Parents: Shooting by 8-year-old ‘not intentional’

The parents of an 8-year-old boy suspected of fatally shooting his grandmother said Monday the shooting was an accident.

“It was not intentional,” Jerry and Annette Smith said after a brief appearance with the boy in a closed juvenile court hearing before 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael.

The Smiths said the boy and his grandmother loved each other and their son did not mean to shoot her.

East Feliciana Parish sheriff’s deputies said the second-grader killed Marie Smothers, 87, with a single shot to the head from a short-barrel .38-caliber revolver shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday in her mobile home off La. 67 south of Clinton.

Deputies said the boy told them he accidentally shot her while playing with the gun, but they said they believe he intentionally shot her in the back of the head while she watched television.

The Smiths disputed the investigators’ statement, saying Monday their son found the gun and it accidentally discharged.

“He’s not a violent child,” Annette Smith said before she and her family left the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse.

Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said an 8-year-old is not legally culpable for a crime under Louisiana law, but the court proceedings will involve a judicial determination of whether the boy and his family should receive help through the Families In Need of Services assistance program.

Monday’s hearing, closed to the public, was specifically directed at whether the boy is a danger to himself or others, and, if so, should he be held in custody.

D’Aquilla said he cannot disclose what happened in the hearing or what the judge decided, but the boy left the courthouse with his parents.

Another hearing in the case will be held next month.

East Feliciana deputies said the shooting came shortly after the boy played the violent video game “Grand Theft Auto IV” intended for players 17 and older.

“Brains at the age of 8 years old are not fully developed,” said Cecile Guin, director of the LSU School of Social Work’s Office of Social Service Research and Development.

While some researchers say there is no link between violent media and aggressive behavior in children, Guin said, “There’s no pain attached to all the violence you see in video games.”

Dana Kaplan, of the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Project, said the East Feliciana shooting case is unusual, but when a juvenile is younger than the age of prosecution, it is typical that the child be addressed through the FINS program.

“It’s the law,” she said.

When a child is too young to be criminally prosecuted, the court system “doesn’t have a lot of placement options,” D’Aquilla said.

The purpose of the hearings is to make sure the child is adequately treated, the district attorney said.

D’Aquilla said he wants the FINS program to assign someone to monitor the entire family “to make sure there’s not a lot of emotional backlash.”

“Even if it was an accident, he’s going to have to have counseling at a minimum,” Guin said.

Guin said the purpose of FINS is to try to divert children from entering the justice system, get them help and keep them out of the courts.

Typically, a FINS officer will be assigned to investigate and try to learn what problems may have contributed to the shooting. The appropriate treatment then would depend on the underlying reasons, Guin said.

“The problem is that FINS has been so poorly funded. There’s not enough money to really help anyone,” Guin said.