Rocklin police recommended a murder charge against a 14-year-old boy who allegedly killed his 13-year-old sister this week, though Placer County authorities said the case is so fraught with legal and emotional complications that it will likely go to court in another county and be handled by state prosecutors.
“It’s not going to be tried in Placer County due to the sensitive nature of the case,” said Rocklin police spokesman Sgt. Trent Jewell. “It’s not your typical situation.”
Earlier Thursday, the Placer County District Attorney’s Office said it was unable to handle the case involving the death of Ashley Wood, 13, because her father, Jeff Wood, is a supervising deputy district attorney there. The prosecutor’s office said in a news release that the California attorney general’s office will prosecute the case.
Rocklin police officially confirmed for the first time Thursday that the boy and girl were brother and sister.
Jewell said the case was so unusual that the warrants to search the Woods’ home on Monument Springs Drive were signed by a Sacramento Superior Court judge Tuesday, an extraordinary legal precaution. The case will probably be handled in Sacramento County from now on, the police spokesman said.
Hardly anything about the case has been normal so far.
The FBI and the state Department of Justice were called in to aid Rocklin police in the investigation, Jewell said.
A Placer County court clerk said Thursday that the 14-year-old boy had appeared for a detention hearing before a retired Yolo Superior Court judge instead of the Placer judge who usually hears juvenile matters. She was unable to describe the outcome of the hearing or name the lawyers involved, she said, because court records had not yet been updated Thursday afternoon about an hour after the hearing.
As is standard in juvenile cases, the hearing was not listed on any public court calendars and received no public notice.
Juvenile cases in California are typically confidential matters, though the law provides for a greater degree of public information and media accessibility when a minor is charged with certain serious and violent crimes, including murder.
Defendants who are 14 or older can be tried as adults in California, but authorities have yet to say whether that will happen in this case.
The Sacramento Bee is not naming the suspect because he is a minor and has not been charged as an adult.
Rocklin police officers said earlier this week that Ashley Wood appeared to have been the victim of an assault involving blunt force trauma. They said they would not describe the weapon used.
The girl’s mother found her body, officers said.
A neighbor told The Sacramento Bee she heard a woman screaming for help on Tuesday morning and called 911.
“It was terrible,” she said.
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office cited a strong relationship with Jeff Wood as a conflict of interest that legally barred it from being able to prosecute the case.
“With the attorney general handling the criminal case, it will allow our office to focus on giving Mr. Wood and his family the same love and support that he has given to crime victims during his 18 years of service to our county,” a news release said.
“Our office, along with the Wood family, is touched by the many condolences received from members of law enforcement, the legal community, and community leaders not only from Placer County, but from our surrounding counties,” the statement said. “Words cannot express our appreciation for the kind and caring words offered in support of our friend and colleague as he and his family attempt to cope with this tragedy.”
Responding officers found Ashley Wood dead in her bedroom in the family’s large home in a new subdivision late Tuesday morning after receiving several calls reporting a disturbance.
The boy fled the home and was later found in a field about a mile away, police said. He was taken to the Placer County Probation Juvenile Detention Facility in Auburn. It was unclear Thursday if he remained in custody.
Brenda Gonzalez, a press secretary for the attorney general’s office, confirmed that her office was handling the case but said she was unable to comment further because the investigation is ongoing.
Diana Capra, a spokeswoman for the Rocklin Unified School District, said Wood attended Sierra Elementary School before leaving the school district in 2013, and said her brother left the school district two years prior to his sister.
In online videos and photographs posted by their parents, the boy is shown playing rugby with a Granite Bay club team, and Ashley Wood is pictured competing in gymnastic events, medals draped around her neck.
People who knew Ashley Wood remembered her Thursday as an accomplished gymnast who had an even, likable personality.
Amanda Bowers, 17, said she and Wood were on the same gymnastics team at Technique Gymnastics in Rancho Cordova. Bowers described Wood as a happy girl who didn’t let her emotions get in the way of her training.
“I never really saw her cry and get angry,” Bowers said. “A lot of the times in gymnastics you’ll get upset or get angry, but she was never like that.”
Bowers said though Wood stopped training at the gymnastic center about a year ago, the news of her death was still upsetting for her and other teammates.
“Everyone is really sad because when you’re on the same team as someone, it’s like you’re in a family,” she said.
Lisa Eaton-Poarch is a head coach for the girl’s team at Technique Gymnastics who trained Wood for two years. Eaton-Poarch said she remembered Wood as a talented gymnast who got along with other people on the team and came from a supportive family.
“She was way up in comparison to most kids in terms of gymnastics,” Eaton-Poarch said. “It came to the point that she was training four to five days a week.”
According to My Meet Scores, a website containing names and scores for competitive gymnasts around the country, Wood first started competing in gymnastics in 2009 with a team in Auburn. Her last competition was in April 2015, when she qualified to compete in the regional championships against gymnasts from California and other nearby states such as Nevada and Arizona.
“She was very connected to her teammates,” the gymnastics coach said. “She was a very smiley kid.”