911 tape shows confusion

Written by Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat May 15, 2013 12:30 pm

A 911 dispatch tape released Tuesday by the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office shows the chaos surrounding the initial report related to the stabbing of 8-year-old Leila Fowler.

The recording, released at the request of The Union Democrat and other media outlets, documents a conversation between Leila’s mother and a Calaveras County 911 dispatcher on April 27. It indicates the mother, Crystal Walters, was not yet aware of the seriousness of the situation when she called authorities.

Walters, who was at a Little League game with the children’s father, Barney Fowler, phoned 911 after Leila’s 12-year-old brother called to tell her an intruder was in the house.

The 911 call was initially routed to the California Highway Patrol in Stockton before it was transferred to Calaveras County about 12:13 p.m. 

Click here to hear the 911 recording.

 

“My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of my house,” Walters said. “My older son was in a bathroom and my daughter started screaming. When he came out, there was a man inside my house. I need an officer there.”

She told the dispatcher her daughter’s boyfriend was on the phone with the kids and that they were scared but “OK.” 

The dispatcher told Walters that someone would be sent to the home on the 5600 block of Rippon Road. The dispatcher also said she was going to call the kids at the home.

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office has declined to release the recording of the dispatcher’s conversation with the 12-year-old boy, saying it isn’t obligated to do so because he is a minor.

The 911 recording released Tuesday can be heard on The Union Democrat website at www.uniondemocrat.com.

Boy to appear in court today

Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested Leila’s 12-year-old biological

brother at 5:10 p.m. Saturday at the Valley Springs substation, following a two-week investigation.

The boy is scheduled to appear today in Calaveras County Superior Court’s juvenile division.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Chris Hewitt said he believes the boy is being held at a juvenile detention center in El Dorado County. He was booked on a charge of murder. 

Hewitt was unsure if the boy is allowed to post bail.  

The boy’s attorney, Mark Reichel, of Sacramento, met with his client Tuesday.

He said that he and his law partner, Steve Plesser, along with the family, toured the Valley Springs home where the stabbing took place. He declined to say what they spoke about. 

Reichel said Tuesday that he and Plesser had not yet seen the evidence against their client, which is in the hands of the District Attorney’s Office.

Reichel said the boy might have lied about seeing a long-haired man fleeing the scene, but that it doesn’t make the boy the killer.

Reichel chalked it up to possible bravado, saying his client might have made up a “macho” story about scaring away the intruder because he was scared.

“How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?” said Reichel, whose firm was part of a team that two years ago successfully defended members of the Hmong community, including former Gen. Vang Pao, against charges they plotted to overthrow the government of Laos.

Reichel declined to comment on the emotional state of the boy or his family.

“They’re going through a very difficult time,” he said.

Barney Fowler spoke briefly with the Associated Press on Monday.

“Until they have the proper evidence to show it’s my son, we’re standing behind him. If they have the evidence, well that’s another story,” he said. “We’re an honest family.”

His 19-year-old son Justin described the family as “being in a fog.”

Valley Springs residents have expressed a mix of emotions from empathy to confusion to anger.

 A spaghetti dinner, bake sale and auction that was planned to raise money for Leila’s family was cancelled after the 12-year-old boy was arrested because some of the people who bought tickets demanded refunds, event organizer and Valley Springs resident Jim Rebstock said. 

Rebstock said some people didn’t want their money to be spent on the boy’s legal fees.

Others said the event should have continued, Rebstock said.

“It’s sad … the way we had to end it,” he said.

Law says boy must be tried as juvenile

Experts in juvenile law say the portion of California law that addresses trying a minor as an adult does not have a provision for kids under age 14.

“This case is pretty clear-cut,” said Nicole Giacinti, a San Francisco attorney who defends juveniles. “I think it would be right for appeal if the judge or prosecutor tried to push through to adult court because the child is only 12.”

In juvenile cases involving defendants ages 14 and older, a district attorney’s office could file a “fitness” petition to request a “waiver hearing.” At the hearing, the juvenile court judge determines whether the minor is unfit for rehabilitation in the juvenile system based on five “fitness” criteria.

A minor at least 14 years old is automatically tried as an adult for a small number of aggravated offenses, including murder.

The boy will have a bench trial rather than a jury trial, which is juvenile court procedure in the state.

If the boy is adjudicated a delinquent — the equivalent of being found guilty in juvenile court — he could only serve time until age 25, according to legal experts.

Giacinti said the highest level of supervision for an adjudged delinquent is California Youth Authority.

She said Leila Fowler’s brother is not old enough to be sent to such a facility and would be taken to a juvenile detention center deemed appropriate for his age and the security he requires. Whether he is determined to have a severe mental illness will also play a role on where he is placed, Giacinti said.

Juvenile-law professor John Myers, of the McGeorge School of Law at University of the Pacific, said the court must determine whether the boy understands the nature of the charges, has the basic ability to help his lawyer and is competent to stand trial.

The boy could not receive a strike under California’s “Three Strikes” law because he is under 16.

“The point of the juvenile justice system is to be a rehabilitative court,” Giacinti said. “It’s supposed to be a place where the minor is viewed as a whole person and the decisions that are made by the court are in the minor’s best interest for future development.”

When asked if recidivism is a concern, Giacinti said “it really comes down to the kind of treatment this kid receives.”

Myers said minors are the least likely any of criminals to reoffend.

Whether the public will have access to any court records or hearings regarding the case is up to the court, experts say.

The law states that unless requested by the defendant and any parent or guardian present, the public shall not be admitted to a juvenile court hearing. However, the judge may admit persons deemed to have a direct or legitimate interest in the particular case or work of the court.

Furthermore, the law states that members of the public shall be admitted to hearings if the defendant is charged with certain offenses, including murder.

Giacinti said that even if the boy faces one of the charges listed in the section, attorneys could still request closed hearings for good cause.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.