Michael Ferraresi and Michael Kiefer, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), August 5, 2009
The two youngest Liberian boys accused in the sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl will remain in Maricopa County juvenile detention as authorities consider allowing them to live with an uncle or order them into foster care, judges ordered today.
The two youngest suspects, both refugees from war-torn Liberia, lived in the care of a grandmother and an aunt at the apartment complex where the victim was allegedly lured into a storage shed, held down, and raped.
According to Child Protective Services and other officials, each of the two boys have parents who remain in Africa. An uncle has offered to take the boys into his care, though state caseworkers are still investigating possible placement.
Cindi Nannetti, the deputy county attorney assigned to the juvenile cases, asked the judges to modify the charges against the two youngest boys so that a jury can determine whether they are guilty of sexual assault or the more serious charge of sexual conduct with a minor. Both boys also face mental competency hearings later this month. If they are found incompetent to stand trial, the charges could be dismissed.
Wednesday’s hearings happened as a deputy ambassador from their West African homeland arrived in Phoenix to meet with Liberian community leaders, police and attorneys on the first day of a weeklong fact-finding mission into the case, which has garnered international attention.
As the 9 year olds face charges of sexual assault in Juvenile Court, the two other boys accused in the July 16 attack–14 and 13 years old–face charges in Maricopa County Superior Court.
A grand jury indicted Steven Tuopeh, 14, on counts of kidnapping, sexual conduct with a minor and sexual assault. He will stand trial in adult court and if convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
On Tuesday, the County Attorney’s Office filed a motion in Juvenile Court to try the 13-year-old suspect in adult court as well.
The Liberian ambassador, Edwin Sele, answered questions briefly at Sky Harbor International Airport before heading to a meeting with members of the Liberian community. He also planned to meet Phoenix police investigators and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Sele said he traveled to Phoenix on behalf of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who issued statements in the days following the boys’ arrests about her concern.