A 10-year-old boy charged with murder in the April 2019 deaths of five people in a fire in Goodfield will continue to live with relatives while his case is pending, a Woodford County judge ruled Wednesday.
The child, who was 9 at the time of the fire at Timberline Mobile Home Park, faces five counts of murder, arson and aggravated arson. Victims in the blaze included Jason Wall, 34, who was the boyfriend of the boy’s mother, Katie Alwood, and the couple’s two children – Dameron Wall, 2, and Ariel Wall, 1. Also killed were Alwood’s grandmother Kathryn Murray, 69, and her 2-year-old niece, Rose Alwood.
The hearing in child welfare court in Eureka was conducted through Zoom, an internet meeting site, because of the limitations imposed during the ongoing pandemic. The child did not attend the hearing.
The child, who was placed in state custody after the alleged arson, is doing well in school and has made progress through counseling sessions, said Woodford County Judge Charles Feeney, citing a report from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Feeney granted a request from the boy’s father for unsupervised visits of up to four hours with the child but left the final decision on when or if those visits will occur with DCFS. The father has had almost daily contact with the boy but he is not allowed to take the child places alone, according to Daniel Harrod, lawyer for the father.
Harrod noted that the coronavirus has delayed the father’s efforts to obtain an evaluation of his parenting skills.
Feeney praised the foster parents and state child welfare staff “for the awesome job they’re doing” on behalf of the child. Improvements to the boy’s overall well-being includes “his overall outlook on life,” said Feeney.
The state’s goal to return the child to his father within a year remains unchanged, the judge said. An Oct. 21 hearing is scheduled to review the boy’s living arrangements.
A May 4 hearing is scheduled in juvenile delinquency court to discuss a recently completed mental health evaluation of the boy by Eugene Griffin, an expert in childhood trauma with experience in juvenile justice. The evaluation was requested in December by the child’s court-appointed defense lawyer Peter Dluski.
The report will be used to determine the child’s mental fitness to stand trial.
In a media interview after the fire, the child’s mother said her son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The mother has since lost her parental rights.
Juvenile justice advocates have criticized the decision to charge the child with murder, citing the science behind brain development and decision making, and the recommendations in a 2019 United Nations report that urges restraint in prosecutions of children under 14, no matter the crime.
If convicted, the boy could be placed on probation for at least five years, but not beyond the age of 21. He is entitled to a bench trial but not a jury trial.