VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) — A 12-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his 8-year-old sister in their Central California home appeared Wednesday at closed juvenile court proceedings to hear the charges against him.
After the hearing, the boy's attorney, Mark Reichel, said the family of the two children wants to be left alone.
"As they travel down this incredibly difficult path, they are obviously extremely concerned about their son, who they also dearly love," he said.
The boy was charged with second-degree murder and a special allegation for use of a dangerous weapon for the death of Leila Fowler. No plea was entered.
Reichel and his law partner Steve Plesser said after the hearing that they had not yet seen the state's evidence implicating the boy in the killing that terrified Calaveras County.
The attorneys declined to speak about the details of the case during brief statements after the hearing.
Ken Rosenfeld, a Sacramento legal analyst and attorney, said that under California criminal statutes, if the boy is convicted he cannot be held past his 25th birthday.
Most young people convicted of similar crimes are paroled by age 19 or 20, said Rosenfeld, who is not associated with the case.
"The juvenile court system is designed for rehabilitation," Rosenfeld said. "If his sentence follows precedent and he does well in the system and doesn't get himself in trouble, he'll be out when he's 19 or 20."
The boy was arrested Saturday after a two-week manhunt for a mystery intruder the boy had said he saw in the home before he found his sister bleeding.
On Tuesday, Reichel told The Associated Press the youngster might have lied about seeing a long-haired man fleeing the scene, but that doesn't make the boy the killer.
He said his client might have made up a "macho" story about scaring away the intruder because he was scared.
The AP is withholding the boy's name because he is a juvenile, and Wednesday's hearing in juvenile court was not open to the public,
Meanwhile, a recording of a 911 call indicates a woman who identified herself as the mother of Leila Fowler believed the girl was fine when she called authorities from another location.
In the recording released Tuesday, a woman can be heard calling 911 after getting a call about a mystery intruder from the girl's 12-year-old brother.
The caller said the children, including Leila Fowler, were OK.
"My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of our house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming. He came out and a man was in the house," the panicked caller says in the call made April 27. "They said they're OK."
She added, "My daughter is freaking out right now."
In fact, Leila Fowler was dying of stab wounds.
For two weeks, Calaveras County sheriff's investigators searched door to door for witnesses and evidence.
The children's father, Barney Fowler, was at a Little League game, and the siblings were home alone. The boy called his father and his fiancee to report that Leila had been attacked, and the fiancee called 911 and referred to the children as her own. The couple then sped home.
Frightened residents locked their doors and loaded weapons, fearing that a random attack had taken place in their midst.
"How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?" said Reichel, whose firm was part of a team that two years ago successfully defended members of the Hmong community, including former Gen. Vang Pao, against charges they plotted to overthrow the government of Laos.
Reichel declined to comment on the emotional state of the boy or his family.
"They're going through a very difficult time," he said.
Barney Fowler spoke briefly with AP on Monday and said, "Until they have the proper evidence to show it's my son, we're standing behind him. If they have the evidence, well that's another story. We're an honest family."
His 19-year-old son, Justin Fowler, described the family as "being in a fog."
AP writer Tracie Cone reported from Sacramento.