CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (NewsNation) — It’s a case that sent shockwaves through a tightknit town in northwest Wisconsin. A 14-year-old stands accused of sexually assaulting and murdering 10-year-old Lily Peters, a little girl who never returned home from a visit to her aunt’s house.
Lily was initially reported missing by her father before her body was discovered north of her Chippewa Falls residence in the woods.
Shortly after that discovery, authorities took a 14-year-old known to Lily into custody. He remains behind bars on a $1 million cash bond.
The teen faces the following charges: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree sexual assault of a child younger than 13. Now, the question remains — will he be tried as an adult or as a juvenile?
Rachel Fiset is a criminal lawyer who says there are several factors that come into play.
She says Wisconsin law mandates that anyone older than 10 and charged with murder starts in adult court. But officials may also consider whether that’s good for the community and if he can be rehabilitated as a juvenile.
“I believe that decision will take some time and some argument by his attorneys,” Fiset said.
According to the district attorney on the case, the teen suspect said his intention was to rape and kill the victim from the get-go.
Jennifer Coffindaffer, a former FBI agent, says that in 2019, there more than 860 minors arrested for murder. She says many of these cases have similar storylines.
“Typically, they are individuals who have been abused themselves and individuals who truly don’t have empathy for life anymore,” Coffindaffer said.
If the 14-year-old suspect is tried as an adult, he could face life in prison. However, as a juvenile, there’s an attempt to get offenders out of the juvenile detention center by the time they’re 21 years old. So there’s a big swing in potential consequences, defense attorney and former prosecutor Karen Nance says.
“It’s all too common. The reality is that our brains aren’t developed until we are at least 25; in some cases, people say 30. So we’re talking about someone who’s 14 years old, an eighth grader, in terms of the person that’s been arrested, who doesn’t have a formation of his brain fully yet, and made this horrific decision, if proven, and that would only be if he is certified back to juvenile court, he’ll only be entitled to hearing in front of a judge and not in front of a jury.
“So that all those factors that were discussed in terms of his criminal background, if he has any, his family background, all those come into play when making a decision. One, if he is found guilty or found that he has committed this crime, what the penalty should be for him. So there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration. And of course, (there’s) the victim and their family. And what they’ve gone through is really horrific,” Nance said.
The decision is likely to take some time. The teen’s next court date is set for June 24.