A 12-year-old charged with murder in the shotgun slaying of another youth in his Antelope Valley neighborhood allegedly loaded the weapon before firing the fatal shot, a homicide investigator testified Monday.
The testimony at a Sylmar Juvenile Court hearing was the first account that contradicted the 12-year-old suspect's statements that the gun was already loaded.
A defense attorney, however, immediately challenged that testimony, pointing out that the witness who made those statements has since retracted them.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Frank J. Salerno testified that Bruce Scalph Jr., 10, the only witness to the Oct. 22 shooting, told investigators the suspect broke open the shotgun and inserted a shell before shooting Thomas Hernandez, also 10, of Pearblossom.
Investigators also said Scalph told deputies that the suspect, whose name is being withheld because of his age, bullied him and the Hernandez boy in the days before the shooting.
But the suspect's attorney, Fredric J. Warner, said Scalph has since retracted his statements that the 12-year-old loaded the gun and denies ever telling a deputy that the juvenile defendant was a bully.
Warner wanted to put Scalph on the witness stand Monday, but Juvenile Court Commissioner Gary A. Polinsky rejected that request, saying the testimony was not necessary since a juvenile hearing only requires the prosecution to present the basic facts of a case.
Polinsky also ordered the 12-year-old's release from Sylmar Juvenile Hall on Monday, pending trial.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Chesley McKay had argued that the boy should remain in detention because he has made statements indicating that he was suicidal.
Polinsky, however, said he acted after reading a recent psychological evaluation of the boy.
"I am not convinced that he cannot be safe in the community," the commissioner said.
Under Polinsky's ruling, the boy will live with his mother at an aunt's home, and he will be allowed to attend school.
Polinsky said he felt the boy should not live at his Pearblossom home because his stepfather is a gun collector.
The shooting took place on a weekend when the accused boy's parents were out of town and he was staying with Scalph, a neighbor. The suspect's house was locked but he, Scalph and Hernandez climbed in through a window, investigators said.
The 12-year-old told detectives after the shooting that he did not think the gun was loaded and said, "I must have pulled the trigger," Salerno said. The detective described the boy as "very quiet" after the shooting.
Salerno testified that Scalph told detectives that the 12-year-old picked up the shotgun, which was near a locked gun container in his father's room. Scalph believed the boy retrieved the shell from a closet, the detective said. But under questioning, Salerno said he did not recall a closet in the room.
Scalph showed detectives how the 12-year-old broke open the weapon and loaded it before bringing it up and pointing it at Hernandez, Salerno said.
The detective acknowledged that Scalph has subsequently contradicted the statements he made to another deputy the night of the shooting that he and the dead boy had been bullied by the 12-year-old.
Warner said Scalph's admissibility as a witness will be a key issue in the trial. The boy, who like the 12-year-old is in a special program at school for students with learning disabilities, is the "nexus" of the district attorney's case, Warner said.
"He may not qualify as a witness," Warner said. "A judge will have to decide that."