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9-year-old arraigned on murder, arson charges in deadly fire

A 9-year-old boy accused of intentionally setting a fire that killed five people earlier this year sat with his court appointed lawyer during a 30-minute arraignment hearing on Monday as the judge in the case carefully explained the felony charges filed against him, the Peoria Journal Star reported.

The boy has been charged with five counts of first degree murder, two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson stemming from the April 6 fire in Goodfield, Illinois, that killed two adults and three toddlers. Woodford County Circuit Court Judge Charles Feeney read the charges slowly, pausing frequently to explain legal terms and ask the 9-year-old if he understood.

“In reading these charges, I am not saying it is true, but it is just an allegation,” Feeney said, according to the Pantagraph. “The state says it is true, but it hasn’t been proven yet.”

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The child’s public defender, Peter Dluski often had his arm over the boy’s chair, whispering in his ear. The judge explained the process of a trial, why things are done the way they are. Once, the 9-year-old asked for an explanation of arson.

“You knowingly set a fire,” Feeney said. The boy said he understood. His feet barely reached the floor.

Reporters in the courtroom — the public was not allowed — said the boy was calm throughout the proceedings, but at the end, when court was adjourned and everyone stood, the boy stayed seated and began to sob, the Journal Star said. His paternal grandfather — the boy’s father’s parents are serving as foster guardians — rushed to him with tissues and led him away.

Because of his age, the boy cannot be held in custody, and he has been charged as a juvenile. If convicted, he cannot be incarcerated. Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger said he would most likely seek probation in that case, a minimum of five years but not past his 21st birthday.

“On probation, you would likely be required to have counseling, go to school, not use drugs, have an evaluation of your mental and physical health, or possibly pay restitution for the damage from the fire,” the judge explained.

Kathryn Murray, 69; Jason Wall, 34; Rose Alwood, 2; Daemeon Wall, 2; and Ariel Wall, 1, died of smoke inhalation in the fire, the county coroner said, CrimeOnline previously reported. Katrina Alwood, who has publicly identified the 9-year-old as her son, Kyle Alwood, escaped the mobile home blaze along with her son and survived.

Jason Wall and Katrina Alwood were engaged to be married; Daemeon and Ariel were their children. Rose Alwood was a niece, and Kathryn Murray was Katrina Alwood’s grandmother.

All parties have been barred from discussing the case, at the request of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, after Katrina Alwood gave an interview to CBS News.

“Everyone is looking at him like he’s some kind of monster, but that’s not who he is,” she said, as reported by CrimeOnline. “People make mistakes, and that’s what this is. Yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but it’s still not something to throw his life away over.”

Katrina Alwood was not in the courtroom on Monday, although the boy’s father was.

The boy’s next court date is November 22.

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[Featured image: Pixabay]