Lawyer: Boy's Confession To Killing Dad Was Coaxed

Videotaped Confession

See an excerpt of the police interview with the 8-year-old via

YouTube.

The attorney for the 8-year-old Arizona boy accused of killing his father and another man last month says he needs more evidence before he can consider a plea deal offered by the prosecution. The case now hinges on a videotaped confession that he suggests police may have coaxed.

Defense attorney Ron Wood says the videotape of the boy — who has not been named because he's a minor — doesn't prove anything because police interviewed him without his mother or a lawyer present. "You can make an 8-year-old say whatever you want," Wood says in a phone interview. "That's where I'm coming from, and they're going to have to show me the rest" of the evidence.

On the evening of Nov. 5, the boy's father, Vincent Romero, 29, and roommate Timothy Romans, 39, were found shot to death at Romero's home in the small eastern Arizona community of St. Johns. Police allege that Romero's son used a .22-caliber rifle in the double homicide.

A Controversial Videotape

The linchpin in the Apache County prosecution's case is the videotaped interrogation that was released to the public. The video shows a young boy sitting cross-legged in a stuffed easy chair. No attorney is present for the interview, nor is the boy's mother — though police say she gave her permission. The mother, Eryn Bloomfield, was divorced from Romero, who remarried, and they shared custody of the boy.

Over the course of the hourlong video, the boy tells two female police officers that he came home from school and found his father lying on the floor, "and there was blood all over his face, and I think I touched it."

The boy changes his story many times over. He eventually tells the officers that "I think I shot my dad because he was suffering. ... He was suffering so I shot him. ... I didn't want him to suffer."

The boy then says he reloaded the gun and shot the roommate. Police have charged the boy as a minor with two counts of first-degree murder.

In court documents, police say the boy kept count of the number of spankings he received and told a caseworker from child protective services that when he reached 1,000, it would be his limit.

A Complicated Case

The case raises legal issues beyond whether the interrogation was legal. One of the biggest questions is whether an 8-year-old is legally competent to stand trial.

A child that young probably doesn't know enough about the justice system, says John Hollebeek, a psychologist in Tempe who often evaluates children for juvenile court. "He may have some bare-bones understanding of the court process," Hollebeek says, but "he might not understand the long-term decisions that he's making."

If the boy is found not competent now, the criminal charges could be dismissed entirely or dismissed and then brought back when he turns 15.

There are few legal precedents. In 1996, a 6-year-old in Richmond, Calif., was accused of attempted murder for trying to kill a neighbor's baby. In that case, the charges eventually were dropped, and the boy was placed in a residential treatment program.

In St. Johns, attorney Wood says it's challenging talking to his young client about the case. "His feet don't touch the floor. He still believes in Santa Claus," Wood says. "It's very difficult to try and explain some extremely complicated and adult circumstances to a young man."

Plea Deal Conditions Kept Quiet

Last weekend, prosecutors offered a plea deal for the boy. Its conditions haven't been made public. Wood says he's waiting for the state to turn over forensic evidence — such as gun powder residue, ballistics results, fingerprints, DNA tests — and for completion of the boy's competency evaluation. Then he says he'll sit down with the boy and explain the situation to him as best he can.

Prosecutors for Apache County did not respond to NPR's requests for interviews. The St. Johns Police Department and the Apache County Sheriff's Office also declined to comment.

The case has made national and international headlines. In an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, the boy's mother, Bloomfield, says he had a good relationship with his father. "He did a lot with him," Bloomfield said of her child. "... They did everything together. He loved his dad."

Rene Gutel is a reporter for member station KJZZ in Phoenix.

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