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Boy Charged With Arson, Murder Has Charges Explained to Him

At 9-year-old's court appearance, judge explained many words, concepts
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2019 10:30 AM CDT
Katie Alwood, left, and her mother plant flowers on April 17, 2019, near the Goodfield mobile home, in the background, where five relatives died in an April 6 fire.   (David Zalaznik/Journal Star via AP)
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(Newser) – The Illinois 9-year-old charged with five counts of murder in an April mobile home fire appeared in court Monday, where the judge repeatedly had to explain concepts and words the child didn't understand. The boy is accused of setting the Goodfield fire that ultimately killed his two young half-siblings, his young cousin, his great-grandmother, and his mother's boyfriend; critics have expressed concerns about charging someone so young with such a serious crime. When the judge started reading the charges, telling the boy he's alleged to have "committed the offense of first-degree murder and … set fire to trailer residence … thereby caused the death of Jason Wall," then asked the boy if he understood, the boy said no. When asked what he didn't understand, the boy said, "What I did," and the judge started over, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The judge continued with the other four murder charges, with the boy saying he understood, but the boy's lawyer stopped the judge and explained the boy didn't know what the word "alleged" meant. The judge explained that, as well as "dwell" and "arson." The next court date was set for next month. The boy was removed from his mother's custody after the April fire; the Journal Star reports his paternal grandparents are his foster guardians. Authorities haven't explained why it took more than six months for charges to be brought. After the charges were announced, the boy's mother came forward to insist her son, who she says has ADHD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, simply made a mistake. Days later, a gag order was issued in the boy's protective custody case. If he's convicted, he'll only face probation, but if he violates probation he can be sent to county detention once he turns 10. (Read more Illinois stories.)

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