St. Johns boy headed to therapeutic group home

A St. Johns boy who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide is headed to a therapeutic group home for continued court-ordered treatment.

The boy who was cast into the national spotlight as an 8-year-old charged in a double homicide in 2008 will make the move from a Phoenix-area residential treatment center where he's been housed for nearly three years. He was brought back into court Wednesday in Apache County because of probation violations.

Greenlee County Superior Court Judge Monica Stauffer, who is hearing the case, had ordered probation officials to look into two group homes after essentially ruling out foster care, a school for troubled boys and placement with the state Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Defense attorney Ron Wood said the group home that also is in Maricopa County will provide the now 13-year-old boy with more intensive treatment and a chance to interact with children closer his age. The boy will attend school in a controlled setting off site.

"Although he understands he's being moved because he's progressed, I think he's a little nervous about it because he's going to have more contact and more freedom," Wood said. "I think he truly doesn't want to screw it up."

The boy had pleaded guilty in the fatal shooting of his father's friend, Tim Romans, who had been renting a room in the house the boy shared with his father and stepfather in St. Johns. Prosecutors dropped a murder charge against him in his father's death.

The boy has made significant improvements since March as he came under the care of a new psychologist who was seen as his saving grace. The boy learned to verbalize his feelings, instead of acting out physically and has responded well to incentive-based programs, the psychologist, Dr. Alan Lewis has said. Stauffer and attorneys in the case decided that the sentencing on probation violations was a good time to reconsider his placement so that he could build on those improvements.

The boy had acknowledged twice leaving the residential treatment center without permission and smashing a wall clock. The rest of the alleged probation violations were dropped.

Lewis said he'll volunteer his time to meet with the boy once a week in the new setting. The group home will submit monthly progress reports to the court and attorneys in the case so that any concerns or need for additional services can be addressed quickly. The boy's family also will have a chance to comment on the new arrangement.

"The biggest difference will be that he'll have a new start," said Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting. "The staff and treating physicians won't have any preconceived notions of him, other than the obvious, and give him a fair shake and a chance. Hopefully that will be a vast improvement."

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