Chicago police review policy on juveniles Dropped murder charges against boys prompt look

September 10, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CHICAGO -- After dropping murder charges against two boys, ages 7 and 8, in the brutal slaying of an 11-year-old girl, police officials say they are taking a closer look at how they treat juvenile offenders.

The police charged the boys on Aug. 9 after saying they had confessed to the murder of Ryan Harris. No lawyer or parent was present during the questioning.

Police spokesman Pat Camden said the department was talking with the state's attorney's office about requiring officers and prosecutors to videotape interviews with suspects younger than 12 and having a parent or guardian present at such questioning.

At a City Council meeting yesterday, Alderman Robert Shaw introduced legislation that would require a psychologist to be present when any suspect under the age of 11 is questioned.

Calling the proposed changes "a step forward," Elizabeth Tarzia, a public defender representing the younger boy, said this case can help define how juveniles are treated in the future.

"Experts we've talked to say children under the age of 12 simply cannot understand their Miranda rights. They really ought to have an attorney present," Tarzia said.

Since restarting the investigation, police have questioned and released a man known as "the toy man," who the 7-year-old's family had said gave out toys near the murder site in the days preceding the murder.

However, after the man passed a polygraph test and endured several hours of questioning, police said they were confident he was not involved in the murder, and released him. They did send a blood sample, which he gave voluntarily, to be tested for DNA.

Police are still awaiting DNA test results from the 11-year-old girl's underwear, where police found semen last week, prompting the release of the two boys.

Though charges have been dropped against the two boys, Police Superintendent Terry Hillard has said the department is reserving the right to reinstate those charges if the investigation warrants.

As a result, attorneys for the two boys have advised their clients not to talk to police, effectively eliminating two possible eye witnesses for the police to question further.

"The police have said that while the case is currently dismissed, our client remains a suspect, and as long as that is the case, we have told him not to talk to police," said Tarzia.

The 11-year-old girl was spending the summer with a godmother in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago when she was killed on July 27.

The police originally accused the boys of beating her with a rock and suffocating her by shoving her underwear in her mouth and leaves up her nose in an effort to steal her bicycle.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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