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Boys, 7 and 8, To Face Murder Trial

August 12, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ They are described as sweet and playful _ certainly not the kind of little boys to strike an 11-year-old girl in the head, sexually molest her and suffocate her, all for her shiny blue bike.

The accusation against two boys, ages 7 and 8, stunned a city that has agonized before over children who kill children, and left authorities with a terrible dilemma: How do you punish kids so young if they have committed crimes so vicious?

The boys, among the youngest murder suspects ever, were ordered Tuesday to undergo psychiatric evaluation. The results are to be submitted Thursday to Cook County Juvenile Court Judge Gerald Winiecki, who will decide whether the children should be sent home or held pending trial.

Both are charged with killing Ryan Harris, whose body was found July 28 with her panties stuck in her mouth and grass and leaves stuffed in her nostrils. Any youth convicted in juvenile court can only be held until age 21.

Police say the 7-year-old hit Ryan in the head with a rock, knocking her off her bike. The boys allegedly hid the bike in some weeded lots, but it was gone when they returned to look for it.

Neighbors in the South Side community of Englewood, where the boys lived across an alley from each other, couldn’t believe the accusation.

``They’re not monsters,″ said Kosi Waterhouse, 45, leader of a Jamaican band. ``They’re not evil children. I’ve never seen them in no altercations ... These children loved their parents, and their parents were good with them.″

The 7-year-old was described as an aggressive child who loved candy and bikes, and earned spare change doing yard work or helping out in the local grocery.

``You know kids get into mischief, but he was a sweet little boy,″ said Shirley Blanton, an attendant at the Wash Factory, a launderette, whose grandchildren played with the boy. ``Sometimes he gives me a hug and then goes back about his business.″

She and others said the 7-year-old had a temper.

``He just like to act hard, that’s all,″ said Cory Allen, 19. ``I don’t think he know how to kill somebody.″

The 8-year-old, who recently received a bike as a birthday present, was described as an honor student. He was so shy that he rarely left his yard, neighbors said.

``After school all the kids would be in here and we’d have to roust them out because they’d be so noisy ... but not him,″ said Abdul Ismail, a clerk at the 50 Stars market. ``That was the last person you’d expect this from.″

Defense attorneys say the boys charged with killing Ryan are good kids from decent homes with no history of trouble. They claim the rock throwing was a prank that went awry.

``This is the most reckless and vicious prosecution that I have ever witnessed,″ Andre Grant, the 8-year-old’s lawyer, said Tuesday. ``There has been no confession whatsoever.″

Police and prosecutors claim both boys did confess and say they have corroborating evidence.

Under state law, the boys are too young to be sent to a state youth prison but could, for example, be placed in foster care.

This is the latest sensational case in Chicago in which children have been accused of killing other children.

Four years ago, Robert ``Yummy″ Sandifer, 11, fatally shot a 14-year-old girl in a botched plan to shoot a rival gang member. He, in turn, was ordered shot to death by gang leaders to silence him.

That same year, two boys, 10 and 11, dangled, then dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse 14 floors to his death in a Chicago housing project after he refused to steal candy for them.

The ages of the suspects in Ryan’s death has renewed debate on how the criminal justice system should deal with children so young and whether they should even be charged with murder.

Carl Bell, a South Side psychiatrist who has worked with violent kids, said young children have limited understanding of criminal behavior.

If kids throw rocks at someone, he said, ``they know they shouldn’t do it. Do they understand the seriousness of it? Do they understand the criminal nature of it? The ramification of what it does to the little girl? Absolutely not. All they know is it’s wrong.″