VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) — Attorneys for a 12-year-old California boy charged with killing his sister said Wednesday they wonder if he is mature enough to aid his defense.
The remarks came after the boy attended a closed juvenile court proceeding and was told he had been charged with second-degree murder with a special allegation for use of a dangerous weapon in the stabbing death of his 8-year-old sister.
Second-degree indicates the killing was not premeditated.
His sister Leila Fowler, was killed in the family's Sierra foothill home last month while the two children were home alone, authorities said.
"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 attorney Steve Plesser, who has been hired by the family to defend the boy.
The boy did not enter a plea at the hearing.
The Associated Press is withholding his name because he is a juvenile. Wednesday's hearing was not open to the public.
Plesser said neither he nor his law partner Mark Reichel had seen the evidence that led the Calaveras County district attorney to charge the boy. Still, they believe he is not guilty of the crime that terrified the rural community of Valley Springs and baffled investigators and the FBI for two weeks.
"We have no reason to have any doubts about our client's innocence," Plesser said.
Investigators went door-to-door in the area and searched barns, stables, outbuildings and ponds for evidence. They also collected DNA at the scene and from family members.
The attorneys declined to discuss specific details of the case during brief statements they made after the hearing, but they did talk in general about the legal issues they are facing.
"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."