Charges have been filed against a 12-year-old Harrison Valley boy in the shooting death of his twin brother on Jan. 28.
Coudersport-based state police and Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson did not release the names of the victim or the accused.
Watson indicated the accused is charged with involuntary manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm by a minor, and the boy will be adjudicated in the juvenile justice system.
“The court will schedule it for an adjudication hearing, which is a fancy word for a non-jury trial in front of the judge,” Watson explained. “I’ve not heard from (the juvenile probation department) as to what they intend to do.
“They have some discretion as to whether or not to take him to juvenile detention,” the prosecutor explained. “At this time, the young man is with his family, is my understanding.”
He explained that when someone causes the death of another, there are several charges the police and prosecutor must consider.
“There are three types of murder (charges),” Watson said. First-degree is a premeditated killing with intent; second-degree is a death that occurs in the perpetration of a felony — like a bank robbery; and third-degree, which doesn’t require premeditation, but does require malice.
“The troopers and I, we did evaluate whether third-degree murder could apply here,” Watson said, but added they did not feel the actions fit the charge.
Involuntary manslaughter means doing a “lawful or unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner” that results in someone’s death, the prosecutor explained.
“We look at this … there’s no charge or punishment that can replace this 12-year-old boy,” Watson said. “This family and even the twin brother will have to live with this the rest of their lives.
“I am requesting people pray for this family, and keep them in your prayers as we move forward,” he said, adding that their pain and sorrow must be indescribable.
While much of the information in the juvenile justice system is confidential, Watson gave some insight into how a case proceeds within that system.
“It’s like a bench trial for an adult,” he said, which is a trial where the judge acts as the jury.
“The Commonwealth brings in witnesses to testify to the alleged acts,” he continued, saying the witnesses can be cross-examined by the defense counsel, the same as in a trial in the Court of Common Pleas. “The defense can present any witnesses, and I can cross-examine them. Ultimately the judge decides whether the juvenile committed the alleged acts.
“The judge has quite a bit of discretion,” Watson said. If the judge determines a juvenile has violated the statutes as charged, he can order psychiatric evaluations and family assessments to determine what the right sentence may be.
The judge has discretion on a penalty as well.
“The sentence can be juvenile probation to age 21,” Watson said. “He can order community service, house arrest, family counseling and other rehabilitative measures.”
Watson reiterated the request for the public to pray for the family, and also cautioned people to make sure firearms are stored safely.
“This is a solemn and humble reminder to make sure firearms are locked up and secure and to make sure children cannot get to them,” the prosecutor said. “Everybody in our area has guns and it’s a matter of law to keep them locked up. Sidearms are supposed to be locked up with a locking mechanism on the trigger. In a secure gun cabinet, a metal gun safe with a combination.
“I really recommend the community keep that in mind.”