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‘A Frightening Case’: Two 11-Year-Olds On Trial For Murdering Toddler

November 1, 1993

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) _ Two 11-year-old boys go on trial Monday for allegedly kidnapping and murdering a toddler whose abduction from a shopping center was caught on videotape. They are the youngest ever to be charged with murder in Britain.

″It is a frightening case,″ acknowledged defense lawyer Laurence Lee, who is representing one of the boys.

Frightening for people who saw the crime unfold when the videotape was broadcast around the world; for Denise and Ralph Bulger, who lost their only child; and for the accused boys, who were 10 at the time of the crime and marked their 11th birthdays in custody.

Ten is the youngest age at which a child can face criminal charges in Britain, but prosecutors must prove that the child understood the consequences of his or her actions.

″The child has got to know that what he did was seriously wrong, not just naughty,″ Lee told The Associated Press.

On Feb. 12, 2-year-old James Bulger strayed from his mother’s side at a shopping center. Within minutes, a security camera recorded an older boy taking his hand and following a friend onto a busy street.

James’ battered body was found two days later several miles away.

The two boys are charged with abducting and murdering James, and attempting to abduct another 2-year-old boy earlier the same day. They pleaded innocent to all three charges at a preliminary hearing in May.

Under British law, the accused boys cannot be identified, nor can any information be revealed that would identify them.

But their neighbors know the children well, and their families have left their homes for their own safety.

At their first court appearance in February, angry crowds pelted police vans carrying the boys with stones and eggs. The jury trial was moved to Preston, 30 miles north of Liverpool.

Since their arrests, they have been held in separate locations, where they have received counseling and education.

Some Liverpudlians were bracing Sunday for the memories the trial will rekindle.

″I think it will bring back a lot of anger,″ said Irene Winstanley, a child-care worker in Kirkby, on the eastern edge of Liverpool, where James lived.

Others are trying to put it behind them.

″People are devastated and they don’t want to talk about it or think about it any more,″ said the landlord at the pub where the mother of one of the suspects drank regularly. Under the law, he could not be identified.

The trial was expected to last two to four weeks, with testimony from 100 witnesses.

Both boys were expected to attend the entire trial. Mrs. Bulger is pregnant and was not expected to accompany her husband to court on the opening day.

Adults who are convicted of murder in Britain receive life imprisonment. A child would be detained indefinitely, and his case would be reviewed periodically by legal authorities, officials said.

There are few precedents. Mary Bell served 12 years for strangling two boys when she was 11 years old in 1968.

The boys could also be found guilty of the charges against them, but not responsible for their actions. Even then, ″they could be detained well into adulthood,″ Lee said.

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