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Boy, 12, Guilty of Slaying Owner of Bicycle Shop : Crime: Judge says he is mystified by ‘quantum leap’ in criminal behavior by youth with no prior record. But he rules that the boy could tell right from wrong in the killing of the popular shop proprietor.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Calling the crime “the act of a depraved person with a twisted mind,” a Pasadena judge Monday found a 12-year-old boy guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of a popular Monrovia bicycle store owner.

“It is mystifying that considering his age and lack of involvement with the law . . . that this minor would choose to make this quantum leap in his criminal involvement,” said Juvenile Court Judge Sherrill D. Luke as he pronounced the verdict.

“But he made his choices,” Luke added. “In spite of his age, he knew what he was doing. He clearly had the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and he chose the wrong course.”

The boy, who has not been identified because of his age, kept his eyes downcast as the judge pronounced the sentence at the conclusion of a four-day trial in the murder of Jung Sam Woo, who owned Bicycle Sam’s, a shop frequented by neighborhood children.

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Probation officials have recommended that the boy--who had no prior criminal record--be incarcerated at a facility run by the California Youth Authority until he is 25. Luke set sentencing for Sept. 23.

The boy’s parents, who live in Monrovia and emptied their meager savings to hire an attorney to defend their only son, sat behind him each day of the trial.

“I’m very, very sorry for my son’s actions,” Clarence Charles, 46, said after the sentencing, tears welling in his eyes. “As a parent, you try to do the very best to bring up your son the right way, but who knows what you’re raising? It’s really tearing me to pieces. I’m sorry about Bicycle Sam’s family. It’s a tragedy for them.”

The boy’s mother, Frances Charles, 46, echoed her husband’s words, saying she would pray for the family of Woo, who was killed when the boy pointed a .22-caliber revolver at the merchant and shot him once in the head, according to the testimony of a 13-year-witness.

Frances Charles said she hopes her boy gets education and rehabilitation instead of being locked away and forgotten.

“He’s still my baby to me, he’s not a bad boy. I really don’t know what happened,” Charles said.

Defense attorney Ron Applegate said he opted at the last minute not to put the boy on the witness stand because he did not believe that the boy’s testimony would make a difference. The boy confessed to police that he committed the crime, although he claimed the gun went off accidentally.

Everyone involved with the case said Monday they were still unclear on the boy’s motives or what led him to commit murder. He was not in a gang, had never been in trouble with police and came from an intact, lower-middle-class home. Psychological tests conducted this summer showed no indication of abuse or emotional problems.

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“None of it explains the aberrant behavior of the minor,” Luke said. “But then we may never know what motivated him, what compelled him.”

The judge said he was strongly swayed by the testimony of a 13-year-old friend who recounted how the boy pulled a gun from under his parents’ bed and used scissors to cut the tips off bullets so they would fit. The boys then headed into the streets of suburban Monrovia.

The witness said the boy first considered robbing and shooting two men they met on the way to the bicycle store. At the store, he said, the boy said he was going to shoot the owner and asked him to cut down a bike he wanted. Then he shot Woo.

In his closing statements, Applegate attempted to discredit the 13-year-old witness by calling him an accessory to the crime and saying there was no corroborating evidence that the boy coldbloodedly planned and executed the murder.

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But the judge said the witness’ story was bolstered by the testimony of two 16-year-olds who lived next door to the bicycle store and spoke to the boy shortly after the shooting.

According to their testimony, the boy bragged about the killing, described how Woo lay twitching in a pool of blood and asked the 16-year-olds to help him “get some bikes.”

One testified that he overheard the boy tell his friends: “I told you I was going to kill him.”

Luke also turned down Applegate’s request for a battery of new psychological tests over a 90-day period that would shed light on the boy’s state of mind and play a role in what type of confinement would be most appropriate.

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Luke said he did not believe that the tests would turn up anything new and would not be a good use of the state’s limited funds.


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