Teen admits role in killing

Accident with gun led to shooting death of 13-year-old friend

History of problems

Boy could be in state facility for treatment until 21st birthday

May 24, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A 16-year-old boy pleaded guilty yesterday to shooting and killing a 13-year-old friend and recklessly endangering another youth last month at his parents' apartment in Ellicott City.

The 16-year-old, whose name is being withheld by The Sun because he is a juvenile, was sentenced to an undetermined residential facility that provides counseling and other therapy, according to one of the boy's lawyers and a prosecutor.

At yesterday's hearing before Juvenile Master Bernard A. Raum,the boy pleaded "involved," the term in juvenile court for guilty, to the manslaughter of 13-year-old Tanun Wichainaraphong, who was known as "Byrd."

He also pleaded involved to recklessly endangering another boy at the apartment that April afternoon. Prosecutors then dropped another count of reckless endangerment and one count of firing a gun in a metropolitan area.

The boy could be in state custody up to his 21st birthday. He will appear in court periodically to update officials on his treatment, authorities said, and is being held at a juvenile facility in Baltimore County pending his transfer to the residential center.

Last week, prosecutors filed the manslaughter charge and were in "extensive negotiations" with defense lawyers about a plea bargain, prosecutor Keith Cave said.

The boy's attorney, George Psoras, left the courthouse immediately after the hearing and could not be reached for comment.

His other attorney, Joseph Murtha, said that the disposition was the correct one. "It's appropriate for someone who has been through that trauma and needs help," he said.

The teen entered the courtroom yesterday wearing an orange jumpsuit. He had a shaved head and answered Raum's questions with: "Yes, sir" or "No, sir."

His parents and their pastor sat quietly behind him. Byrd's family also attended the hearing, sitting on the room's only bench.

After the youth entered his plea, Psoras moved to have the disposition portion of the hearing closed to the media. Raum granted that request, two weeks after he denied a similar defense motion. Raum then denied a Sun reporter's request to delay the proceedings until the newspaper's lawyer could appear.

During that part of the hearing, much of the arguments likely concerned the boy's history of learning disabilities and mental health problems and how those issues affected his sentence.

During the open part of the hearing, the boy acknowledged that he was at home April 19, when Byrd and two other friends - brothers - came over.

The brothers told police that the boy gave them whiskey and that they drank it. The day before, all three friends came over and they all drank beer, the boy told police.

After drinking, the group watched a movie for about 15 minutes and then turned it off. Byrd started playing a video game and the 16-year-old host pulled out a .22-caliber rifle and began waving it around, showing it off.

The gun accidentally discharged when the boy's finger hit the trigger. The bullet struck Byrd in the back of the head. He died two days later.

The boy told police that his parents knew he had the .22-caliber rifle.

A few weeks before the shooting, the boy and his father visited a shooting range and fired a .22-caliber handgun. The boy pocketed an unused round and put it in his rifle at home, which he kept in his closet.

After the shooting, one of the brothers comforted Byrd. The other brother called 911 and handed the phone to the shooter, who gave authorities directions to the house.

On his trip to the police station, police said, the boy said he shot Byrd, felt remorse for it and asked the officer if he had ever shot anyone.

The boy has a history of learning disabilities and depression, for which he is taking medication. He has been in special education programs since elementary school and is a student at Strawbridge School, a private Baltimore County school for emotionally disturbed children.

He was found involved of aggravated assault in 1997 and successfully completed probation in March 1999.

After the boy's first appearance in juvenile court for the shooting last month, Raum criticized the the boy's parents for not providing proper supervision and said he didn't trust them to look after their son.

He ordered that the boy remain in state custody. "I don't believe he is adequately supervised at home," he said. "We're here today because he wasn't adequately supervised."

After yesterday's hearing, Cave said that Raum reiterated that point. "That has not changed," Cave said. "His position is clear."

Raum could not be reached for comment.

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