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In a case that's troubling on so many levels, prosecutors in Uvalde, Texas have charged a 12-year-old boy with capital murder, the most serious felony on the law books. If convicted, he could serve 40 years in prison.
The boy, whose name isn't being released because he is a minor, broke into the home of a family he had often stayed with, and shot 24-year-old professional boxer, John Duane VanMeter, in the head. The heinous act is leaving more questions than answers at this point. But one thing's for sure: he is one of the youngest defendants to be charged with capital murder in the history of America.
Murder Suspect Knew His Victim Well
Around 8 p.m. one weekday night, VanMeter, his girlfriend, Sammy Arellano, and two children were in their home. The couple heard someone trying to kick down the door. VanMeter went to survey the scene, while Arellano stayed in the bedroom. She heard a gunshot and called 911.
When police arrived, it was clear that VanMeter was in grave danger -- a single gunshot wound to the head. He was pronounced dead at the local hospital at 8:43 p.m. No one else in the house was injured. Witnesses said they saw someone flee the scene dressed in black with a bandana over his face. Police had apprehended the suspect by the next morning, and he is currently being held in juvenile hall.
The suspect knew VanMeter. He had spent many nights sleeping on the sofa in VanMeter's home the past two months. Arellano said that the boy had threatened others before, including her son.
Suspect Will Be Tried as a Juvenile
Texas authorities often charge suspects with the highest possible crime, and work their way down from there, so it came as no surprise the suspect was charged with capital murder. This crime requires a murder to be committed during the commission of a violent felony, and it appears the suspect was robbing the home, since force was used to enter the home in which people were presently in.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that minors that are 14 or under cannot be charged as adults, and the United States Supreme Court has ruled it is cruel and unusual punishment to impose the death penalty on anyone under 18 years of age. Therefore, instead of facing the death penalty, the accused is looking at 40 years in prison.
Motive Still Unknown
But all of this still raises the looming question, what would drive a 12 year old boy to commit such a violent crime. "If a child has committed an adult crime, then almost by definition, you know that there are serious problems in that child's life," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "A kid who commits murder isn't thinking about the law. He or she is caught up in some very complicated set of emotions. ... We're dealing with somebody who has been seriously abused or neglected or is mentally ill."
If you or someone you love has been charged with a serious crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney. Whether it's capital murder, robbery, or even shoplifting, an experienced lawyer can help put forth your best defense.