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Twins, 8, Held in Beating Case Freed From Custody

May 01, 1996|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Eight-year-old twin boys who police say accompanied a Richmond 6-year-old accused of beating an infant nearly to death were freed from Juvenile Hall on Tuesday, and court-appointed defense attorneys said they will seek dismissal of burglary charges against them.

For their own safety, the twins will not immediately return to their home in Richmond's tough Iron Triangle neighborhood where the infant was attacked, said Terrence Starr, chief probation officer for Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall. Instead, they will stay with relatives nearby where "we will be monitoring them closely," Starr said.

Law enforcement officials said the boys have been the target of telephoned death threats to the Richmond police and their school.

The twins are due back in court in Martinez on Friday, along with the 6-year-old. All three boys have been charged with burglary for allegedly stealing a Big Wheel tricycle from the home of Ignacio Bermudez, now 5 weeks old.

But the 6-year-old, who remains in Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, is also charged with attempting to murder the infant and with conspiracy. The baby remained in critical condition Tuesday at Children's Hospital in Oakland, where a hospital spokeswoman said the infant was breathing with the help of a respirator. Doctors say the infant suffered two skull fractures and may have brain damage.

The case has shocked the Richmond community and raised questions about the state's ability to successfully prosecute and incarcerate a child as young as 6. The state penal code assumes that under the age of 14, a child cannot form intent to commit a crime.

The 6-year-old is believed to be the youngest child ever prosecuted in the United States for so serious a crime. But police have described him as the "ringleader" who led the twins into the Bermudezes' Richmond apartment on April 22, when Ignacio's parents were at the store with his older brothers. Prosecutor Harold Jewett has said that there is "no doubt in my mind" that the 6-year-old understood the consequences of his actions when he attacked Ignacio.

Police say that the 6-year-old pulled the infant from his bassinet, then kicked, punched and beat him with a stick before making off with the tricycle. The 8-year-olds are not believed to have participated in the beating.

Linda Fullerton, court-appointed attorney for one of the twins, said the decision to file charges against them has "altered their lives." She said that even if the two were guilty of helping to steal the tricycle, "they already have been punished enough." She said she plans to ask the Juvenile Court referee Friday to dismiss the burglary charges against her client.

Wayne James, a Richmond County public defender who is representing the other twin, said he will "support wholeheartedly any effort to get these charges dismissed," and will join in Fullerton's motion for dismissal Friday.

The 6-year-old is expected to remain in Juvenile Hall until the case against him is decided. At the moment, he is being tutored separately from other youths in the facility, the youngest of whom is 13.

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