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12 year old boy charged with murdering foster child living with his family

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on Tue, 07/17/2012 - 18:16
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The boy is being charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of a 2-year-old foster child

PALMER PARK, Md. — Police in a Washington, D.C., suburb say a 12-year-old boy is being charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of a 2-year-old foster child living with his family.

The boy is being charged as a juvenile and his name is not being released. Spokeswoman Julie Parker of the Prince George's County, Md., police says the boy's father called 911 Tuesday night to report the girl was unresponsive. The man performed CPR on the child, but she was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Parker says an autopsy confirmed the child, identified as Aniyah Batchelor, died of blunt force trauma. The 12-year-old, who lives in Fort Washington, was charged Wednesday and made his first appearance in court Thursday. He is being held at the Cheltenham Youth Facility.

The Associated Press.

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A 2-year-old girl in Fort Washington is dead, the victim of a horrendous crime, authorities say. Yet in the weeks ahead, the public can expect to learn little if anything from state and local officials about the people involved in the case — about the slain toddler, about the family that took her in as a foster child and about the 12-year-old boy who is charged as a juvenile in her fatal beating.

Aniyah Batchelor will be buried soon. Her foster parents, who have three children of their own — including the alleged killer — have declined to talk publicly about her death. Prince George’s County police and prosecutors and the social-services agencies that were responsible for the girl say they are barred by law from disclosing details about the family, the victim or the suspect, now locked in a youth detention center.

“Privacy issues related to people in care are very sensitive,” said Pat Hines, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees foster children statewide. Citing confidentiality laws, he declined to comment on how closely the Fort Washington family was monitored by social-services workers and whether officials knew of any emotional problems afflicting the boy.

At the Prince George’s state’s attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the youngster, spokesman John Erzen also cited privacy statutes: “The first thing I will tell you is, because the [charge] has been filed in juvenile court, it really ties my hands in terms in what I can and can’t say.” He said he was even barred from disclosing the date of the boy’s next closed-door appearance before a judge.

Confidentiality is a hallmark of juvenile-justice systems across the country, part of a philosophy that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment and public shame. It’s legally possible that the boy’s case eventually will be moved to adult court and prosecuted openly. But if it stays in juvenile court and he is convicted or admits that he killed the girl, he could be locked up only until his 21st birthday.

The concept extends to the news media, including The Washington Post, which in most cases does not publish the names of suspects who are charged as juveniles.

Aniyah’s mother, Stephany Cunningham, 25, of Landover, said she lost custody of her two daughters in November after another of her young children, a boy, was severely burned in a bathtub of scalding water. The boy, who already had been removed from her custody, was visiting Cunningham at the time, she said.

Aniyah was placed in a neatly kept split-level house in the 1800 block of Taylor Avenue in Fort Washington. Without disclosing names, police described the foster parents as a man and a woman with three children — the 12-year-old boy and girls ages 15 and 4. With the adults not home Tuesday morning, police said, the teenage girl was in charge of the younger children when Aniyah was killed.

“Our hearts go out to the families,” the state Department of Human Resources said in a statement. The department oversees the county Department of Social Services, which monitors foster children locally. The state agency said the screening of prospective foster parents includes background checks and interviews of all family members and “references from schools on all school-age children in the home.”

The charge filed in Aniyah’s death, second-degree murder, is a lesser offense than first-degree murder because it does not include premeditation. And that legal distinction could be crucial to the future of the 12-year-old suspect.

Under Maryland law, for a boy his age to be prosecuted as an adult, he would have to be charged with a crime that, if committed by an adult, would carry a possible life prison term. For an adult in Maryland, first-degree murder is punishable by up to life in prison, but the maximum sentence for second-degree murder is 30 years.

As authorities continue gathering evidence in the case, however, they could decide to upgrade the charge against the boy to first-degree murder. “Certainly, as an investigation continues, charges can change,” said Erzen, stressing that he was not commenting on the boy’s case specifically. “Charges can be dropped, charges can be added.”

By Paul Duggan

washingtonpost.com

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Boy charged in killing didn’t want toddler in house, prosecutor says

The 12-year-old Fort Washington boy charged in the beating death of a 2-year-old foster child who was staying with his family told investigators he did not like the girl and did not want her in his home, a prosecutor said in court Thursday.

The boy, who is charged as a juvenile with second-degree murder, told detectives that he hit Aniyah Batchelor “at least six times,” and the beating lacerated her liver, pancreas and adrenal gland, Assistant State’s Attorney Yvonne Cunningham said. Psychologists and psychiatrists who examined the boy found no apparent mental problems, Cunningham said, and concluded that he is “very intelligent.”

“This suggests someone who absolutely knew what he was doing,” Cunningham said.

The details, which emerged during a Prince George’s County juvenile court hearing to determine whether to delay the boy’s case, provide the most thorough look yet into what could have motivated the attack. In essence, Cunningham told Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Herman C. Dawson that the boy was jealous of the toddler his family had been taking care of for months, and she questioned his parents’ ability to control him around his biological siblings.

The boy, shorter than 5 feet and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, said nothing at the hearing. The Washington Post generally does not name juveniles who are charged with crimes.

During the hearing, the boy was flanked by 14 family members and supporters, including a few children. As Dawson ordered that he remain held until his Sept. 4 trial, some family members sobbed and said: “It’s not right. He didn’t do it.” They declined to comment afterward.

Raouf M. Abdullah, the boy’s defense attorney, argued during the hearing that prosecutors’ evidence against his client was scant, and that their case would largely come down to statements the boy made to detectives after he endured several hours of “very offensive interrogation tactics.” He said the toddler’s injuries might have occurred during the boy’s father’s efforts to revive her, and that the boy initially denied involvement in the death.

“The injuries could very well have happened during the CPR,” Abdullah said. “There is no evidence that [the boy] is the person who caused this problem.”

He said the boy carried a 3.1 GPA and worked around his neighborhood picking up trash for $5 a week.

Police have said previously that the boy’s father called 911 the afternoon of July 3 after finding the toddler unconscious. The father had been “summoned home” by his biological daughter, 15, who had been watching the toddler and her two biological siblings — the boy and a 4-year-old girl, police have said.

A preliminary autopsy determined that the toddler died of blunt-force trauma, police have said. Cunningham said in court that investigators were awaiting a final autopsy, and that was why she asked to postpone the trial.

The toddler had been placed with the Fort Washington family in November, after she was removed from her home because of “allegations of physical abuse” related to one of her brothers, according to records provided by Maryland’s Department of Human Resources in response to a Public Information Act request.

Stephany Cunningham, the toddler’s mother, said in a previous interview that the incident was an accident in which someone — not her — put her 3-year-old son in a tub filled with water that scalded him during a bath.

Before the toddler’s placement, the Fort Washington family had successfully completed a “home study” in which foster-care workers reviewed family members’ criminal and medical records, interviewed references and conducted several home visits, according to Department of Human Resources records. The family also successfully completed foster-parent training, according to the records.

Foster-care workers visited the toddler’s foster home — meeting with the child and the family — seven times after she was placed there, most recently on June 21, according to the records. They also met with the family at the Prince George’s social services department’s office four times and accompanied the toddler and her foster parents during a doctor visit when she had a cold, according to the records.

In court on Thursday, prosecutor Cunningham questioned safety at the home. She said that prosecutors thought the boy’s father was “somewhere in the home when Aniyah was found unconscious” — a statement that drew vigorous head shaking from members of the boy’s family and contradicts the initial police account. That, combined with the seriousness of the crime, made prosecutors concerned that “the parents are not able to control the respondent,” Cunningham said.

Abdullah, who disputed the characterization, declined to comment after the hearing. Apparent members of the toddler’s family also declined to comment, referring questions to Cunningham.