. 7 that led to the accused and another boy’s arrest. After Roger Payette, a school disciplinary officer and special needs instructor, was told the accused had a knife, Payette searched his pockets and backpack, turning up no evidence. However, a search of a friend’s property yielded a knife and a semi-automatic .45-caliber handgun.
The defense team failed to keep the weapons from being used as evidence. The judge did, however, suppress a letter allegedly penned by the boy’s co-conspirator from being read in court.
During the proceedings, the boy – wearing a white dress shirt and striped tie – scribbled notes on a legal pad, bent over the table and whispered to his attorneys. The family took the boy for a lunch break and snacks during recesses.
A school counselor, Debbie Rogers, testified that after revealing to the boy her knowledge of the plot and the weapons, he stood up and started pacing the room. The behavior was consistent with the several other times she’d seen him upset, a recurring problem after the boy enrolled in the Colville district in April 2012, she said.
“He was very agitated; he started grabbing his head,” Rogers said.
The boy’s grandparents were called to the school and parents of all students were notified of the incident later that morning, according to court records. The co-defendant in the case has been sentenced to a minimum of three years in juvenile detention.
Prosecutors say he told police he stole the weapons from an older brother who in turn took them from a now-deceased grandfather. He is serving his sentence at Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie.