One suspect munched Skittles and stood on a courtroom chair so a testifying witness could see him. The other sobbed uncontrollably when told he couldn't go home with his mom.
The pals are just 7 and 8, but prosecutors call them brutal killers. The youngest murder defendants in city history are accused of attacking an 11-year-old girl with rocks, suffocating her with her panties and molesting her, all for her shiny blue bicycle.Defense attorneys say the boys are merely mischievous youngsters whose childish rock-throwing antics went terribly awry.
The boys are so young that after a Juvenile Court judge Monday ruled there is probable cause to put them on trial, he quibbled at length with attorneys as he attempted to figure out where the boys could be held legally overnight.
Illinois law bars youngsters younger than 10 from being held in a locked detention facility, so Judge Gerald Winiecki sent them to a psychiatric hospital pending another hearing Tuesday.
The boys were charged Sunday with the juvenile equivalent of first-degree murder in the killing of Ryan Harris, who disappeared July 27 while bicycling around her South Side neighborhood with the older boy.
She was found a day later, her skull fractured, her panties stuffed in her mouth, and leaves in her nose. Her body had been molested with a foreign object, authorities said.
"I cannot think of a more heinous and egregious act," prosecutor Michael Oppenheimer said.
"It's horrifying. Without knowing the details of the case, one can only shudder to imagine what happened in these young children's lives that may have precipitated this," said Dr. Lauren Wakschlag, director of the Pre-School Behavior Clinic at the University of Chicago.
"I think we need to look at ourselves and look at society and think what can bring children to this place, and what we can do about prevention," Wakschlag said.
Defense attorneys called their clients normal boys who do well in school and are not troublemakers. Both live with their mothers and fathers on the South Side.
The girl, a straight-A student, was attacked in a back yard near the boys' homes after she and the older boy returned from their bike ride, authorities said.
When police first questioned the boys during a door-to-door canvass the day after Ryan disappeared, the youngsters said they saw a stranger lure the girl into his car along with her borrowed bike, said Sgt. Stan Zaborac.
Police became suspicious when the boys began changing their stories. The two confessed Sunday when their parents brought them to the police station for further questioning, Zaborac said.
Under Illinois law, a youth convicted in juvenile court can be held only until age 21, regardless of the offense.