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Children Who Kill : Girl's Death Raises Issue of What to Do With 11-Year-Old in Murder Case : Law: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to decide whether he will be tried as an adult. The boy is accused of shooting a 7-year-old playmate while she rode a snowmobile.

August 19, 1990|GEORGE ESPER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

KRESGEVILLE, Pa. — Cameron Kocher dreams of death and dinosaurs.

In one dream, an old man dies, only to rise from his grave the next day to buy ice cream for Cameron. In another, two dinosaurs fight in a courtroom--a judge dinosaur in a tuxedo, and a lawyer dinosaur.

If these dreams are somehow jarring, there is a reason. Cameron Kocher does not lead a normal life; he is charged with killing a 7-year-old girl.

Cameron Kocher is 11 years old.

Cameron was six weeks shy of his 10th birthday on March 6, 1989. It had snowed that day, and school was canceled.

Jessica and Crystal Carr took advantage of the unexpected vacation to visit the six children of Richard and Trudy Ratti. Cameron was there too; he lived next door, and his parents had left for work early.

Cameron, stocky and sandy-haired, often played Nintendo at the Ratti house. He didn't have his own game at home.

On this day, the kids played "Spy Hunter"; Brian Ratti, then 12, said 7-year-old Jessica bragged to Cameron, "I got my own Nintendo. Now I can get further than you. I beat the dragon."

The game ended when Richard Ratti pulled the plug because the kids had left dirty cups and bowls in the room. Cameron was annoyed--"He said he didn't leave any of the bowls and cups in there," the father recalled.

The other children went out to ride the snowmobiles. Brian Ratti asked Cameron if he wanted to ride and he replied: "My mom and dad won't let me."

Prosecutors say Cameron returned home angry, unlocked his father's gun cabinet with a key he took from a secret hiding place in the bottom of a lamp, pulled out a high-powered hunting rifle and loaded it with the correct ammunition, selected from several different types.

Investigators said he took the screen out of a second-story window and fired into the Rattis' yard 100 yards away.

Shannon Ratti said she did not hear the shot. She and Jessica, best friends, were riding a single snowmobile, with Shannon at the front.

"All of a sudden she started leaning against me. I asked her not to and she kept leaning. Suddenly, I figured something must be wrong with her," Shannon said.

She turned to face a suddenly grotesque figure. "Her eyes were rolled way back into her head," Shannon said.

The bullet had torn through the middle of Jessica's back, propelling her forward. Within minutes her short life was ended.

The Rattis and the Carrs didn't know what was going on at first. They thought a gunman might be loose in the neighborhood, and Richard Ratti telephoned Cameron to get back to the Ratti house so he wouldn't be alone.

When Cameron returned to the house the other children were crying as Jessica lay mortally wounded in the living room. Brian Ratti said Cameron remarked: "If you don't think about it, you won't feel bad."

Then he went back to playing Nintendo, Jessica's mother said.

What to do with an 11-year-old killer?

Could this boy of impeccable background, education and manners--never before in trouble, admired by teacher, minister, Cub Scout leader--kill out of vindictiveness, the implied motive?

Could this even-tempered boy who, it is said, never struck out at anybody, understand the magnitude and finality of such a deed? Or was it "all just a terrible mistake," as a state police investigator quoted him as saying.

Cameron initially lied to state police, telling them he had been sleeping when the shooting occurred. He gave two different versions of how he cut his forehead; it was later determined he was cut when the rifle's scope kicked back.

His explanations of what happened on that winter day have varied. Dr. Harris Rabinovich, a child psychiatrist, testified for the prosecution that Cameron told him he was playing hunter and the rifle discharged.

Dr. Martha Turnberg, the treating psychiatrist, testified for the defense that Cameron told her he was looking through the scope at the trees and snow and he did not see any children. He denied intentionally firing the gun.

Under Pennsylvania law, a murder charge must be filed in regular Criminal Court. A child between the ages of 7 and 14 is presumed incapable of committing a crime. The prosecutor, Mark P. Pazuhanich, said he is ready to present evidence to overcome that presumption.

The trial judge, Ronald E. Vican, denied a defense motion to transfer the case to Juvenile Court, where real confinement likely would be avoided and there would be no adult criminal record. Vican said it was a "deliberate and willful killing" and that Cameron shows no remorse.

"We customarily associate the crime of murder with adults, or at least older juveniles," Vican said.

"Young children do kill. . . . Homicides involving child killers are increasing at an alarming rate. Neither society nor our system of criminal justice is sufficiently prepared to . . . satisfactorily handle situations involving young killers."

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