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Judge in family deaths case says suspect, 14, cited brother’s autism

Eldon Gale Samuel III blamed his family’s troubles on his younger brother’s autism, saying the stress of having a disabled child was responsible for his dad’s addiction to painkillers and his mother’s decision to leave the family, according to information disclosed Friday in court.

“Eldon, when asked why he did what he did, said ‘If he wasn’t there … we’d be a happy family,’ ” said Magistrate Judge Barry Watson.

The 14-year-old is accused of killing his father, Eldon Samuel Jr., 46, and his brother, Jonathan Samuel, 13, on March 24 inside an emergency housing unit in Coeur d’Alene owned by St. Vincent de Paul.

Samuel initially was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of his father and brother. However, Watson said he was changing the charge to second-degree murder in the death of the father, whom Samuel accused of beating him when he was on medication and threatening to kill him, the judge said. The father died of a gunshot wound to the stomach from a .45-caliber pistol. He was shot in the face and head after he was dead, according to autopsy results. Jonathan Samuel, who was hiding under a bed, died of multiple gunshots, but also was stabbed with a knife and hacked with a machete, the autopsy said.

At the request of the public defender’s office, which is representing Samuel, his preliminary hearing this week was closed to the public. But Watson recapped testimony from witnesses in court on Friday, when he explained his decision for differentiating between the murder charges. There’s a stronger case for premeditation in Jonathan Samuel’s death, he said.

Samuel described “hating Jonathan for about five years” when he was questioned by police after his arrest, Watson said. Samuel told officers that he loved his father but that his father acted crazy when he was on drugs, Watson said.

“He just beat me. I loved him, but the next time he came after me …,” Samuel told police officers in a report quoted by Watson. “That’s self-defense, right?”

Samuel is being charged as an adult. The slender, dark-haired boy appeared in 1st District Court in Kootenai County on Friday, wearing a green T-shirt and sweatpants.

Witnesses who testified at Samuel’s preliminary hearing described a reclusive, dysfunctional family, with a father who was inebriated and the two boys left on their own, according to Watson’s account.

Last August, Coeur d’Alene police were called to Kootenai Health’s emergency room, where the father was unconscious. Medical personnel were concerned about the boys. The police officer said Samuel appeared calm, wasn’t surprised that his dad was incapacitated and appeared used to taking care of his disabled younger brother but was frustrated with him. The police officer went to the house at 1311 N. First St., where the presence of cleaning solvents made him wonder if the father was inhaling. But the father recovered enough to go home, and his two sons went with him.

Four days later, a Kootenai County sheriff’s deputy responded to a call at the house shortly after midnight. The father was slumped in the front yard, inebriated and incoherent. Samuel said he had called the police because he was worried about his dad trying to get in the truck and drive. Jonathan was hiding under the bed.

The deputy assisted the father inside and left after Samuel said he felt safe remaining in the house that night.

On the night of the fatal shootings March 24, neighbors and a St. Vincent housing manager described hearing a single gunshot around 7:30 p.m. They looked outside, but didn’t see anything suspicious.

Their accounts appear to match what Samuel told officers after he was arrested, Watson said. Samuel told officers that his dad fired a single shot outside and that he was talking about zombies and acting crazy from the medications. Samuel said his dad started hitting and pushing him.

The father dropped the .45-caliber pistol but frequently carried another, Samuel told officers.

“I felt scared, like he was going to kill me. I didn’t know if he had the 9 mm on him,” Samuel told the officers.

Samuel picked up the gun and shot his father in the stomach, following his father into the back bedroom where his brother was hiding under the bed, according to Watson.

Officers who responded after Samuel called 911 around 9 p.m. didn’t find the 9 mm Luger, but they did find a manual for it and pawn shop slips, according to Watson’s account. They also found a hidden compartment in the couch for knives and bottles of prescription painkillers in the house, drugs that were present in the father’s system, according to a toxicology report. Though Samuel waived his right to talk to an attorney before confessing to police after he was taken into custody, Watson said he has concerns about the process.

“Eldon said yes, he understood those rights, but the officer never asked if he wanted an attorney,” Watson said. “We had witnesses testify that he seemed of average intelligence for a 14-year-old, but he didn’t do well in school. He missed a lot of school.”

Samuel didn’t understand some of the words the police officers used when they questioned him, Watson said. And Public Defender John Adams, who had heard about the shooting, wasn’t allowed to see Samuel when he went to the police station, Watson said.

When the case goes to trial, the court will have to take a hard look at the admissibility of some of Samuel’s statements, Watson said.