Valley Springs stabbing suspect in court

Austen Thibault, The Union Democrat

Defense attorneys for a Valley Springs boy accused of killing his sister say they are launching their own investigation to look for a killer.

At a press conference following a trial-setting hearing Wednesday outside the Calaveras County Superior Court in San Andreas, the attorneys said they are still receiving evidence from the District Attorney's Office and have also found other possible suspects in the stabbing of 8-year-old Leila Fowler.

The boy, 12, whose name is being withheld by The Union Democrat because he is a juvenile, is accused of killing Fowler April 27 at the family's Valley Springs home while the childrens' father and his girlfriend were away at a Little League baseball game.

Investigators early on looked for a man, based on the boy's account of a break-in, but then shifted their focus to the boy as the culprit.

A delay in the trial-setting hearing for the boy, scheduled for Wednesday, was granted by Judge John Martin. It's now set for Sept. 18.

His defense attorneys, Mark Reichel and Steve Plesser, of Sacramento, told the judge the case is not ready to go to trial, saying they are still receiving evidence from the Calaveras County District Attorney's Office - having even received evidence that day.

Prosecutors agreed to the continuation.

The boy appeared for Wednesday's brief hearing, sitting motionless at the defense table and wearing civilian clothes, including a wrinkled taupe shirt.

He spoke only once in court, answering "yes" in agreement to waive his right to a speedy trial so that his defense attorneys could get the evidence they need.

He is currently being held at a juvenile detention center in Placerville, charged with second-degree murder.

Outside court, speaking to a crowd of reporters, Plesser said the defense has only gotten a "portion" of evidence from the DA so far.

As for the defense, there are still numerous suspects, according to Plesser.

"Some were generated by law enforcement" and some not, he said.

The defense has launched its own investigation into the murder and has requested "hundreds" of pieces of evidence, he said.

As for a suspect still at large, he said "we like to think (law enforcement) has done a good job, but they've told people it was safe before when it wasn't."

He would not give numbers, descriptions or names of any alleged suspects. He said he wouldn't elaborate and expose the defense's case, and finding suspects is not the defense attorney's role.

The Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, however, has closed its investigation, according to Sgt. Chris Hewitt.

The trial will likely take weeks, not days, when it is scheduled, Plesser said, noting the sensitivity of the case and the amount of evidence in question.

The family "has gone through hell," Plesser said.

Family members were present at the hearing, but didn't want to comment on the case.

Without giving an exact description of the boy's state, Plesser said, "He's 12 years old. He's away from his family and he's incarcerated for the first time."

The boy is scheduled to return to court 1:15 p.m. Sept. 18 to set a date for his jurisdictional hearing, at which a judge will determine if he is guilty of the charge.

Prosecutors did not want to comment on the case.

11904877
The Union Democrat
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