St. Johns Murder

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Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods talks about the case of an 8-year-old boy accused of murder in St. Johns.

Ted Simons
>> Hello. Welcome to Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Earlier this month, two men were shot to death in the usually quiet northeastern Arizona town of St. Johns. The suspect, an 8-year-old boy, the son of one of the victims. Police conducted an interview with the boy that was captured on video and later made public. It's generated a lot of media attention and some serious questions about our criminal justice system. Here to talk about the case is former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods.

Ted Simons
>> Welcome. Your views on the case.

Grant Woods
>> There are a couple of red flags at least to me. The questioning of the 8-year-old is very suspect. Releasing the tape, the video to the press. I don't like that, either. That's always a tension that you have between what the press wants and what they should get and your investigation. I've wrestled with that over the years myself. The kid going home for Thanksgiving. Not big on that. As a rule if you're charged with a double murder you don't get to go home for Thanksgiving. I think you could probably go down to the jail and see quite a few people in that predicament. So I'm not crazy about it. It's a very weird case, though, very strange. I still -- it happened sometime ago. I still don't think we know what happened.

Ted Simons
>> Yeah. And that's another question that seems to be popping up more and more is some of these other things kind of go underneath the surface. Let's start with police and how they questioned the boy and why there was not an adult in the room with him.


>> Well, I guess their excuse is that they are saying, I gather, that they were just interviewing him and it turned into a confession. And I don't think anyone's going to buy that. It didn't look that way. You need to have a parent or guardian there or an attorney. In this case, the parents weren't available, one was out of state, one was the victim. Certainly you could have had an attorney appointed and had the attorney there. So even if you don't have that, in my view, I don't believe an 8-year-old can give a knowing and voluntary confession. I just don't think by definition -- what are you going to do? Read him his rights and he's going to understand what that's all about? I don't think so. So I think that confession is going to be thrown out. I think it was inappropriate for sure. So if they wanted to just use it for informational purposes, then I guess that's one thing. I don't like that, either. But then you don't release it to the public because now he's definitely been smeared, I think, across the world, really.
Ted Simons
>> Let's talk about the actions by the prosecutors there. First in releasing it. But also can you charge an 8-year-old with first degree murder?

Grant Woods
>> Theoretically you can. You know, first degree murder is premeditated murder. So you don't need much for premeditation. You just have to have thought about it. You have to have formed in your mind the intent to kill somebody and then killed them. Could a 8-year-old theoretically do that? That's a close call. I think that's a tough one. But I would say yes, that's possible. Of course, now they've dismissed the first degree murder charge against the father and left it against the roommate. That's rather odd as well. We have to figure that out.

Ted Simons
>> What's that all about?

Grant Woods
>> You know, we just have to guess right now like we're guessing about a lot of things. I think a couple things come to mind for me. One is as you're preparing the case, you certainly fair to revise your charges as you get new evidence, as you examine the evidence. So they could recharge him now or charge him with something less than first degree. Charge him with second degree murder, with negligent homicide, with manslaughter. Those basically revolve around reckless conduct. You knew or should have known that this sort of conduct with this weapon could result in the death of somebody. So they could charge him that way. Or they could just flat out say it was an accident based upon what they've discovered, which we don't know as far as the evidence. The first one was an accident, but then he stood there and waited, reloaded and waited for the second guy to come in. That's possible. It's also possible -- and people need to keep in mind that it's very possible -- that this kid didn't do it. Now, for him not to have done it you have to think that somebody else put four bullets into two men in St. Johns. That's pretty far-fetched but having said that, everything's far-fetched. I don't think that's more far fetched than a little kid taking a rifle that's as big as him and killing two adults and reloading seven times. That's a crazy scenario. So whatever happened here is really way out of the ordinary.

Ted Simons
>> We've talked about the police and we've talked about the prosecutors. What about the judge in this case? Specifically the gag order, which apparently a lot of folks had some trouble with. Your thoughts on that.

Grant Woods
>> I don't know. You know, he's doing his best up there with the situation that they've never seen before. And frankly, who has? Who has ever seen a 8-year-old charged with a crime like this? I never have. I've never even heard of it. So he did his best. I think he thought that this would protect everybody's rights and everybody's interests. And it seemed to have the opposite effect. I don't know. I don't have a big beef with that. I think it's not a bad thing that this judge up there in this small community is elected. He's going to have to figure out, what do we do here with this kid? Let's say he did it. Then what do we do with him? And who better than someone from the community there to figure out the community standards and assess the appropriate penalty. The next step really is going to be, unless there's more charges or more evidence that we haven't heard, is going to be the determination of whether he's going to be tried as an adult or a juvenile. The county attorney is to going to make a recommendation there. If they ask for him to be tried as a juvenile that will be it. If they say they want him tried as an adult they'll have to have a hearing on that and the judge will decide. I hope they don't try to try him as an adult. I think that's preposterous in my mind. And I am someone who back when I was A.G. I fought for, for example, 14, 15, 16, 17-year-olds who commit violent crimes I think they should automatically go to adult court. So I don't have any problem punishing young people who commit violent crimes as adults and punish them harshly. Not an 8-year-old. So I don't see that. Hopefully that won't happen. If it stays in juvenile court then the judge is going to have to decide whether he did it or not. And if he did, what do we do with him?

Ted Simons
>> And that is a good question. How do you -- is this a kind of -- it's a boy, it's an 8-year-old boy. Does society need to be protected from this boy? Especially when this boy becomes a young man?

Grant Woods
>> Right.

Ted Simons
>> An older man? I mean, at what point does society say, okay, it's okay not to have him under constant surveillance?

Grant Woods
>> Well, this is why I do think our justice system works best when as a rule we deal with cases individually. I think it's okay. I've thought a lot about it over the years. I think it's okay to say some things apply to everybody. If you use a weapon you are going to go to prison regardless of the reasons. But generally we should look at the individual case and the individual defendant. So in this case, if -- I will say if this kid did this, if he reloaded seven times and killed two adults and then spoke about it very calmly, even if it was an improper interview he spoke about it calmly, he needs to be locked up, I would think, for awhile, for quite awhile, until we figure out what in the world is wrong with this kid. And I think you individualize your attention, the psychological attention to this kid, until you get to the point where you figure he's not a threat to himself or others. And you do that up until he's 18. When he's 18 you'll have to let him go. So hopefully between now and the time he's 18, if he's found to have committed this, we can figure out what went wrong here and help this kid and get him on the right track.

Ted Simons
>> So between now and if this does go to trial, do you think justice can be served in a case like this?

Grant Woods
>> I think it can. And if it stays in jury court there the judge is going to make the decisions here. It's not going to be a jury. And the judge is perfectly capable of saying I'm not considering that interview at all. I won't consider this or that but I will consider this. He does that all the time. He'll make a good decision here.

Ted Simons
>> A fascinating case, isn't it?

Grant Woods
>> It's a fascinating case on all fronts, not the least of which is we still don't know what happened. Usually you can figure it out pretty quickly. And much less knowing why it happened, we don't know how it happened.
Ted Simons
>> Grant always a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.

Grant Woods
>> Thanks.

Grant Woods:Former, Arizona Attorney General

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