A New Mexico judge has ruled that an 18-year-old teenager will be sentenced as a juvenile for the 2013 murder of five family members.
The teen was 15 when he reportedly shot his mother while she slept, before killing three siblings and ambushing his father when he returned home.
At a hearing in juvenile court in October 2015, he pleaded guilty to the murders, which included his 9-year-old brother and two sisters aged 5 and 2, reported Daily Mail.
The defense argued he had suffered abuse at the hands of his parents and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and learning difficulties after being arrested.
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They added that in the two years since, he had responded well to psychological treatment.
“It all points in the same direction,” public defender Jeffrey Buckels said, according to Daily Mail. “He’s getting better and deserves a chance.”
A state clinical psychologist testified at a hearing that the boy grew up in a “bizarre” world in which he was kept isolated and his father changed from being a gangster to a religious pastor, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Other witnesses testified that the teenager had virtually no spelling and math skills when he was arrested.
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A forensic psychologist appearing for the defense urged five more years of treatment for the teen.
The prosecution pushed for the trial to be heard in an adult court.
Prosecutor Michelle Pato contended that the boy had been cold-blooded during the murders, and that they were planned.
“He played with his brother that day knowing he was going to kill him,” Pato added, reported Daily Mail. “This was very much planned, very thought out and cruel.”
It was also claimed that he intended to fire on shoppers at a Walmart, but investigators said they had no evidence he had been at a Walmart on the day of the shooting.
Judge John Romero accepted the defense’s position that the teenager could be rehabilitated. His ruling means he could be released from state custody when he is 21, in 2018.
Romero argued that the prosecution had not shown that there was “clear and convincing” evidence that the 18-year-old could not be rehabilitated, a requirement under the law if a defendant is to be tried as an adult, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Final sentencing will take place in juvenile court within three to six weeks (as of Feb. 13).