Defense attorneys are questioning whether Leila Fowler’s 12-year-old brother is mature enough to aid his defense after making his first court appearance Wednesday.
Charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of his 8-year-old sister, the boy, who has not been identified, appeared in closed juvenile court. While the murder was not considered premeditated, there is a special allegation for the use of a dangerous weapon.
Fowler was stabbed in her Valley Springs, Calif., home on April 27 and later died from her injuries. Her brother, who told police there had been an intruder in their home, was arrested after a two-week manhunt and 2,000 hours of police work.
A judge asked the boy several times if he understood the charges against him and each time he answered, “Yes.”
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"Can a 12-year-old be psychologically, intellectually and emotionally mature enough to aid attorneys in defending himself against the most serious of charges?'' asked Fowler family attorney Steve Plesser.
The family continues to stand by the boy, as his father Mark Fowler said "until they have the proper evidence to show it's my son." He and his girlfriend Krystal Walters, as well as the boy’s biological mother Pricilla Rodriquez, attended the hearing.
His defense attorneys concede that the 12-year-old lied to police about there being an intruder, but that does not make him the killer.
"We have questions,'' Plesser said. "Why do the police think the minor did this? Why would a 12-year-old commit an offense like this? And how did it not lead to an immediate arrest and it took 2,000 hours of resources by the sheriff's office and the FBI? We're confident we'll get the answers when we examine and test the evidence.''
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If convicted, the boy cannot be held past his 25th birthday under California statutes, according to Sacramento legal analyst and attorney Ken Rosenfeld.
"The juvenile court system is designed for rehabilitation,'' Rosenfeld said. "If his sentence follows precedent and he does well in the system and doesn't get himself in trouble, he'll be out when he's 19 or 20.''
No plea was entered at the hearing. The boy remains in custody.