Hearing set for 8-year-old accused of shooting 90-year-old caregiver

Home where an 8-year-old boy is accused of fatally shooting his 90-year-old caregiver in the back of the head
Home where an 8-year-old boy is accused of fatally shooting his 90-year-old caregiver in the back of the head

SLAUGHTER, LA (WAFB) - A hearing has been scheduled for the 8-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting his elderly caregiver in the back of the head while she was watching television.

The tragic shooting happened at the Country Breeze mobile home park on LA 67 near Slaughter, LA just after 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 22, 2013.

The East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Office says the boy was playing 'Grand Theft Auto IV' just before he took his caregiver's .38 caliber handgun and shot her. Deputies say that they are not sure if the game triggered the violent behavior of the child, but it is something they are investigating.

It is not known how the child obtained the handgun.

The boy initially told officials that the shooting was an accident, but after further investigation, they believe that the child intentionally shot 90-year-old Marie Smothers. Smothers was caring for the child and family members of the child say the woman and the boy were very close, and even slept in the same bedroom.

In Louisiana, a child under the age of 10 can not be charged with a crime. The law states: "Those who have not reached the age of 10 years are exempt from criminal responsibility. However, nothing in this article shall affect the jurisdiction of juvenile courts as established by the constitution and statutes of this state."

The 8-year-old suspect was released to his parents Thursday night. His name has not been released because of his age.

District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla filed a Family in Need of Services (FINS) petition for the child. A FINS would allow the judge to act on a variety of options, including mental health care for the child.

According to the State of Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice website:

Families in Needs of Services (FINS)

The FINS program works with youth and their families.  Many of the grounds for filing a FINS petition involve conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, but when committed by a youth is grounds for a FINS adjudication. Some examples are truancy (not attending school), being ungovernable (not obeying parents or repeatedly breaking school rules), runaway behavior (being absent from home without parental permission), violation of law by a child under age 10.  An offense such as theft or shoplifting is not a FINS offense; it is a delinquent offense.

Delinquent Act

A delinquent act is an act committed by a child ten years of age or older which, if committed by an adult, would be considered criminal under the statutes or ordinances of Louisiana and/or another state or federal law, with the exception of certain traffic offenses.

The petition allows the child to remain with his parents and go to school while a complete psychological evaluation is done.  A judge hears the case, then decides whether the offender needs to be moved to a group home setting.

"The law actually allows intervention with that child until his 18th birthday," said Curtis Nelson, 19th Judicial District Juvenile Section Chief.

Nelson says the goal is to figure out what's happening in the child's life that may have caused him to act in a negative way and work on getting him the treatment necessary to avoid future incidents.  Sometimes, he says, that means putting them in a psychological treatment facility.

"You can remove a child from home and place them in state's custody," said Nelson.  "You just cannot put them in a secure facility."

Taking the child away from his parents is only done as a last resort.

Nelson says while he's handled thousands of FINS cases in East Baton Rouge, he says one as serious as this has never crossed his desk.

The investigation is ongoing.

Slaughter, LA is 21 miles north of Baton Rouge.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.