Last week I posted on a story out of Florida about a 12-year-old boy facing adult charges and a mandatory sentence of life without parole for fatally beating 17-month-old Shaloh Joseph, his cousin. Yesterday the Miami Herald filed an update providing background on the boy’s troubled family history and exploring the challenges of moving forward on this case.
The article states that the boy told a child abuse investigator he hit the toddler with “his fingers and hand,” not with a baseball bat as alleged, because she did “bad things” to him to get him in trouble with the adults in his family. The boy explained he “had to baby-sit both the toddler and his 10-year-old brother for about 12 hours each day while his mother and the toddler’s parents went to work during the winter break from school.” (Whether the children were properly supervised during the Christmas holidays is at the center of the state’s Department of Children and Families investigation.)
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to try him as a juvenile or as an adult. A few points seem worth noting here: Shaloh’s parents do not want him charged as an adult; the boy’s testimony is clearly contradictory and arguably inadmissible (he originally confessed to using a bat but now denies it, saying he was tricked by the police); and as his lawyer Sandra Perlman, a public defender, points out, “The law says that it is questionable whether a 12-year-old has the mental capacity to waive Miranda rights, or even to give a statement to police.”
I hope that prosecutors at the state attorney’s office weigh these issues carefully as they decide where to try the boy. This is a high-stakes case, with much public attention focused on it, and I expect that the circumstances surrounding the incident and the boy’s confession, along with the long-term prospects for his protection, education and well-being, will all be given proper consideration when deciding the consequences for his actions.
On that note, the Miami Herald has published several letters from prominent community leaders urging the state attorney’s office to stick to juvenile court. Read the PDFs here.