- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — In the days after little Jayza Laney Simms died, detectives asked her 7-year-old half brother if he knew what had happened to the baby girl.

At first he said he had dropped the baby. In the second interview, he blamed everyone in the family for Jayza’s death.

Finally, on the third meeting with detectives, the boy admitted to what the horrendous evidence showed — that he had punched and kicked his 7-month-old sibling and hit her on the head with a two-by-four, authorities said.

Now the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office is facing the question of what to do with a child so young accused of such a vicious attack. It is a rare, troubling situation.

Each year, there are less than a half dozen cases of children 8 or younger who commit murder, specialists say. In 2002, the most recent year for which data were available, there were just three, the FBI reports.

But in recent days, there has been new attention paid to the issues surrounding very young killers. In New York, a 9-year-old is accused of stabbing her 11-year-old playmate to death at a Memorial Day gathering.

British police on Thursday were questioning two 11-year-olds arrested on suspicion of attempting to murder a 5-year-old boy.

But those who study young killers say the law does not allow for prosecution of children who might not know their actions are wrong and who would not be competent to stand trial on such weighty charges.

“These are children who still believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Their view of reality is much different than those of adults,” said Arthur Busch, a former prosecutor in Michigan who handled the 2000 case of a 6-year-old boy who fatally shot his classmate. That boy, who was not prosecuted, is in a home for troubled children.

In the Tampa case, specialists agree it would be unlikely for prosecutors to press charges against the boy because of his age. English common law dating back centuries has established that children 7 or younger cannot be held accountable for their actions, and those between 7 and 14 are presumed to be unable to form criminal intent.

“Fortunately these cases are exceedingly rare and the response should be one of compassion and understanding rather than punishment,” said Steve Drizin, assistant director of Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law.

Little is known about the unidentified boy, who has been released to live with his mother in Lakeland while prosecutors decide whether to press charges. The Florida Department of Children & Families has declined to comment on the case.

The boy had been visiting his father in Tampa, where the father lives with his girlfriend and their two daughters, police said. The second girl, a toddler, was not injured.

Police said the couple were outside of their town house visiting with friends while the children were asleep. The boy came outside around midnight to tell his father the baby was bleeding.

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