Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Abused 10-Year-Old May Be Tried As Adult

Two years ago, Benjamin Hilburn, age 10, shot his abusive father in the back of a head with one of the family’s many shotguns.  This week, a judge in New Mexico will determine if the child can be tried as an adult for murder.
The now 12-year-old Hilburn listening to testimony from a defense psychologist at his competency hearing.
Benjamin, his sister (age 6 at the time of the shooting), and a younger brother were given in custody to their father, Byron Hilburn, after their parents’ divorce.  But according to an interview with Romaine Serna of the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), the family was reported to the agency more than seven times between 2003 and 2009 for child abuse and neglect.  Serna claimed that CYFD “…had concerns about this family.  There were red flags,” but that no one close to the family was willing to make allegations of abuse.  Interviews with family members, close friends, doctors and school officials came up empty-handed, and without any obvious bruises or marks, CYFD did not have enough evidence to do much more than update their files on the family.
Sadly, the evidence came in August of 2009, when Benjamin was tired of being ‘disciplined’ too harshly and too often.  ”I was over my head. I shot him in the back of the head.  I got so angry at him,” the sobbing child told the 911 Operator as he called for a doctor.  His mother, Monica Albear, who now has custody of Benjamin as well as his younger sister and brother, says both she and Benjamin called the Children, Youth and Families Department on several occasions begging for help, but that nothing was done.
In response to the Hilburn case — as well as a host of other cases where CYFD allegedly dropped the ball, Gov. Susanna Martinez appointed a new secretary to CYFD and is purportedly ‘cleaning house.’  Yet while it’s easy to point fingers at overworked, underfunded social workers with limited legal abilities (law enforcement needs to sign off on any any removal of children from family homes) there are other culprits that the media is not looking at — the fact that a ten-year-old has unrestricted access to a gun, and secondly that prosecutors have decided that Benjamin Hilburn should be a poster-child for trying children as adults. According to KOAT News, prosecutors stated on Tuesday that it was critical for Benjamin Hilburn to go to trial as it could ‘set a precedent’ for child murder cases across the country.
The fact that I would even need to address children having access to firearms for a second time this year in this blog is a sad commentary on how the second amendment has been taken too far.  In a society where we deem ten-year-olds incompetent to drive, make their own medical decisions, stay home alone, make decisions about their own sexuality, vote, decide their own religious affiliation, or a variety of other legal rights we reserve for adults, that we seem to think it’s perfectly o.k. for children to have access to killing machines (and then expect them to act like adults and not actually use them as killing machines) boggles the mind.  Earlier this year, I wrote about the story of 11-year-old Jordon Brown, accused of killing his sleeping, pregnant step-mother with his very own child-sized shotgun.  One can’t help but feel that if a child kills their parent with a shotgun given to them by the selfsame parent, it’s less of a crime than a Darwinistic statement.
But of course, immediately after the incident, the District Attorney’s office was quick to blame the shooter not the weapon.  In a statement to KOTA News, Steve Scott of the Valencia County District Attorney’s Office claimed that the incident was not a good enough reason to restrict the ability of parents to give their children rifles.  Sadly, this is unsurprising seeing as the Valencia County District Attorney’s Office seems to think children are adults — or, at least, should be prosecuted like they are. While the defense psychologist, Dr. Maxann Schwartz, argued that  the child not only had ADHD (which recent research indicates is the product of the child’s brain being even more immature than his/her peers’), but that a twelve-year-old can not understand the trial process sufficiently to participate in his/her own defense, the prosecution countered that plenty of adults can’t understand the trial process either and that ADHD is not enough to merit dropping the case.   One can not help but wonder what is sufficient in the minds of Valencia County’s District Attorneys to drop a case: apparently that the child was only ten-years-old, abused, immature, obviously confused and remorseful (as evidenced in the 911 call), and was given access to a weapon by an irresponsible adult apparently isn’t quite enough.  Maybe he needs to be richer, whiter, or a member of the police department to catch a break in Valencia County.
This kid has already been let down by the adult world — an adult world who ignored his calls for help against abuse; an adult world so wrapped up in its own polarized fight for ‘individual liberty’ that we allowed him to have a weapon he was not mentally mature enough to handle; an adult world so concerned with elections, they want to make an example of an abused little kid whose life is already ruined.  Hopefully, one adult — the Valencia County Court Judge — will finally do the right thing, and not allow the prosecution of this child for murder.
By MariahAdin

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