The arson, murder charges against a 9-year-old boy are more complicated than they seem

By Kennedy Jones

Kyle Alwood, a 9-year-old boy from Eureka, Illinois, is being charged with five counts of first-degree murder and various counts of arson after intentionally setting his family home on fire and killing five people in April. The fire started at approximately 11 p.m., and by the time firefighters arrived on scene, the house was engulfed in flames, according to an Oct. 11 Fox News article. The article also mentions Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services had made thirteen visits to the Alwood family home prior to the deadly fire. 

There should be a specific set of guidelines as to how cases like Alwood’s should be handled within the legal system due to his young age. In the state of Illinois, there are laws that aim to keep juveniles out of the prison system. A child charged with a criminal offense cannot be convicted unless the defendant is 13 years old or older at the time of the offense was committed, according to Illinois Court Act 705 ILCS 405/1-1. This would eliminate the chance of a life sentence for minors convicted of murder. In addition, it keeps children who are 13 years old and younger out of the criminal justice system. 

The Illinois statute should be enough to keep Alwood out of the system; however, Alwood could end up with five years of probation, according to Fox News in accordance with the state statute. Alwood had been recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder all before the fire occurred, according to CBS news. With the state having laws in place to protect children who suffer from mental disorders, it makes it easier on the child to get the therapy or medications they need. Alwood will have a legal guardian or a social worker with him during the process of the trial and have medical personnel evaluate whether or not he will be capable of causing more violence. 

With there being difficult decisions made on the side of the prosecution determining how to charge Alwood and determine his punishment.

“It’s not as simple [as] a 9-year-old [who] has been charged with murder and [will] go in front of a judge and try to deal with his lawyer,” criminal law professor Marc Falkoff said.

He said he is certain that from a criminal point of view Alwood will end up as an adjudicated delinquent. An adjudicated delinquent is minor who is charged with a crime equivalent of an adult, like intentionally setting a fire, won’t serve jail time like an adult.

At the end of the day, it’s possible no conviction will be formally brought upon Alwood nor will a jail sentence be served. Trying to think about how any judge or prosecuting attorney will handle a case involving a child, whether they’re 18 years old or 9 years old, is difficult. There could be any number of laws in place to protect children from going to jail.