The murder charge recently filed against a 10-year-old boy in the shooting death of his father is not unprecedented, but is rare in Texas. The Houston Chronicle says that only once in the last five years has a child so young been charged with such a serious crime, and in only a handful of cases statewide have murder charges been filed against 10-year-olds before that. With all parties under a court-imposed gag order Harris County’s top juvenile prosecutor would not comment on what prompted the state to pursue murder charges against the boy who allegedly shot his father, a 41-year-old physician who was picking up his two sons from his ex-wife’s home for a weekend visit. Under state law, 10 is the youngest age at which any person can be charged with a crime. For serious crimes, such as murder or capital murder, no defendant younger than 14 can be certified to stand trial as an adult.
Critics say a murder charge against a 10-year-old shows how far juvenile justice has strayed from the purpose of treating young offenders. “That’s not the way I would have liked to see him dealt with,” said University of Houston Law professor Ellen Marrus, who is director of the Southwest Juvenile Defender Center. “That’s going to be with him for the rest of his life.” If the boy is found guilty, through what is known as determinant sentencing, he could receive a maximum 40-year sentence, said University of Texas law professor and juvenile justice expert Robert Dawson. The child would be placed with the Texas Youth Commission until he is at least 16, when he could be transferred to finish his sentence in an adult state prison. On the other end of the spectrum, he could get probation. In between are numerous other options in which, among others, the judge overseeing his case can place him on juvenile parole after he had served part of his sentence, hold him in a juvenile facility until he is 21 or release him.