TEXARKANA, Ark. — A little over two years ago the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old college student working a night shift at a Fouke, Ark., convenience store became more shocking when it was discovered that the alleged killer was a 12-year-old boy.
Because of his age and a circuit court judge's gag order, the fate of the young defendant has been largely unknown. An opinion issued Wednesday by the Arkansas Court of Appeals provides some insight into the case.
Christa Shockley was found dead on the floor of the EZ Mart in Fouke by a Texarkana Gazette news carrier in the early hours of Feb. 2, 2017. Her alleged killer was arrested just a few hours later at a Fouke public school.
Arkansas law does not allow for adult certification of juveniles as young as the boy accused of capital murder in Shockley's death, Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett said. The law does provide for "Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction" in cases of extreme criminal misconduct by the very young. The designation allows for placement in a juvenile facility with the possibility of adult prison once the defendant reaches age 21.
Because he is so young
After a juvenile defendant has been designated EJJ, a trial is conducted in juvenile court to determine if the youth should be adjudicated guilty of the alleged offense, Barrett said. A circuit judge presides in a bench trial as no jury trials are held in Arkansas juvenile court. The recent appellate opinion notes that Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson granted a motion in October 2018 for Shockley's killer to receive EJJ designation. The juvenile offender's lawyers appealed the designation but the higher court sided with the state and affirmed Johnson's ruling last week.
Had the boy's EJJ designation been reversed, he would be released from a juvenile detention center at 18.
Now that the appeal has been resolved, a trial may be scheduled in the boy's case. If an EJJ designated juvenile is found guilty, a judge may order they be held in a juvenile facility until age 18, Barrett said. Upon turning 18, EJJ offenders are routinely placed in a facility which houses only EJJ defendants age 18 to 21.
Sometime prior to an EJJ defendant's 21st birthday, a hearing to address future imprisonment must be conducted and a decision to move a youthful offender to an adult prison at age 21 may result. The boy accused in Shockley's death faces 10 to 40 years or life in prison with parole possible, Barrett said.
Juvenile offenders sentenced to life are eligible for parole after serving 30 years but parole is not guaranteed. Ultimately the decision regarding the length of time an EJJ offender spends in adult prison could rest with the state's parole board, Barrett said.
According to court documents, Shockley's killer confessed. Video surveillance allegedly shows that he visited the store around 1 a.m. wearing a red hoodie and carrying a backpack. About an hour later, the shooter enters, his face covered by a white bandana.
As Shockley cleans canisters for iced tea, she turns as her killer advances. He fires four shots, pauses, fires three more rounds, continues moving toward Shockley — now crumpled onto the floor — and fires an eighth shot, according to a Miller County Sheriff's Office Investigator's transcribed testimony published in court filings in Shockley's case.
After shooting Shockley, the assailant leaves the store but returns a few minutes later. When he enters, he walks around Shockley's body, taking a package of electric cigarettes and a headset before he leaves for the last time.
The headset was allegedly recovered from the accused boy's backpack.
Investigators were able to quickly identify the boy using the video surveillance. The boy allegedly wore the same clothing and carried the same backpack when he entered the store at about 1 a.m. as the shooter wore and carried when he entered the store about an hour later with a white bandana covering his face.
The gun was found behind the store in a wooded area along with a red hoodie and a magazine for the pistol. The boy's father allegedly owned the gun and determined it was missing from his shed.
During a search of the boy's bedroom, investigators noted that he appeared to have stabbed his bed multiple times as evidenced by tears in his sheets and mattress. The boy's family allegedly reported that he had a diagnosis of mild autism and a history of behavioral problems.
History of violence
Excerpts of transcripts of witnesses who testified at a hearing concerning the boy's status in August 2018 describe multiple incidences of violence and unusual conduct. A mental health expert with Arkansas State Hospital and former teachers of the boy testified that the boy frequently attacked other students without provocation from a very young age.
One witness described a Lego sculpture the boy built which included a female Lego figure surrounded by red Legos meant to represent her blood. Numerous teachers described the boy as prone to unpredictable attacks on students and school staff which led to changes in school placements at the elementary level.
Staff members from the Larry Luntz Juvenile Detention Center where the boy was held prior to his EJJ designation describe multiple episodes of violence toward other juvenile detainees and staff. The boy allegedly frequently assaulted other juveniles "out of the blue" and one witness discussed taking a comb away from the boy that had been fashioned into a knife.
One detention staff member testified that the boy told staff he would "kill us and watch us die" when he was asked to stop banging on his cell door and that the boy threatened to "stand over" staff members as they "take your last breath." The transcribed testimony describes the boy striking another child in the face with his face and hitting another detainee as they exited an anger management group.
Detention center staff allegedly photographed drawings and writings from the boy's cell wall including pentagrams and phrases such as, "fear none, kill all."
'Clear and present danger'
In the appellate opinion, the higher court quotes Johnson's findings in the case.
"The facts surrounding the murder and the history of this juvenile indicate a person who is a clear and present danger to others and justifies the prosecution of the juvenile as an extended juvenile jurisdiction offender. The facts of the case show that this was an aggressive, violent and premeditated crime perpetrated on a young lady who was working to support herself at night as a convenience store clerk and the crime was actually a cold blooded execution of her as she went about her duties that night," The opinion quotes Johnson's findings. "There is no doubt in the mind of the Court that the juvenile would re-offend in a violent manner against others should he be released under the auspices of some DYS (Division of Youth Services) policy at some future date as a juvenile offender."