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Girls Won't Be Charged in Death of Boy

Courts: At 5 and 6 years old, the assailants are too young, prosecutors say.


RIVERSIDE — Prosecutors said Wednesday that they will not pursue charges against 5- and 6-year-old girls accused of suffocating a 3-year-old boy earlier this month in the desert town of Blythe.

But the turmoil surrounding the killing won't end there: Social workers said Wednesday that they have removed five children from their homes since the death of Damien Stiffler.

Earlier this month, authorities said the two girls intentionally suffocated Damien with a pillow in the backyard of a Blythe home. One of them held the pillow over the boy's face while the other sat on his legs.

The killing kindled a debate over whether the girls could, or should, be held responsible for the boy's death. But Riverside County Dist. Atty. Grover Trask said Wednesday that his office will not seek juvenile charges because the girls are too young. Under state law, a child younger than 14 can be charged with a crime only if he or she understands the wrongfulness of an act.

Social workers have stepped in, said Kevin Gaines, assistant to the director of the county Department of Public Social Services. The 5-year-old accused in the killing has been removed from her parents' home, and all four of Damien's siblings, including the 6-year-old accused in his death, have been removed from the Stiffler home. The other siblings are 4, 8, and 12.

Gaines said Gerald and Sophia Stiffler were already enmeshed in a court-ordered family therapy program. Their children had also been temporarily removed from the home in 1998.

Through that program, the parents were required to attend a variety of drug-abuse and parents' classes. Social workers hope to adopt a similar program again to eventually reunite the remaining siblings with their parents.

"There is a loving relationship between the parents and the children," he said. "But there are some really tough issues that the parents have to try to work out. We want to work with them to do that."

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