I have been following the trial of Cody Posey, a boy who killed his parents and sister when he was 14. This boy has had more trauma that most adults would have by age 70! His mother was killed in an accident when he was present. His grandfather killed his grandmother and abused his own children. Cody was afraid of his father, who was abusive and whose rights had been terminated, and then ended up having to go and live with him. He lived on the isolated New Mexico ranch of Sam Donalson and his father was free to treat him in whatever way he wanted. Cody couldn't just go to a neighbor for help. On the night before he exploded in violence, Cody was burned with a some kind of torch when he refused his father's demand that he have sex with his step mother.
It is always hard to know the truth about a situation like this, but the community has been solidly behind Cody, even the father and stepmother of his half-sister whom he killed. They feel that he is a good kid who finally was pushed over the edge and unfortunately his step-sister was caught up in his explosion. The only ones who seemed to be against Cody were the prosecutor and his father's family. And unfortunately, that family is filled with years of abuse, suicide and mental health problems. I was especially saddened by the vindictiveness of Cody's uncle and it gave me some insight into Cody's father.
Cody sought relief from Social Services and the police and they failed him. Ranch hands, teachers and neighbors saw some of what was going on and yet they couldn't help him. No one seemed to be able to do anything to help this boy, but at least the community took responsibility for their failure and didn't turn against him when he exploded under the pressure.
I watched the proceedings on Court TV and, while they usually try to remain neutral, in this case it was easy to see that they were very sympathetic to Cody. The boy was convicted of manslaughter for the father, second degree murder for the stepmother and first degree murder for the sister and I believe this was just. The judge felt that the circumstances of the case demanded that he be sentenced as a juvenile and he will be getting help from a treatment center until he is 21. It was important to note that the treatment center had dealt with him when he was first incarcerated and felt like he was amenable to treatment and agreed to treat him after his sentencing.
Cody's lawyer, Gary Mitchell, did a magnificent job in representing this boy. He was the public defender and he not only represented him, but he championed him. In many ways he played the role of the father Cody never had. I know that lawyers aren't supposed to get emotionally involved with their clients, but this was a situation in which it was entirely warranted. When he first took on the case, members of the community called him and told him that Cody was a good kid and to fight for him. He could not have done better.
What do I think? The prosecutor approached this trial as if Cody was a mass murderer. She said he would kill again. I think she made a gross error in portraying him this way. I used to be a teacher and educational evaluator for the Department of Juvenile corrections and my experience tells me that an emotionally disturbed child who explodes and kills his family is very different from a child who kills a classmate, neighbor or especially a stranger. The former kills in response to an overwhelming and emotional situation in which he is trapped and sees no other way out. He killed the people who were making the situation unbearable. He is unlikely to ever be in that situation again, especially as he will never be so young and have so few options. The latter have usually had a track record of acting out and a pattern of juvenile delinquency.
As you deal with these children on a day to day basis you see a huge difference in the two types. Street children usually have "all day long, every day" problems with society. They are only a spark away from acting out behavior. The children we saw who were like Cody were generally respectful and compliant. For the most part, they are delightful to deal with because they have learned to not make trouble as a way of survival. They usually want desperately to please. In fact, the problem with a kid like Cody is to get them to react when things really bother them. Every thing I saw in Cody via the trial indicates that this is the case with him.
I feel that the decision was the only fair one. He was a child and he acted like a child, yet his actions did result in the death of 3 people. He didn't have a lot of ways available to cope. Teens are at risk for suicide for the same reason. They have no perspective. They can't believe that the future will be better. They think they will feel this way forever and they see no hope. Cody could have just as easily killed himself.
I think Cody has the support of family and friends and his community. He will be getting psychological treatment at a treatment facility which feels that he can be helped and has a plan for him. On top of dealing with all that brought him to the point of explosion, Cody will have to deal with what he has done. It doesn't surprise me that he has mixed feelings about his family. I have seen kids that were terribly abused cry when their abusive parents didn't come to visit them. He will especially miss his stepsister and I imagine that will haunt him more than the rest. That this will all haunt him is inevitable. He will need lots of therapy to come to grips with it and even if he can begin to forgive himself, he still will be haunted by what he did. I'm just glad that the state of New Mexico didn't fail him and then fail him again by treating him as an adult.