The Ventura County district attorney's office filed a charge of voluntary manslaughter Monday against a former Oxnard High School student accused of killing his stepfather, but said it will not seek to try him as an adult.
The 17-year-old, who is not being identified because of his age, is accused of shooting to death Walter Reed Bell on Nov. 30 out of his mistaken belief that Bell was responsible for the death of Regina Lewis, the youth's mother. Lewis, 42, had died earlier in the day from a self-inflected gunshot wound to her upper chest.
Through his attorney, the minor entered a plea of not guilty to the single count that includes a special allegation that a gun was used.
After filing the charge in Juvenile Court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Holmes said the decision to try the boy as a juvenile was reached after an extensive investigation.
"We have determined (the minor) believed Walter Bell had shot his mother," Holmes said. "He was not correct, but that was his state of mind at the time."
The youth had just learned about his mother's death when Bell knocked on his door, Holmes said. The couple had been separated for three years and had initiated divorce proceedings.
Superior Court Judge Robert Bradley ruled that the youth, a former Oxnard High football running back, must remain in jail, at least until a formal detention hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Public Defender Howard Asher had requested that the boy, who has no previous criminal record, be released to his maternal grandparents, who are his legal guardians and live in Oxnard.
"This young man needs to grieve for his mother, and he needs to do it quickly in an atmosphere of love and with his family around him," Asher said. Asher criticized a court ruling last week that prevented the minor from attending his mother's funeral.
But Holmes argued that the youth should remain in detention, despite the lack of a criminal record, because of the seriousness of the alleged crime.
"We have charged him with intentionally killing someone, and although that is not murder, the charge is still an extremely serious one," Holmes said. He added that the death of the boy's mother made the youth's behavior less predictable. A pretrial hearing has been set for Dec. 14 in Juvenile Court.
Both sides commented on the unusual circumstances in the case. Said prosecutor Holmes: "This case is a tragedy, wrapped in a disaster and surrounded by a catastrophe."