12-year-old pleads innocent in beating death

Associated Press

TACOMA — Fighting the sniffles, a 12-year-old boy pleaded innocent to first-degree murder in a beating and stomping death, one of several attacks by a group of young people last summer.

Speaking in a high-pitched voice, the sixth-grade boy also agreed Thursday to waive a hearing on whether he knew right from wrong at the time of the fatal attack on Erik Toews, 30.

The boy would be the youngest person in the state to face trial for murder, prosecutors said. Because of his age, the boy faces trial in Pierce County Juvenile Court.

He will be tried Nov. 30 with two other boys, 12 and 13, who pleaded innocent last month. Each, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of confinement until he turns 21.

Scheduled for trial in Superior Court and facing potential life sentences are Terrance Hunt, 19, and Robert Hernandez, 16.

Hearings are scheduled next week for three 15-year-old boys to determine whether they will be treated as adults or juveniles.

Investigators say all eight, who live in the Hilltop neighborhood near the downtown area, engaged in a series of random beatings and robberies last summer. Toews was attacked Aug. 19 as he walked home from work at a coffee shop near the historic Stadium District.

The youngest boy, 11 at the time, is accused of hitting Toews with the handle of a croquet mallet, although he told police that he only pretended to hit the man.

John Cain, the boy’s lawyer, said Thursday his client was pressured into being present.

"He knew right from wrong while it was happening and that’s why he didn’t do wrong," Cain said.

Deputy prosecutor Rosalie Martinelli said there was ample evidence that the boy joined in the beating.

"We would not have charged him with what he did if we didn’t think we could prove it," Martinelli said.

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