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Updated Dec 20, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Judge favors group home for St. Johns boy

ST. JOHNS, Ariz. — An Arizona boy who was 8 years old when he killed his
father and a family friend is on the verge of living a more normal life after
showing significant improvement in recent months in his court-ordered treatment.

The boy’s nearly 3-year stay at a Phoenix-area residential treatment center had
been rocky, with prosecutors alleging earlier this year that he violated
probation by issuing death threats, damaging property at the facility and
assaulting others. But the past 8 months have been a different story as the boy
came under the care of a new psychologist and learned to verbalize his feelings.

The probation violations brought him back to court on Thursday where Superior
Court Judge Monica Stauffer said moving him to a group home would help him build
on improvements he’s made since being charged in the 2008 double homicide.

The boy had pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the death of Tim Romans,
who had been renting a room in the house the boy shared with his father and
stepmother in St. Johns. Prosecutors did not hold him criminally responsible for
his father’s death.

Earlier this year, the boy acknowledged twice leaving the treatment center
without permission and smashing a wall clock, and the rest of the alleged
probation violations were dropped.

After hearing about how much the boy enjoyed school and excelled at schoolwork,
the relationship he’s formed with psychologist Dr. Alan Lewis and the desire
from his family to see him more often, Stauffer pledged not to fail the boy by
making a quick decision on where he should be placed. She instructed probation
officials to look further into two Phoenix-area group homes to see if they’d
accept the boy, would allow for day-long visits with his family and possibly let
Lewis continue counseling him.

“I want you to know I’m very proud of you,” she told the boy, who was seated
beside his mother in court. “I’m proud of the progress you’ve made and want you
to continue to have an attitude of making the changes you need and establishing
positive relationships.”

Attorneys in the case were struggling to find a suitable placement for the boy
since the Youth Development Institute where he’s being treated indicated it
didn’t want to keep him long-term. A school for troubled boys rejected the boy’s
application, foster care agencies said they had no room for him and experts said
placing him in the state Department of Juvenile Corrections would put him on a
path to becoming a sociopath.

Lewis testified at a September hearing that he considers the boy to be
proactive aggressive but said that behavior is typical for a boy that age and
does not see him as a risk.

Ann Mastergeorge, a developmental psychologist who studies risk and resilience
in young children, said she didn’t believe placing him in a residential
treatment was the best option to begin with and would rather see him placed with
a family than a group home at this point.

“Developmentally what would have been best for this boy would have been to be
in treatment but living in a family and going to school, having friendships,”
said Mastergeorge, a University of Arizona professor who is not connected to the

“It’s an isolated incident that was very traumatic and obviously very serious.
But to remove him from everyone he knows is another abandonment that creates
more loss and more disassociation.”

Romans’ family has said they prefer the boy to be in jail, while the boy’s
family said they would like to care for him in their own homes but recognize
that he’s in need of more therapy and that it would be difficult to have him
remain anonymous among a larger community or classmates.

“If you don’t have that encouragement and someone believing in you and loving
you, then what do you have to work toward?” said his grandmother, Liz Castillo.
“My concern is that no matter where he goes, that whatever happens or where he
is placed that something be implemented to have family be able to spend time
with him.”

Beth Rosenberg, the director of child welfare and juvenile justice for the
Children’s Action Alliance in Arizona, is familiar with the case but not
involved in it. She said keeping him in a facility that limits time with family
and a larger community would not be in his best interest.

“You don’t want to let him out at 18 and say `go for it,”’ she said. “He
needs to transition back to the community at some point and have the support he
needs to be successful as an adult.”

The boy’s attorney, Ron Wood, said he believes that his client has a chance of
becoming a “very exceptional young man” if he can get help dealing with the
root cause of the crime and the fallout.

The boy has a more limited vision for his future that, for right now, includes
wanting to spend his 13th birthday at the residential treatment center on Dec.
29, when he will be rewarded for his schoolwork, behavior and progress with

Stauffer ordered him send back to the treatment center until the next hearing
in January, saying “happy early birthday.”


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