A 14-year-old Rocklin boy has been charged with murder in the traumatic death of his 13-year-old sister, the daughter of a high-ranking prosecutor in Placer County.
Ashley Wood, 13, an accomplished gymnast who used to train at Technique Gymnastics in Rancho Cordova, died of an apparent assault causing blunt-force injuries at her family’s Rocklin home on July 19, police said.
The state attorney general’s office confirmed Monday that it filed a single count of murder Thursday against her older brother. A spokeswoman said he denied the allegation in a closed hearing in Placer County Juvenile Court.
Brenda Gonzalez, the spokeswoman, said Monday that Harris’ office also filed legal motions to ask a judge to determine whether the older brother is unfit for the juvenile justice system and should be tried as an adult. A hearing is set for Sept. 9.
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The brother isn’t being identified by The Sacramento Bee because he remains charged as a juvenile. If convicted as an adult, he could face 25 years in prison, although he would remain in a juvenile facility until he was 25 years old. If tried and found guilty as a juvenile, he could only be held until he was 25.
Robert Weisberg, a professor of criminal law at Stanford University, said courts generally will certify teens 14 and older for trial as adults “when the prosecutor and judge think this is a real threat to public safety because the kid (charged) seems like a conscious predator.” He cited examples such as gang members or other juvenile suspects with histories of violence.
However, Weisberg said, a fatal event inside a family home may be viewed in a different light by a judge and result in the case being kept in juvenile court.
“In a case like this, I imagine the authorities are more likely to view the killing as a situational event,” Weisberg said. “That’s not to say that it was justified but that there may be some family dynamic where there was greater empathy for the kid’s situation.”
John Myers, a McGeorge School of Law professor specializing in juvenile justice, said a key question for the court to answer is whether the 14-year-old brother is “amenable to treatment in the juvenile court” system and whether the judge believes “its therapeutic approach can help this child reform and not turn into an adult criminal.”
Even so, Myers said, the judge can certify him as an adult based on the seriousness of the crime, even if the youth is deemed capable of rehabilitation in the juvenile system.
Last Thursday, the Placer County District Attorney’s Office said it was unable to handle the case because the father of the children, Jeff Wood, is a supervising deputy district attorney with the office. The case was referred to the state attorney general.
“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 District Attorney’s Office news release said.
The statement added: “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.”
Officers found Ashley Wood dead in her bedroom in the family’s large home in a new subdivision Tuesday morning after receiving several calls reporting a disturbance. Police declined to describe the weapon or object that caused the girl’s fatal injuries.
The girl’s mother found her body, officers said. A neighbor told The Bee she heard a woman screaming for help the morning of July 19 and called 911.
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.
Marshall Hopper, the Placer County chief probation officer, said the older brother has since been moved to the juvenile detention facility in neighboring El Dorado County. Hopper said he will be housed there and shuttled to court proceedings in Placer.