The top prosecutor handling the case of the 6-year-old child who brought a gun to school and shot his teacher in Newport News, Virginia, told news outlets on Wednesday that the law doesn’t suggest the child should be charged with a crime.
The review of the case is ongoing but it appears likely the child won’t be charged, based on the prosecutor.
“We don’t believe the law supports charging a 6-year-old with a criminal offense as serious as this one,” Commonwealth’s Attorney for Newport News Howard Gwynn told ABC News affiliate 13NewsNow.
The first grader took his mother’s gun to school and shot and seriously injured 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner on Jan. 6. He was taken into custody and has received mental health treatment in a hospital, according to his family’s attorney.
Gwynn also told NBC News on Wednesday the “prospect that a 6-year-old can stand trial is problematic.”
Gwynn said a decision about whether to charge anyone else, such as the boy’s parents, had not yet been made.
The gun was legally purchased by the boy’s mother, police have said. An attorney for the child’s family, James Ellenson, said the gun was stored with a trigger lock on the top shelf of a closet and the family did not know how he got it.
it is a misdemeanor in Virginia to leave a loaded gun accessible to a child under the age of 14.
“The parents have continued to cooperate with the authorities and continue to pray for the welfare and good health of all involved,” Ellenson said in a statement to USA TODAY on Thursday.
Experts have said it was highly unlikely that a 6-year-old would face criminal charges. In some states, children under certain ages cannot be charged with exceptions for certain types of violent crimes. Virginia has no such minimum age requirement, but questions about the child’s competency to assist in his defense and to understand the consequences of his actions have been raised.
Andrew Block, a law professor at the University of Virginia and the former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, told USA TODAY in January that it would be impractical to charge the child and that he doesn’t know of any successful prosecution of a child that young in the state.
“It’s also a question of whether that would be the best way to handle this anyway,” Block virginia/11007904002/” data-ylk=”slk:said the day after the shooting;elm:context_link;itc:0″ class=”link “>said the day after the shooting.
Ellenson, the attorney for the boy’s family, previously told USA TODAY the juvenile court system has opted to treat the boy as a “child in need of services,” a mechanism used to provide counseling and other related services to kids in crisis. The family said in a statement through Ellenson that he has an “acute disability.”
Ellenson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The commonwealth’s attorney’s office was in receipt of the Newport News Police Department investigative report and would review the evidence to decide whether any adults should face charges, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Travis White told USA TODAY in February.
“We will follow the facts and the law wherever they lead,” White said.
Gwynn told NBC the case differs from a similar circumstance not too far away in Norfolk, Virginia, in February. Another 6-year-old brought a gun to class, police there said, though nobody was injured. Norfolk police swiftly charged that child’s mother with allowing access to a firearm to a minor and contributing to delinquency by a minor.
In the Norfolk case, Gwynn said, the police made the decision to charge her.
“In our case, the police decided to turn the files over to us to make a decision,” Gwynn said. “And we have to make our decision based on our ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a crime occurred.”
Lawyers for Zwerner, the teacher at Richneck Elementary School who was shot, have announced their intention to file a lawsuit on her behalf against Newport News Public Schools.
Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, alleged that school administrators were warned repeatedly the day of the shooting that the child may have had a gun on him. According to Zwerner’s attorney, the student had a history of behavior issues including violence and Zwerner had expressed concerns to administrators.
SCHOOL WARNED OF WEAPONS: School administrators ‘could not be bothered’ to heed warnings, lawyers say.
Zwerner’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Newport News prosecutor: Charging 6-year-old would be ‘problematic’
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