CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (NewsNation) — It’s a case that sent shockwaves through a tight-knit town in Northwest Wisconsin. A 14-year-old is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering 10-year-old Lily Peters.
Lily was on her way home Sunday night from her aunt’s house on Grove Street in Chippewa Falls. The 10-year-old wouldn’t end up making the short, five-block trip. Prosecutors say a 14-year-old boy who “was not a stranger” to the fourth grader knocked her down and struck her with a stick before sexually assaulting and strangling her.
Lily’s father reported her missing Sunday night, sparking a desperate search by dozens of law enforcement officers and placing the small community on edge. As the investigation unfolded, authorities discovered Lily’s bicycle in the woods. Then, Monday morning, they recovered her body near a walking trail.
That’s when the case made the heartbreaking transition from a missing persons case to a homicide investigation, leading to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy. Appearing in adult court Wednesday, the teen is facing three first-degree charges linked to Lily’s death: intentional homicide, sexual assault and sexual assault of a child younger than 13.
The 14-year-old is being kept behind bars on a $1 million bond. Judge Benjamin Lane said he set the high bond to protect the community given the boy’s “statements regarding his intentions and his statements regarding that when he did get off the trail, he punched the victim in the stomach, knocked her to the ground, essentially strangled her, hit her with a stick, before strangling her to the point of death — before he then sexually assaulted her.”
Former FBI agent Jennifer Coffindaffer says the murder of Lily Peters is one of the latest striking instances of alleged “monstrous” acts committed by minors.
“We know that according to FBI statistics, there were 860+ minors arrested for murder in 2019. And those were the most recent statistics. That’s a lot in my book, when you think about 860 lives that were taken at the hands of these little ones, and also you’re talking is young as 7- and 8-year-olds that have committed murder. So in these situations, definitely in my experience, these individuals were made into, I don’t want to say ‘monsters,’ but certainly their acts were monstrous.”
Typically, people who do such things “have been abused themselves and … truly don’t have empathy for life anymore,” Coffindaffer said Wednesday on NewsNation’s Rush Hour.
According to the latest Crime in the United States report released by the FBI, law enforcement made more than 10 million juvenile arrests nationwide in 2019. Of those juvenile arrests, nearly 500,000 across the country were for violent crimes.
Out of the more than 16,000 minors accused of murdering someone in 2019, the FBI’s report says 829 were juveniles. Of those, 450 were in the 13-16 age range.
Violent cases involving young suspects are often complicated for prosecutors. Coffindaffer says prosecutors must persuade a judge or court to raise the venue in which they will be tried from a juvenile court to an adult court.
“What they need to show is that that child had malice aforethought, that the child premeditated their crime and that the crime was specifically, extremely heinous. That is what can elevate what would otherwise be a juvenile charge to an adult charge,” Coffindaffer explained.
In the Lily Peters case, the 14-year-old suspect appeared in adult court Wednesday. Coffindaffer believes the suspect in Lily’s death, no matter the age, should face the consequences.
“In many of these cases, these individuals committing these crimes have lost their ability to empathize. And they are driven by their sexual lust and appetites or they’re just lust and thrilled to kill. And so when you have a minor that has actually actionable actions against other individuals in this heinous way, they need to be tried as adults,” Coffindaffer said.
In Lily’s case, prosecutors say the teen suspect knew the 10-year-old and planned the attack against her. According to District Attorney Wade Newell, the teen said “his intention was to rape and kill the victim from the get-go.”
Generally, Wisconsin law calls for minors age 10 and up to be prosecuted as adults when charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Next steps in the case involve a May 5 status hearing set by Lane.