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Judge To Decide If 9-Year-Old Liberian Refugee Will Stand Trial In Arizona Rape

First Posted: 11/28/09 05:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:10 PM ET

PHOENIX (AP)-- A 9-year-old boy charged in the gang-rape of an 8-year-old Liberian girl sobbed in court Monday as his teacher testified that he rarely did his homework and often got into fights with other students.

Under questioning by the prosecution, second-grade teacher Toya Abrams said the boy was a challenge and had various behavioral problems.

The boy eventually put his head down on a table and began sobbing, prompting his lawyer to ask for a recess.

The boy is one of four Liberian boys facing charges in the rape. Police say the boys lured the girl to a storage shed at a west Phoenix apartment complex with the promise of gum and took turns raping her.

All the children involved are refugees from the West African nation of Liberia.

The case sparked an international outcry after police reported the girl's father said she brought shame on the family and he didn't want her back -- comments a family pastor later said were misunderstood because of a language barrier.

State child welfare officials have custody of the girl, and police are recommending neglect charges against her parents.
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Monday's hearing was to designed to help Judge Dawn Bergin decide if the 9-year-old charged in the rape is competent to stand trial. Two mental-health experts found that he is not, and Bergin must listen to testimony from them and others before she makes a decision.

Bergin was expected make a ruling Monday or Tuesday, but decided testimony would take too long for that. She scheduled another hearing on the same matter for Nov. 18.

Abrams, who teaches at Camelview Elementary School in Phoenix, also testified that she was concerned about the boy's home life, saying he wore the same dirty shirt to school for months, often smelled bad, and was often hungry. She said no one in his family ever showed up to his parent-teacher conferences or signed his homework.

"As a teacher, that let me know that I'm on my own," she said.

She said the boy often acted out in class and received poor grades even though she believes he was capable of learning his lessons. Whenever the boy was punished, she said he would "shut down," putting his head down in his arms and refusing to work for the rest of the day.

The boy's attorney, Art Merchant, asked Abrams whether he would be prevented from properly doing his job because of such behavior. She answered yes, but Bergin ruled her answer as inadmissible.

A 14-year-old is charged as an adult in the case. A 13-year-old is undergoing a court-ordered process intended to make him competent to stand trial. Another 9-year-old has been ruled incompetent but is undergoing classes to teach him about the court system and become competent to stand trial.

(This version corrects boy's age per updated court information.)

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Filed by T.J. Ortenzi  |