What we know about the 10-year-old charged as an adult with killing his mother

The Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center, 10201 W. Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa.

A 10-year-old Milwaukee boy has been charged as an adult in the shooting death of his 44-year-old mother.

The case is less than two weeks old and has already generated national headlines and discussions about the best way for children to be held accountable for serious crimes.

Here is what we know about the case:

What are the circumstances surrounding the shooting?

The shooting was reported at 6:50 a.m. Nov. 21 on the 7400 block of North 87th Street, on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

In an initial news release, police reported the boy was “playing” with the gun and no arrests were made, though the case would be reviewed by prosecutors.

According to the criminal complaint:

The boy initially told police he was twirling a gun around his finger when it accidentally fired, striking his mother in the head. He was allowed to stay with his family in the immediate aftermath.

One day after the incident, the family of the boy contacted police with concerns. They said he made inconsistent statements about the shooting, showed no remorse for his actions, physically attacked his 7-year-old cousin and bought a virtual reality headset using his mother’s credit card the morning after the shooting.

Police interviewed the boy again. He said the night before the shooting, he got into an argument with his mother over an unspecified issue. That same night, he took his mother's key to the lockbox where she kept a handgun and hid it in his own nightstand.

The next morning, he told police, his mother woke him up a half-hour early, at 6 a.m. He then retrieved the gun using his mother's key and went downstairs to the basement, where she was doing laundry.

He told police he pointed the gun at her with two hands in a shooting stance. He said he did this because he was upset his mom woke him up early that morning and would not buy him a virtual reality headset from Amazon.

He told police he never said anything to her before pointing the gun at her and firing. He said his mother tried quickly walking toward him while telling him to put the gun down, but, “I didn’t listen to her,” he told police.

Afterward, he told police, he got “really nervous and I didn’t know what to do. Then, I just tried to fake everything like I was innocent… but now, clearly, I’m not.”

One day later, the boy's family told police he bought the virtual reality headset on Amazon by logging onto his mother's Amazon account. The boy admitted it to police, and said making such a purchase after the shooting sounded "bad."

More:Activists call for boy, 10, accused in mom's shooting death to be tried in juvenile court

Who is involved?

Due to the age of the boy and the circumstances of the shooting, the Journal Sentinel is not naming the boy or his mother at this time. The criminal complaint detailing the allegations has been sealed from public view.

Why is the boy in adult court?

Prosecutors have filed two charges as options for a judge or jury to consider: first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide.

In Wisconsin, state law requires children as young as 10 to be charged as adults for certain serious crimes, at least to start the case. That includes the homicide charges the boy faces.

Prosecutors initially charged the boy with reckless homicide, but later added an alternative charge of intentional homicide.

Could the case be moved to juvenile court?

Yes. To successfully move a case from adult to juvenile court, three things must be proven:

  • They cannot get adequate treatment in the adult system;

  • Moving the case to juvenile court would not “depreciate the seriousness of the offense;”

  • And staying in adult court is not necessary to deter other children from similar offenses.

Are there mental health concerns with the boy?

Yes.

According to the criminal complaint:

The boy’s relatives were long concerned about the boy’s behavior and mental state prior to the shooting.

Relatives said he had “rage issues” all his life and described him as intelligent and manipulative. Sometime before the shooting, he received an unspecified but “concerning” diagnosis from a therapist.

Family also told police about several episodes of disturbing behavior from the boy’s past. When he was 4, he swung the family’s puppy by the tail until it howled in pain.

Six months before the shooting, he filled a balloon with a flammable liquid and set it on fire, causing it to explode and start the carpet and furniture on fire. He explained himself to his mother by saying he hears five different, imaginary people talking to him — two sisters, one older woman and two men, one of whom is “mean” to him — and that the "two sisters" told him to do it, relatives told police.

Relatives said that, prior to the shooting, his mother had stopped sharing details about the boy to other family members and none of them would agree to babysit him.

Where is the boy being held?

The Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center, which includes courtrooms and a detention center.

The boy is being held on a $50,000 bail.

What happens if a juvenile is convicted in adult court?

Juveniles convicted in adult court are subject to the same procedures and penalties that an adult would face but they cannot be placed in an adult state prison until they reach age 17, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Council. Nobody under the age of 18 may be placed in maximum security.

Adult court carries longer terms of confinement and provides fewer rehabilitative services than the juvenile system.

First-degree intentional homicide comes with a mandatory life sentence. First-degree reckless homicide carries a maximum sentence of 60 years of imprisonment, split into 40 years of initial confinement in prison and 20 years of extended supervision in the community.

State law also offers more privacy protections to children charged in juvenile court, including withholding the defendant’s name. In adult court, defendants are named publicly.

Ashley Luthern of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Contact Elliot Hughes at elliot.hughes@jrn.com or 414-704-8958. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What we know about the Milwaukee boy, 10, accused of killing his mom