SALT LAKE CITY — A teenage boy accused of raping and killing his 12-year-old neighbor in 2015 was found competent Friday to face the allegations against him in court.
The boy, who turns 18 next week, was brought into the courtroom unshackled to await the judge's decision. Evidence about the boy's progress and three evaluations regarding his competency had been presented over two days of closed hearings.
Though the boy suffers from more than one mental disorder and intellectual disability, 3rd District Juvenile Judge James Michie ruled that "despite these limitations," months of work have prepared the boy to work with his attorneys, comprehend the allegations against him and understand the consequences that could follow.
"I have made an important decision today," Michie told the boy, calling him by name. "In general, I have found that you understand enough about what is going on to progress to the next step."
Michie had declared in December of last year that the teen was incapable of understanding the allegations against him, assertions his attorneys have made since his initial court appearance.
Police say the boy went to Kailey's door late at night July 17, 2015, and asked her to help him look for a lost cat. Her body was discovered by searchers about three hours later in a horse pasture near her home.
The young girl was found naked, her Batman pajamas strewn on the ground near her body, and a shirt wrapped around her neck. Evidence on her body, including blood and fresh scratches, signaled a possible sexual assault, police said.
A medical examiner determined Kailey died of strangulation.
The Deseret News has chosen not to name the boy at this time.
Kailey's father, wearing a shirt with his daughter's picture on it, said as he left the courthouse that the judge's decision doesn't bring him any happiness.
"We both are going through the same thing here, as parents, myself and (the boy's) mother," Orlando Vijil said. "There was nothing to celebrate here."
Vijil said that the year and a half since Kailey's death has been "hell on earth." Even leaving his own house — which sits just down the street from the boy's home in one direction and the site where his daughter died in the other — is painful each day.
Vijil remember the girl as a generous and loving child.
"She liked animals, she always gave money to the poor and stuff, and when we were down here she always gave money to the homeless. She thought about everyone else first," Vijil said.
Kailey's family has said since the case was filed that they believe the boy is capable of answering for his alleged actions and that the case should be moved to the adult system. Their attorney, Spencer Banks, said they maintain that stance as the case moves forward.
"Considering the egregious nature of the crime and his age, we're certainly hopeful he will be certified (to move to the adult system)," Banks said.2 comments on this story
If the case remains in the juvenile system, the state will only be able to hold the teen for three more years until his 21st birthday. If it moves to district court, he will only have access to services and care intended for adults.
Michie explained to the teen Friday that he will next face a preliminary hearing, where prosecutors will present evidence about the allegations and the judge will determine whether to advance the case to trial.
A hearing to schedule that proceeding — and possibly a retention hearing where prosecutors would seek to move the case to the adult system — is set for Dec. 5.